The Times They Are A-Changing: How B2B E-Commerce is Evolving

Anyone with at least a decade of experience in B2B will tell you that B2B E-Commerce — the concept of selling into markets to self-selected customers without the need for sales professionals — doesn’t qualify as a new trend. It was the next big thing back when people used AOL. However, it does continue to grow and evolve; driven, in many ways, by changing consumer demands.

So what do these changing consumer demands mean for B2B businesses, and how can businesses adapt?

Consumer Power

Let’s start by exploring how consumers – and their demands – are changing. To say that consumers are connected is practically an understatement. Every hour, the human race generates enough data from internet traffic to fill 7 billion DVDs. We consume more information in a day than our ancestors did in a lifetime. This may seem obvious — of course, we have a greater online presence than ever before. But what this means for businesses is that the relationship between buyers and sellers has changed dramatically in recent years.

With the proliferation of interaction and information, we’re seeing a reversal of transaction leverage. Say goodbye to the adage ‘buyers beware.’ It’s a buyer’s market, and buyers are getting more empowered with this explosion of information:

  • 92% of consumers trust other buyers’ opinions over advertisements
  • 82% of all consumers research brands online before anywhere else
  • Buyers complete 70% of their purchase process before coming into contact with a sales rep

Buyers know they have options and will find them. Customer-centricity and convenience are paramount – two things that modern successful E-commerce giants like Amazon and Alibaba are very good at providing.

The indirect result of an empowered generation of buyers and a changing consumer landscape is that expectations are changing in the business world. The same shoppers who enjoy the functionality of Amazon and Alibaba are also business users. They expect that business applications will be as easy to use and functionally rich as those they use in their personal lives — inducing the consumerization of business technology and raising the bar for B2B E-Commerce solutions. This requires an intuitive, agile and, most importantly, FAST system that is capable not only of helping users find what they want, but of suggesting new products before they even cross consumers’ minds.

Delivering this level of experience may seem daunting for B2B businesses creating their own E-commerce platforms. However, there is a secret weapon that can help: the cloud.

Cloud Capabilities

B2C apps like Uber and Netflix have taken full advantage of the cloud. They have been built to be “intuitive and speedy in their execution,” and more significantly, they simplify the lives of users. How many times have you sat down to watch one episode of “Orange is the New Black” or another show on Netflix, and binge watched the whole season? It’s because the user experience is easy.

Just as customers want goods and services from the likes of Amazon and Netflix, people working in enterprise procurement do too – the only difference being that these people are purchasing for the enterprise.

How do B2B companies achieve this? The cloud — with cloud-based E-commerce delivery models, enterprises finally have the necessary tools to create sophisticated user experiences with three key factors:

Speed: Powerful E-commerce apps are built on robust cloud platforms. They leverage the platform’s security, scalability and high performance. In this environment,B2B sellers are not on their own; they can utilize existing cloud platforms to deliver this seamless and fast user experience.

Convenience: By harnessing cloud-based, automated configuration and pricing technology, a $500K jet engine part can now be purchased with virtually the same ease as a pair of $30 sandals. In fact, sales effectiveness research shows that organizations using such configure-price-quote (CPQ) technology average a 3.9% year-over-year growth in customer renewal rates (vs. a .6% decline for non-users), and a 3.6% year-over-year growth for lead conversion rates (vs. a .5% decline for non-users).

Personalization: Powerful cloud platforms are designed to fully support complex product and pricing models across multiple channels on a single platform. These apps allow brands to present unique user experiences that boost transaction volume and top-line revenue – and deliver seamless buying experiences.

Cloud-based platforms can help organizations benefit from capabilities unique to E-commerce, such as online product configuration, guided buying/selling, recommendation engines for cross-selling and upselling, asset-based ordering, and advanced workflows. In addition, physical storefronts and E-commerce sites can leverage a full quote-to-cash suite that provides functionality for contract and order management, renewals, and promotions and rebates – tying in the entire business process.

Cloud-based technology is ushering in a new generation of E-commerce capabilities. B2B businesses need to consider how the cloud can help them deliver the E-commerce experiences modern markets now demand.

Author: Kamal Ahluwalia, Apttus’ Chief Marketing Officer, December 18, 2014

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