You can’t go far these days without hearing how B2C trends and technologies are reshaping the B2B world. And while the consumerization of B2B continues to command attention, you may be wondering about the Next Big Thing. What lies ahead for B2B sellers, and how can you ready your business to meet it?
In a session at Ariba LIVE 2014, Rick Chavie, chief solutions officer of hybris software, an SAP company, discussed major shifts impacting B2B e-commerce—and new ways to engage with customers if you want to succeed in the evolving B2B landscape. The following highlights offer a snapshot of what to expect.
Emerging Trends in B2B
- Mobility moves front and center. As a cornerstone of instant commerce, the use of mobility technology will grow exponentially. “If you’re not in mobile for B2B, you’re really missing part of the market,” Chavie says. For example, global smartphone ownership is projected to reach 50% by 2017, with much higher numbers in the United States[i]—and B2B customers are using mobile in ever-growing numbers (see slide)[ii]. “Yet despite this accelerating growth curve, only 50% of B2B companies have a mobile strategy,” Chavie notes. The takeaway? Developing a mobile strategy now will put your business well ahead of the game.
- Customers take the reins: B2B becomes C2B (customer to business). “When the customer is in charge—which is really happening very much in retail and B2C, and more and more in B2B with significant buyers—it changes the way commerce is being driven,” Chavie says. For sellers, this will mean taking the customer point of view as the primary entry point and engaging them based on their preferences. With this new “outside-in” perspective, rather than asking, “How can I get a single view of the customer?” companies will ask: “How can my customers get a single view of my brand, regardless of the channels they’re using?” and find ways to deliver that. “If they get a much better experience, if they get the ability to shop, procure, and execute orders the way they want to do it, at that point you suddenly make it easier for them to do business with you, which is one of the keys to success,” Chavie says.
- The seamless customer experience finally arrives. The seamless experience is “something that everybody talks about, but very few people have in their environment today,” Chavie says. Why? Lack of integration between legacy systems creates silos of information—which means that sales, marketing, customer support, and other groups each have access to different slices of customer data. B2B sellers will overcome that hurdle in the years ahead, moving from a channel-centric orientation to an “omni-channel” approach that supports a real-time, single view of the truth regarding their products, orders, stock, and customers. This will:
- Enable brand consistency in terms of underlying assortments, offers, and promotional content across all customer touchpoints
- Provide unified views of product, pricing and promotions, inventory, orders, and customers
- Incorporate mobile
- Integrate legacy systems as well as emerging touchpoints and experience-focused technologies
With a common commerce engine that delivers insight across channels, sellers will be able to create a much richer customer experience, because everyone in the organization will share the same information. Here’s how it might look:
- Sales reps: With visibility to the customer’s order history and wish list on their tablet, sales reps in the field can quickly prepare offerings of products that customers are likely to buy. They can even create instant “mini-catalogs” based on the customer’s interests and currently available items.
- Marketers: At the same time, the marketing person sees that the rep is going on site and, looking at real-time customer info and inventory status, can tailor special offers and feed them to the rep’s tablet.
- Partners: Dealers, distributors, VARs, or other global partners have subscription access to website and other content created by a wholesaler or upstream brand, making it easy for them to provide a customized brand experience that meets localized or niche needs. “That’s one of the biggest opportunities, as you start moving away from just thinking B2B or B2C and start linking up players along the entire demand chain,” Chavie says.
- The Internet of Things transforms business processes. As the interconnection of smart devices, systems, and services continues to grow, manual and disparate processes currently prevalent in B2B will disappear. For example, say a plane develops an engine problem. Today this might require the airline customer to alert the manufacturer, get routed to the technician, then wait while the tech refers to a stack of documentation to try to identify the part and the issue with it, all of which happens across different locations and requires significant time and effort. New technologies will transform this cycle, supporting tighter integration and immediate resolution. “Maybe you use Google Glass, maybe you just have a tablet that can show a 3D simulation or visualization of that engine and be able to call up the part,” Chavie says. “Then you can talk to the technician through a live video chat, order right on the spot, and get rid of all of the layers of paper and documentation and writing things down, and have that be a seamless process from start to finish.”
- Omni-commerce extends globally. “Right now, it’s still not nearly as global as we think it will be over the next few years,” Chavie says. For example, nearly two-thirds of B2B e-commerce professionals in a recent survey said that less than 10% of their online revenue came from outside their home market.[iii] “Particularly as you look at Asia, the acceleration of penetration into those markets, not only by their domestic players, but also by everybody that wants to take part in the game from an e-commerce standpoint has accelerated.”
- Services become central to growth and differentiation. “Taking a lifecycle view of services from beginning to end of the experience with the customer is another area where there will be a significant amount of development over the next couple of years,” Chavie says. “There’s a huge market for services that we believe is relatively untapped from an e-commerce or a marketplace standpoint.” For example, within the US economy alone, the market for services is twice as large as the market for products.[iv] And as products become more commoditized, bundled services offer a key way to differentiate—enabling sellers to create a cradle-to-grave experience that not only enhances the connection to customers before and after they buy, but also extends the brand relationship in ways that competitors cannot replicate.
Embrace the future now
“This is how people are buying,” Chavie says. “If you’re not enabling it, you’re probably losing ground. So as you look at your plans over the next couple of years, whether you’re a small mom-and-pop, a distributor, or a major company, the companies doing the best now—and the data also shows that they’re accelerating—are the ones that are really embracing mobile, that are putting the single face to the customer, and having a single source of the truth. And they’re accumulating power in the industry and consolidating their position because of the fact that they’re accelerating.”
[i] Sources: Brand Anywhere and Luth Research Inc.; Q4 2013 Global B2B E-Commerce Online Survey done by Forrester Research in partnership with Internet Retailer
[ii] Source: Forrester Research commissioned study for hybris
[iii] Source: Q4 2013 Global B2B E-Commerce Online Survey
[iv] Source: US Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2011