User-friendly ecommerce sites, a targeted shopping experience, and a focus on high-quality technology are at the top of this year’s B2B ecommerce trends. And for good reason: Research from Gartner predicts 80% of B2B sales will move to a hybrid sales model by 2025. The most successful manufacturing companies will take the lead, capitalizing on cutting-edge digital tools to optimize the distributor relationship and the buyer experience.
“Digital transformation is not something that happens to an enterprise. It is something the enterprise must engage in,” says Joe Harouni, Commerce Practice Lead at Avionos. “Businesses that do not engage in digital transformation will experience disruption.”
A recent survey shows 86% of marketing leaders believe digital commerce will become the most important sales channel in the next two years. A manufacturer can build the greatest commerce experience in the world, but unless they engage in digital transformation, they won’t reap the benefits—that is, fewer errors, automated processes, and sales and service productivity.
With Joe’s expertise, we’ve identified the top five emerging trends in B2B ecommerce for 2022. Among B2B visionaries, these are key areas of focus for digital transformation in commerce in the coming year. Positioning your company for ecommerce success begins with understanding which areas of opportunity are rising to the top right now and making them a priority moving forward.
Invest in Marketplace Infrastructure
Heralded as a key commerce trend for 2022, marketplace infrastructures allow a third party to list, manage, sell, and fulfill their products and services on a manufacturer’s portal or app. Online marketplaces are an area that experienced rapid growth across B2C brands over the past couple years and is now heating up in the B2B realm.
“In terms of fast-growing trends, I see marketplaces as a top contender for 2022,” Joe says. “When you look at what B2B companies hope to achieve with their digital investments, companies can do a lot worse than to invest in marketplace infrastructure.” He highlights the three main types of marketplaces:
- Complementary Offerings Marketplace: List your products alongside complementary offerings from third parties. The result? Your customers come to rely on you as a one-stop shop for their business needs.
- Post-Transaction Marketplace: After making a sale on your prime product, follow up to offer related services and products specific to that transaction (for example, local installation services). This is an effective way for a manufacturer or distributor to expand the feel of their geographic footprint without the overhead of steel in the ground.
- Dealer-Distributor Portal: While many B2B companies offer a “find my distributor” functionality, there is often limited visibility (such as uncertainty about conversion rate post-hand-off) and obvious pitfalls (for example, a distributor may also list competitor offerings). Instead, build a branded portal and allow distributors access to list, price, sell, and control inventory on that portal—an attractive offering to distributors and end customers. It also supplies benefits to the manufacturer, including the ability to generate first-party data.
Offer a Personalized Customer Experience
For many years, offering the right product and price was enough, but that’s changing. “With the advent of cloud-based commerce solutions, it is no longer a differentiator to have just a decent portal,” says Joe. For many B2B companies that offer a transactional portal, personalization is the way to stand out from the competition.
Joe identifies two key ways to implement personalization in B2B commerce. First, make sure that you have up-to-date information on all customer interactions across all channels. Over half of B2B companies in the U.S. conduct targeted research to better understand customer journeys and manage relationships across channels. From service center inquiries to sales rep assistance, each touchpoint should generate a case or be available as a follow-up on the commerce portal.
“The idea here is ‘they know me and they are working in harmony to help me,’” says Joe. “As the commerce portal is often the primary means of digital interaction with a customer, it really is essential to delivering a personalized experience.”
Second, take a look at your B2B commerce platform and the features that are available to you. Leading vendors like Salesforce and Adobe have created cloud-based commerce offerings that seamlessly integrate personalization into the experience. These features make it easy for a marketer to curate audiences and change the experience for each audience, either through industry-specific personalization or by customer segmentation.
Provide the Product Information Buyers Need
In the latest Avionos B2B Buyer survey, understanding product specification and configurations was the top challenge B2B buyers faced. And nearly half of buyers said finding up-to-date product or service information was a top challenge when researching purchases. This number is up over 200% from the prior year!
From a supplier perspective, maintaining product data can be difficult. You need to source and sync product data from a number of disparate systems. The solution? With a cloud-based product information management (PIM) system, you can be up and running in just a few weeks. Avionos is a key implementation partner of Salsify, a leading cloud-based PIM provider.
“Good product data is essential for a great commerce experience, and PIM is a great first step in improving product data,” says Joe. With PIM, a manufacturer can centralize and manage product data, while also making it readily accessible across all necessary areas of the business and in the optimal format.
Implement Sample Order Offerings
Commerce is about more than a transaction or order history; it’s an opportunity to drive business value. Sample orders are a meaningful way to build a 360-degree view of your customer and execute a seamless customer experience.
With this capability, customers can place a sample order and test a product before making a larger order. By ordering a sample, the buyer provides information about their business needs and priorities, giving sales teams the opportunity for targeted follow up. Sample ordering moves customers through the sales funnel and increases customer acquisition.
“In many B2B scenarios, customers are interested in sample orders before they place that bulk or repeating order,” says Joe. “The ability to evaluate the quality and the fit of the application of the product are key.” He notes that this is especially important for healthcare suppliers.
A sample order can initiate a “welcome journey” with the potential to connect with a sales rep or fill out a survey to provide insight into customer satisfaction. The sales rep can then follow up on sample order activity to convert the one-time prospect into a repeat customer.
When manufacturers execute and scale a streamlined sample ordering process, it builds a connected environment that fuses the sales team and digital tools to boost customer engagement. It puts the product in buyers’ hands, creating an initial touchpoint with the goal of converting them to long-term customers.
Find Success in Global Commerce
Manufacturing is a global market and for many companies, it’s an opportunity that’s made possible with digital transformation. Because of its scale and variables, global commerce is easy to describe but challenging to deliver.
“Global commerce is successful when you can enforce global standards and a consistent user experience, while also being able to accommodate regional variances,” says Joe. The end state is one that gives your regions flexibility within a framework.
To start, establish your global KPIs and standards. Conduct a global design, and then deploy it within a single region in a way that accommodates the regional variances. If you can achieve that architectural paradigm with the first release, expanding it to additional countries and regions becomes successively less complex and lower effort.
These are the commerce trends we’re seeing for 2022. This is the future of ecommerce. To take your ecommerce to the next level, determine where your business is now and where it needs to go. Now is the time to capitalize on emerging technology and maximize digital tools to unlock new revenue, transform the customer experience, and move your business forward.