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Sep 30, 2019 | 4 minute read

Demystifying Personalization in B2B

written by John Bruno

B2B companies are thinking about personalization all wrong.

That’s not a slam on brands that are making a valiant effort to move their commerce initiatives into the future. However, B2B customers require a completely different value proposition than retail shoppers on the hunt for a fancy new shirt. And that value proposition requires a commerce platform that veers from a B2C definition that looks at past purchases to recommend future ones.

That’s because buyers expect their first interaction with a B2B brand to be much more personalized than their first interaction with a B2C website, where they may register as little more than an IP address. While B2B buyers in similar industries may exhibit similar browsing patterns, they have completely different, very specific end needs. Successful B2B personalization boils down to understanding and meeting these needs.

Here’s how B2B sellers can reconfigure their commerce platforms to get personalization right, while manifesting relationships that traditionally existed offline through a digital channel.

Drive relevance through consistency

In building their personalization efforts, B2B sellers should start by asking themselves, “What are the experiences my buyers care about, and how do I deliver those experiences?” Those specific use cases represent the magic that keeps buyerscoming back.

This is where a strong offline customer relationship will translate to a rich online buying experience. When setting up a B2B customer’s online account, filter for factors like industry, location and company size. So every time a European buyer for ABC Electricians logs in with XYZ Distributor, he won’t need to sort through plumbing products or electrical components with North American wattage. He’ll only see the correct parts —because XYZ Distributor understands his personal needs.

This model goes beyond personalized product filtering to include a personalized purchase process. A customer’s online pricing must accurately reflect her contracts; her payment methods should be pre-populated for faster checkout; and her payment timelines must becorrect. If ABC Electricians’ contract with XYZ Distributor stipulates 50 cents off each case of spark plugs and payment on net 30, that needs to show up online. If B2B sellers can’t get these critical details right across all channels, how can modern B2Bcustomers trust them with their business?

Stay away from AI and machine learning—at first

The online account setup mentioned above doesn’t involve one bit of AI or machine learning—just a human understanding of the customers and their needs. Most B2B companies are barely cutting their teeth in commerce, and need to get the basics down first. Don't touch machine learning and AI until it’s been mastered; getting in over one’s head with advanced tech and screwing up is a great way to alienate customers and appear incompetent.

The ROI that B2B buyers and sellers stand to gain from simpler levels of personalization actually can exceed the benefits of ML and AI for newbies. B2B buyers aren’t looking for the latest and greatest AI-generated recommendations —most of their orders involve buying the same items over and over again. They find value in features that let them build packages, save reorder requisition lists and generally buy what they need so they can get back to doing their jobs. But in driving greater adoption of your commerce platform, you can amass more data. That in turn makes any future investments in AI, ML or personalization engines all the more valuable.

Give up on promo codes already

Promo codes are insanely inefficient from a B2B standpoint. They require content administrators to create codes with strict business logic rules customized to individual accounts and contracts. Sales or marketing departments have to send individual code emails, which are likely to go ignored or overlooked. And customers have to remember to physically enter the code —or contact the vendor for a price adjustment when they forget.

This outdated madness can easily be avoided with the personalized pricing mentioned earlier. Building price into B2B customer profiles allows for bulk discounts, predefined or reorderable bundles and other valuable features. It’s also a far more scalable model for B2B sellers than tediously building out promo codes.

The bottom line on B2B personalization

B2B buyers aren’t shopping for fun, or because the purchase makes them feel good. They’re buying because it’s their job, and the more easily and effectively they can make those purchases, the better. The task of the modern B2B seller is to make customers feel like the online experience matches the experience they would expect to get from a great sales rep, and deliver that experience in a fraction of the time. That’s true B2B personalization.