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In an August, 2017 report entitled The Case for Omnichannel B2B research firm Forrester makes some strong points regarding the new B2B buyer. Companies need to offer buyers a spectrum of buying options, from self-service, to full-service (where transactions are complex) to the most frequent scenario, a hybrid, omnichannel commerce solution that combines self-service and full-service elements. We know from our previous post that for the past three years at least, B2B customer expectations have been that every person they have interacted within the buying cycle know what interactions, on and offline, have already occurred and the exact information that has been exchanged.

That means, at any time, a customer may leave the self-service experience, pick up the phone or open an online chat, and expect that the company representative know every single action they’ve taken. In other words, customers are not only expecting a hybrid sales and service experience, they’re expecting that experience to be entirely personalized to their current and previous history. That requires a fully unified commerce experience.

Although this seems like a no-brainer, it’s problematic for many distributors who once believed that eCommerce would replace field sales, and that everything would be self-service. The predicted “death of the B2B salesperson” never actually happened, but it impacted the adoption rates of many new eCommerce solutions. Salespeople will always be the ones to onboard customers to the new digital solution. If they view that solution as competition, or worse, if the solution is a poorly designed site without any integration, they will not want to introduce customers to the self-service option. In fact adoption rates are often as low as 5% when faced with these kinds of impacts.

The reality is that salespeople must know everything their customers are doing both offline and online. Anyone that serves the customer has to be able to move in and out of the customer journey seamlessly, supporting the customer when necessary and letting them “self-serve” when they desire. And no customer, or buying cycle, is exactly the same in B2B. Low value transactions are often the easiest to support digitally but even those require custom catalogs, varying location requirements, and precise re-order and return capabilities. No matter the transaction, B2B customers often drop in and out of self-service, but their demands for assistance must be met by salespeople or CSR’s with full knowledge of their complete buying history.

What we know is that the need for a hybrid model – which we really believe is actually the need for unified commerce – is impacted by not only customer demands, but by technology and the sales engine as well. Customers will leave if their full-service needs are not met, and if the post-purchase experience is not strong.

Yet an omnichannel marketing strategy is not enough and it’s not just about a hybrid buying experience. Distributors need to go beyond marketing and buying processes, to create B2B commerce environments that are truly unified. To understand how to work toward this vision, it’s important to know what a unified commerce solution really looks like.

  • First, when a commerce experience is unified, customers move easily between digital and human interactions. No matter how they engage in the buying cycle, or where they jump out of a self-service process, the sales and service representatives involved are fully informed.
  • Information is accessed and synchronized real-time from enterprise systems so that crucial aspects of B2B commerce like specific pricing and promotion agreements, custom catalogs, re-order information and even returns can be processed flawlessly. And problems can be solved quickly without causing further frustration to the customer.
  • Mobile capabilities are fully functional, and map to the unique needs of the user based on job requirements, product needs and any other characteristic of that particular role within the organization.
  • Sales and customer service reps are empowered with information they can access 24/7 that is current and correct. That has to happen at any time in the buying cycle, from providing the latest marketing information to help them be truly consultative before the sale occurs, as well supporting the customer post-purchase with any problem or need that might arise.

Mary Shea at Forrester made a great point when she recently wrote that “…buyers want contextual interactions with both human and digital assets across a holistic but non-linear journey.” The point is not to develop the “best” omnichannel marketing strategy. The real opportunity that lies within meeting the need of this hybrid buying expectation is to reduce costs and increase efficiencies. At Insite, we believe that strong B2B commerce environments should accelerate the productivity of every single person involved in the buying experience. That can only be achieved with a unified commerce environment.

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Manufacturing and distribution companies know that the true value of digital commerce is the ability to make it easier for your customers to do business with you. The B2B buyer is often responsible for purchasing products from one to many vendors or product types

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