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Thus far in our series on The People of B2B, we’ve focused on how roles that support the buying journey have changed, including the B2B Researcher, the Field Technician and the Customer Service Representative.

In this installment of the series, we’re going straight to the heart of the customer experience – to the role of the buyer.  Many would make the argument – and it’s a good one – that “buyer” could be loosely defined to include many different roles. For the purpose of this conversation we’ll define the buyer as the actual person placing the order from a manufacturer or distributor.

Buying is Not Synonymous with Shopping in B2B

One distinction that B2C eCommerce vendors often get wrong when it comes to B2B commerce is that although B2B buyers are always buying, they’re not usually shopping.  In some cases, the item being purchased is not complex, say for example janitorial supplies. In this scenario the buyer may be empowered to shop for the best price.  But for the most part, the B2B buyer is purchasing something they were instructed to buy. The task of finding and researching solutions has already been performed by the B2B researcher, and procurement has likely already determined the contractual and pricing terms of the purchase.  For the B2B buyer, then, a digital commerce experience will have the most benefit when it can map to processes that will improve their productivity and allow them to execute their tasks in the most efficient manner possible.

Hidden Productivity Boosts

When the strategy is designed by those who truly understand B2B commerce, some of these productivity “boosts” emerge in areas that might not have been considered previously. List management is one such component that can be highly effective in reducing the time it takes for a customer to buy from a manufacturer or distributor. Researchers may create lists for buyers so they know items already approved for purchase. Adding lists to the actual workflow, especially where there are multiple buyers involved, can help coordinate and accelerate the purchase by applying business rules that may impact the total purchase like contract vendors, location and other factors.

PunchOut is another area where steps may be reduced or even removed without detriment to the purchasing process.  B2B buyers often use a web-based application or PunchOut catalog to browse items and purchase them directly online. The ability to place orders through the commerce system via a customized catalog, but automatically integrate that order information with the ERP system streamlines the buying process without losing important real-time order and tracking data.

Finally, of course the ability to easily re-order – the “rebuy” if you will – is critical to improving efficiency. So much of the B2B buyer’s job is not about placing new orders, it’s about rebuying items from a manufacturer or distributor. These could be parts regularly used to manufacture automobiles on the assembly line, or plumbing supplies that field technicians frequently need in stock. A strong B2B eCommerce solution gives the B2B buyer the ability to reorder varying quantities of the same item quickly and efficiently.

Multiple Buyers with Unique Needs

A B2B buying scenario often involves multiple buyers. You may have a buyer who can initiate an order, but does not have the ability to approve purchases. Another buyer may approve the purchases, but is not involved in the actual buying transaction.  Different buyers may purchase different items, and may even use different channels to initiate that order, from sending an email to using an app on their mobile device.

For that reason, buyers need to see information that is specific to them, from their approval authority to the business divisions or groups they buy for. B2B commerce differs widely from B2C eCommerce in this area, as buyers need to see custom catalogs that include only the products that are relevant to them, at customer-specific prices. The best user experience in the world will hold little value if the B2B eCommerce solution doesn’t provide a buying environment that is customized for that specific buyers’ needs, from products to pricing, and all the tools that support the order process.

Buying Through the Omnichannel

Although we touched on the fact that buyers may want to purchase items through different channels, as the generational shift occurs it’s important to reinforce the need for the omnichannel to support not just sales, but buying as well. With the right eCommerce platform, information otherwise spread across disparate systems, becomes shared, not siloed and B2B buyers can find the information they are looking for quickly and efficiently. Whether it’s through a digital channel, working with a salesperson, or through new emerging touch points, B2B buying requires a world class experience.

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