Personalizing — Not Just Digitizing — The B2B eCommerce Experience

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As the B2B commerce landscape innovates, it is continually after that “Amazon-like” experience forged in the consumer commerce world.

But for B2B vendors and suppliers, the unique needs of corporate customers cannot be ignored, making a consumer-like buying experience particularly complex.

Pricing and payments are two key areas that tend to look vastly different in the B2B world than in the consumer arena.

While online shoppers can visit digital marketplaces like Amazon and obtain list prices for millions of products, for businesses, the price displayed isn’t necessarily the price a buyer is going to pay. According to John Bruno, vice president of commerce strategy at PROS, this means significant complexity for suppliers that are looking to finally take the leap to the digital sales landscape.

As he told PYMNTS in an interview, thanks largely to the pandemic’s influence on modernization, both buyers and sellers are eager to embrace the technologies that can shift the sales experience online. Yet pricing and payments continue to be a challenge for vendors hoping to optimize the user experience.

Pricing Complexities

There is a “multi-channel, multi-audience” challenge when it comes to B2B sellers’ pricing strategies. As these businesses migrate online, not only do they have to ensure that the prices provided to customers in offline settings match what is displayed on an eCommerce platform, but they have to ensure that every customer receives the correct pricing information based on their individual contracts.

“It creates a nightmare in terms of integrations into back-office systems,” explained Bruno, noting that suppliers have traditionally managed this pricing information within their enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems or adopted technologies that sit in between back-office platforms and eCommerce systems. It’s an inefficient way to ensure vendors maintain data on the correct pricing information for each individual customer, and then relay that information on their digital sales channels.

This strategy can be expensive, and those systems integrators often fail, said Bruno, creating the potential for a situation in which a longstanding client receives the wrong pricing information.

For PROS, this presents the opportunity to address this point of friction through its real-time pricing technology that can integrate into an array of eCommerce platforms. The most recent integration is with Adobe’s Magento Commerce, with connectivity ensuring that pricing information is not only maintained and kept up to date, but actually displayed for each customer correctly.

Bruno noted that this functionality isn’t only important for business buyers that have pre-negotiated prices on products they have been purchasing for years, but also for B2B buyers that are purchasing products for the first time.

“When folks see the list price, their natural inclination is to reach out to a human being like an account rep,” he said. “That process is wrought with friction.”

Artificial intelligence (AI), he added, can ensure pricing is personalized to drive higher conversion rates for sellers — and a better experience for buyers.

More Room For Optimization

It’s undeniably clear now that the global pandemic has accelerated the digitization of the enterprise, with the migration of B2B sales online continuing to accelerate.

As such, there are even more opportunities for B2B eCommerce technologies to not only help B2B vendors migrate online, but to optimize both the selling and purchasing process for business partners.

Product configuration capabilities, for example, are another complex area of B2B sales that can be optimized through appropriate B2B eCommerce technology. It’s another unique aspect of the B2B arena, noted Bruno, due to the high volume and high complexity of products that often need to be customized with the correct features to meet buyers’ needs.

The ability for buyers to use natural language to explain their needs and narrow down the product field can be a highly valuable way for suppliers to shorten the time between when a buyer decides they need a product, and when that buyer takes action to make a purchase.

Looking ahead, Bruno pointed to an additional area that is likely headed toward a modernization jump: B2B payments.

He pointed to the B2C experience of purchasing an iPhone, in which a consumer can choose to either pay for the device outright or finance it and pay for the device in installments.

“That feels more B2B to me,” he said.

Indeed, establishing payment terms or financing is the norm in the B2B space, adding yet another layer of complexity for B2B sellers looking to offer a consumer-like buying experience online. What’s important to understand is that custom payment terms will also have an impact on the ultimate price of a product, with technology presenting the opportunity for vendors to further personalize the buying experience by presenting not only custom prices, but custom payment terms on their digital portals.

The progress that has been made in the last year in terms of the adoption of B2B eCommerce business models is nothing to scoff at. But there is still much room for improvement, and according to Bruno, the future of the industry is not only digital, but tailored to buyer needs.

“We’re excited to see more push for more personalized offers happening in the digital commerce space,” he said.

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