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B2B Series Challenge 6: Managing the Relationship

According to Forrester, B2B eCommerce in the U.S. will hit $1.2 trillion by 2021, seeing a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 7.4% over the next four years.  It is therefore essential that B2B businesses optimize the experience for their customers online.  B2B sites have typically been known as less usable, but it is time for them to catch up with B2C and make it really easy for customers to do business.  B2B eCommerce has unique complexities, which present unique challenges and therefore require a unique set of best practices.  We will explore these challenges in our B2B blog series and offer advice and solutions to ensure that your B2B site delivers a superior experience.

Managing the Relationship

Bringing your B2B business online may present certain challenges, but there is no doubt that the possibilities and advantages far outweigh those challenges.  As we discussed in the previous blog post, being aware of what your customers are doing across all channels means that you can provide consistent information.  But it also means that you can collect vital information about your customers’ activity, such as their preferred channel, order and search history.  Understanding your customer’s behavior enables you to manage your ongoing relationship with new and existing customers.

Managing the relationship with your customers requires a two-pronged approach – being proactive and reactive.

Proactive

Don’t take your customers for granted – it is important to proactively keep in touch with them.  Using a customer’s order history, it is possible to personalize the products that you market to them.  If a customer re-orders particular products frequently, those products should be pushed to the top of their search results.  One example of how EasyAsk is doing this is by using sales information to drive improved Autocomplete, which we call SAYT (Search As You Type) results, thereby providing a much better customer experience.

Another way to improve the experience for your customers at the same time as streamlining your business is to use your established relationship to drive your customers towards using your website.  This frees up customer service staff, saving your company money.  Why not incentivize your customers to use a better channel?  For example, customers who often use the call center could be offered a discount for all online orders during the first month.

A further way to be proactive is to be aware of how your competitors are dealing with their customers.  Your sales representatives need to know whether they are offering competitive pricing and offers.  Visit the sites of your main competitors regularly to see what they’re doing.

Reactive

Understanding and keeping up to date with your customer’s activity online allows you to react when there is a potential barrier.  If a customer hasn’t ordered as frequently as they normally do, contact could be made with them.  Perhaps the sales representatives could receive an alert when customers who order on a weekly basis stop or change the frequency of their orders.

Personalization can play a key role here, showing that you understand how your customers prefer to order and which products they would be interested in.  You could schedule automated, yet personalized, emails along the lines of:

“Hi Jo, we noticed that you haven’t placed an order with us recently, so here are some special offers for you.”

When you use your analytics to pick up on any changes in your customer activity, it is much easier to respond promptly and resolve any issues or questions.

Using Analytics

Responding proactively and reactively to the measurements in analytics is vital, but how can you use them?

First, it is important to set targets for the improvements that you wish to see, for example in conversion rate.  You can then relate any changes that you make in your system to the improvements.

As well as measuring improvements to your conversion rates, there are other very useful indicators, such as how often users don’t get results for their search (No Results).  You might monitor the ratio of call center versus website orders.  As you improve your B2B site to match B2C standards, you should see the channel used by more of your customers.  Most B2B companies are selling standard products, but there are certain businesses, selling complex products, that will only be able sell over the phone or face to face.  For these businesses, their analytics might show an improvement in the number of customers viewing or downloading guides or manuals from the website, as opposed to having a sales representative send it via email.

EasyAsk analytics allow you to see trends in how people are searching and navigating your site, meaning that you can monitor all of the results above.

 Relationships take work

The key contributor to managing the relationship with your B2B customers is staying in touch, proactively and reactively.  If your eCommerce solution allows you to monitor and analyze your customer’s activity, you will know what helps and what hinders them from being a faithful customer.  Like any good relationship, a business relationship takes care and attention.

Are you eCommerce ready?

As well as the basics of customer relationships discussed above, if you implement the features we have covered in this B2B Series, we are confident that your customers will be happier.  They will be able to always find the right products, showing accurate pricing, ordering and delivery information.  They will have their B2C expectations of your online experience met and will have a growing confidence in your company.

So many B2B eCommerce sites aren’t providing what their buyers want, but overcoming the common challenges to B2B eCommerce is possible with the right tools.

 EasyAsk Tools

EasyAsk offers the only site search and merchandising tool designed exclusively for the rigors and challenges of B2B eCommerce.  EasyAsk can be configured for any platform, either commercial or built in-house.  

EasyAsk has long served the B2B customer segment and over 200 B2B distributors have chosen us to power their B2B eCommerce sites, including: Aramark, Demco, Kaman Industries, Tacoma Screw, and Crown Packaging.

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