For a few years, personalization has been B2C commerce’s favorite catch phrase: know your customer, personalize the offers and prices, sell at the right time and keep communicating until you build a relationship and not just a sale.
But what about personalization for B2B (business to business) sales? In 2016 Gartner predicted that B2B companies that incorporate personalization into digital commerce will increase revenues by 15%. But do B2C techniques work for this audience?
Consumer marketing attempts to personalize for one person, and often uses emotions to connect and convince.
However, B2B marketing and sales often must address a board room of decision makers, any one of whom may block or veto a sale. Their approval is driven by logic and trust. That’s why it’s critical to provide the information businesses need from the get-go, anticipate their questions and initial reservations, and build trust—at the speed they choose, through their medium of choice.
B2B will look more like B2C
B2B has evolved way past just a simple order entry portal where customers already know what they want.
As early as 2015, Forrester saw manufacturers, distributers and wholesalers migrating their business to the web. In a sample survey of B2B buyers, they found that 74% of buyers research online and prefer to buy online through a “self-serve” website, rather than deal with a sales representative.1
In their 2016 Digital Commerce Hype Cycle, Gartner predicted that by 2018, companies that “consumerize” their B2B commerce will gain market share and see revenue increase up to 25%.
It’s critical for B2B companies to create immersive, contextual commerce experiences—as personal as a sales rep, but with much wider reach.
We predict the following three ways B2B companies will pursue personalization during 2018 and beyond.
1. Multi-touchpoint commerce
Customers expect to interact with B2B brands across many touchpoints including web, mobile, in-app, social, as well as in person. B2B marketers must be prepared to meet their customers via any touchpoint.
Even more than in B2C, B2B customer interactions must be choreographed under a single, strong, trustworthy brand experience.
Yet, according to Forrester, only 23% of B2B marketers feel they have customer-centric systems that allow multi-touchpoint commerce. Companies are still organized to prioritize one touchpoint (usually the website) or create channels for single product lines, rather than architecting systems for multi-touchpoint, conversational commerce.
B2B companies that adopt multi-channel commerce will benefit from being able to engage with customers from one touchpoint to another with more knowledge about what customers are looking for and how. This allows marketing to create targeted content that may help decision making. It can also allow marketing to cross-sell and upsell opportunities that generate higher average order values and more repeat purchases.
2. Power personalization with artificial intelligence
Following individuals across many touchpoints allows companies to improve their personalization efforts. While most of the focus has been on uses in B2C, B2B companies can use artificial intelligence to sift through customer data to create an “aggregate customer” from among individuals at the same company. They can then predict both individual and aggregate intent, as well as identify industry trends and target companies “ready” for purchase. This allows marketing to put together content targeted to individuals and special offers and bundles that make sense for the company as a whole.
Artificial intelligence will also power personalized pricing in B2B settings. According to Gartner, 40% of B2B digital commerce sites will use price optimization algorithms to create custom price lists for each customer. This goes a step beyond dynamic pricing where companies change prices based on supply and demand. Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy and eBay automatically update prices several times a day based on margins, supply and demand, as well as conversion rates and customer history. B2B companies will adopt these same pricing methods over time.
3. Return to best-of-breed commerce solutions
Enterprise-class companies are no longer looking to add more servers to ensure they can sell many different products at varying prices to customers through any touchpoint. Scaling that way is extremely complex and expensive, often leading to failure. To build consistent customer experiences across multiple touchpoints, larger companies with high revenues and unique business models won’t be looking toward single-stack SaaS commerce platforms either.
They require enterprise-grade, best-of-breed commerce solutions that reflect their business model and can change rapidly in the face of competitive challenges.
A carefully thought out solution takes advantage of complementary technologies including customer experience, commerce, big data analytics, marketing campaign management, and personalization engines to name a few. The key is to ensure the parts can all easily work together with a single master commerce system to monetize customer experiences that go well beyond “add to cart” and discount coupons.
The $6.6 trillion prize
B2B will rely more heavily on multi-channel experiences, best-of-breed solutions and artificial intelligence to anticipate and serve business customers. Their investments in these technologies will pay off. Frost & Sullivan predicts B2B commerce sales will reach $6.6 trillion by 2020, overtaking the B2C commerce sales forecast of $3.2 trillion. The B2B market in the US alone is projected to hit $1.2 trillion in sales.
Personalization— and advanced commerce capabilities—will be critical for any company that wants a piece of that pie.