Price transparency, product trials, customer reviews and one-click purchases are long-standing hallmarks of the B2C online buying experience. Even before the pandemic, these factors helped digital marketplaces like Amazon reach the top of the retail totem pole by differentiating them from competitors before ultimately becoming the industry standard. Unsurprisingly, enterprise customers were already looking towards digital marketplaces and a similar buyer experience to the B2C space before 2020. However, last year’s global shutdown and today’s varying phases of reopening have accelerated the need for seamless and consolidated online purchasing options for B2B buyers.
Data from McKinsey uncovered that, following the effects of the pandemic, a large portion of sales across the B2B and B2C sectors moved online, with roughly 70 percent of B2B buyers saying they prefer digital interactions when needing to make certain purchases. This shift in behavior is largely caused by the efficiency and ease of online transactions, as enterprise customers look to further streamline purchases and product upgrades by handling smaller scale and simple, large-scale transactions digitally.
Business needs are continuing to change, with the ability to buy solutions and transact online becoming a “must-have” for business success. In August 2020, McKinsey also measured the likelihood of sustaining new go-to market sales models in the above-linked survey and found 89% of respondents were at least ‘Somewhat Likely’ to keep them as a fixture through 2021 and beyond. This figure represented an increase of 11% from the same survey distributed 5 months earlier.
But it’s not enough to just be able to buy online. Instead, enterprise customers require thorough research, accessible information, product trials, partner extensions, and more to help them reach check out. As companies look to quickly address shifting business needs, it’s become paramount for industry providers to supply integrated platforms to address the more traditional challenges and pain points customers often encounter in enterprise buying. Additionally, this shift allows providers to also support the sustainability initiatives – for example, going paperless – that enterprise customers are looking to align with.
Now, online B2B marketplaces must curate a one-stop-shop experience for enterprise buyers. This means focusing on several aspects of the digital channel to ensure delivery on the three things buyers value most: speed, transparency, and business expertise.
Optimize all sales channels
Ease and convenience are key factors for the shift to online purchasing, so ensuring that each sales channel works to deliver those qualities is a top priority. With that in mind, sales channels, whether online or offline, should be integrated and incentivized to collaborate with each other in putting the customer, and their choices and preferences, first.
Enhance the customer experience
The new normal will require a change in how B2B solution providers build and guide the customer’s decision journey. Addressing and fixing frustrations customers have with current platforms — such as persistent technical glitches and difficulty finding the right products within different industry contexts and business needs — and offering a human touch when necessary (via live chat options) are two ways to improve the customer experience. This makes it more likely for the company’s online marketplace to be chosen as a primary supplier.
Salespeople become more strategic
The shift to online buying will not eliminate the need for salespeople. However, it will require that sellers be clear on how best to provide support to customers using new tools. Bringing digital enablement experts into the team to serve as educational resources for face-to-face sellers will make the migration to an increasingly omnichannel and virtual sales strategy more efficient. Sales reps will learn to engage with customers and digital channels to continue driving sales forward.
The shift in both enterprise buyer behavior and corresponding sales strategies towards a preference for an integrated online marketplace was always anticipated, but the recent acceleration requires that companies quickly understand and adapt to the changed expectations of their markets. Going forward, buyer expectations around what is available digitally, as well as the experience curated while on that customer journey, will continue to evolve. Digital enterprise marketplaces will need to be flexible enough to address those shifts quickly and efficiently as they emerge. Evaluating e-commerce platforms and taking the necessary steps to meet these changes is critical to continued success on this evolved playing field.