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Three learnings manufacturers can take from B2C commerce

Lizzie Powell
Lizzie Powell
Managing Director, Design & Technology UK
9 min read
28 October 2022

We’re all well aware of the growth of e-commerce over the past couple of years, but it wasn’t only for B2C, B2B saw a huge surge in commerce too and arguably saw the biggest change. The global B2B e-commerce market is valued over 5 times higher than the B2C market, at a huge $14.9 trillion

The B2C market has set the benchmark for e-commerce standards, and despite their differences, there’s plenty of inspiration and learnings manufacturers can take from B2C brands. Especially as the line between the B2B and B2C customer is slowly fading, what was classed as nice to have in B2B is now expected thanks to the experience B2B buyers are receiving as B2C customers.

Here we take a deep dive into the new B2B buyer and the key learnings manufacturers can take from B2C to supercharge their commerce experience. 

The rise of e-commerce in manufacturing

Research from Mckinsey, shows that e-commerce is now the highest revenue-driving sales model accounting for 18%, which puts it on the same level as in-person sales and ahead of all other sales channels. 

The shift from traditional selling isn’t slowing down, it’s expected that by 2025, 80% of all B2B interactions will happen digitally. But the move to digital isn’t a transition that can happen overnight, manufacturers need to start their digital transformation now in order to reap the benefits further down the line. 

When it comes to commerce in manufacturing, it is usually more complex than B2C due to a number of factors, from long-buyer lifecycles to high value purchases. However, e-commerce has the power to transform manufacturers by moving them away from traditional ways of doing business and giving them a digital ecosystem where they can optimise their customer journey and enhance their e-commerce experience. 

DEPT® recently helped Jotun migrate all 91 variations of its B2B and B2C websites, to a new Optimizely solution. Due to two completely different audiences (B2B and B2C), different solutions were implemented to ensure the correct and relevant content is displayed to the customers. Specifically for the B2B customer, in order to deliver personalised features, content and applications to the relevant user, DEPT® built an IAM (identity and access management) solution to define high level access to the portal, allowing Jotun to deliver a personalised B2B commerce experience.

Building digital experiences customers now expect

A key driving force behind the rise in manufacturing commerce is the evolving B2B customer. The frictionless digital experience they are accustomed to as a B2C customer is now expected throughout the B2B buying journey. They want suppliers to be present across more channels than ever before and deliver a personalised experience on them all. Also, convenience is now key. They’re welcoming more automation and self service, giving them greater control of the process, whether that’s from placing orders to paying invoices. A new B2B customer is formed. 

Research by McKinsey showed that 62% of B2B customers would prefer to reorder products online and 60% found remote sales as effective as traditional. However, according to a recent report, 52% of B2B customers experience frustration with online B2B buying – lack of functionality tops the list as the biggest obstacle, closely followed by load speeds and difficulty finding products. And, this isn’t good news for manufacturers, as a huge 90% will turn to a competitor if customer experience is not up to scratch on a supplier’s digital channel. On the plus side, they are willing to pay a premium for a great commerce experience. 

However, these figures aren’t surprising when only 18% of companies say they have a customer-centric strategy. This needs to change. Manufacturers must start to take a leaf out of B2C’s book and move away from being product focused to more customer-centric. But, to do so they need the right digital solutions. 

If these stats alone aren’t a good enough reason to up your commerce game, I don’t know what is! Here are 3 key learnings manufacturers can take from B2C commerce to do just that. 

3 learnings B2B can take from B2C e-commerce

01 Personalisation 

From experiencing personalisation as a consumer, B2B customers are now demanding the same tactics are used. According to Accenture, 73% of B2B executives have a growing number of customers who are looking for their interactions with the brands to be more personal. Although this will differ quite substantially from B2C, with the amount of data at your disposal, you can deliver personalisation that is unique to their buyers’ journey. Due to most business coming from repeat orders, manufacturers will arguably have access to more customer data. This includes customer accounts with an organisational structure, and previous orders, which should allow manufacturers to predict the future needs of their customers. Customer loyalty is key in B2B and gives a podium for personalisation to shine. For example, capturing data and adopting the use of artificial intelligence to help anticipate customer preferences and needs.

Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all and generic messaging. Personalisation allows manufacturing companies the opportunity to engage with their customers in a much more relevant way, by leveraging customer data, preferences and online behaviour. B2B commerce gives manufacturers the power to configure personalised catalogues and pricing, as well as provide customers with tailored product recommendations all in real-time. And, it doesn’t all have to happen digitally. The sales team will be able to see customer activity online, which in turn will allow them to provide a personalised in-person experience too. This has the power to set their experience apart from competitors. 

And, if the success reaped by B2C brands has anything to go by, it has the potential to raise revenue and increase loyalty. 80% of consumers are more likely to buy from businesses that offer a tailored experience and 70% say that how well a company understands their individual needs impacts their loyalty. Those companies that personalise sales and marketing more closely to the customer are more likely to have gained market share in 2021, with 75% of those offering direct one-on-one personalisation reporting a move. Additionally, 44% of customers who experience personalisation say they will become repeat customers.

02 Seamless, multi-channel experience 

There have never been more channels used by B2B buyers than now. As of December 2021, McKinsey reported that B2B decision makers are using 10 channels to interact with suppliers, up from 5 channels in 2016. B2B companies that are selling through more channels are also likely to have gained market share, 72% of those who used 7 channels reported an increase. Omnichannel is here and manufacturers need to keep pace and be wherever the customer is. 

When the B2B customer is trying to complete or satisfy an order, the delivery of content should be unobtrusive and rapid. The ability to augment product details with content and upsell/cross-sell is now a must-have. Whether that’s through a website, app or in-person. 

Just like B2C, B2B customers expect a seamless UX that guides them through their journey. Yes, the B2B buying journey is often much longer and more complex than B2C, but that’s no excuse. Manufacturers need to be giving the customers the right information, at the right time, in the right place and in the right format, such as 360 product views or product video demonstrations, in order to make their lives easier and provide a great user experience. Whether that’s the ability to track an order in real-time or accessing a customer portal to self-serve, the right technology can contribute to a seamless user experience, whatever their need. 

03 Integrated e-commerce tech stack

Launching a B2B e-commerce site on its own just won’t stack up, it’s essential to adopt an integrated ecosystem to truly reap the benefits. So, it’s time to say goodbye to those legacy systems and invest in a tech stack. However, manufacturers will need to take it a step further than B2C due to its complexities. 

An increase in B2B touchpoints means a manufacturer’s customer will likely order through different channels, whether that’s through the ERP system or through a sales rep. Therefore, the tech stack must be able to facilitate orders however they come in. Another consideration is the complexity of the supply chain. Certain orders will require significant supply chain requirements, so it’s essential for each different system to be integrated in order to keep up with demand.

A high level of integration will also help to provide a holistic view of the customer and their journey as well as operational. Marketing automation and analytics are areas where B2C have excelled in and are key features to consider, especially to deliver on a customer-centric strategy, as well as the marketing of new products and ranges to existing and prospective customers. So the full features of an experience platform are not to be overlooked for B2B, in fact some manufacturers have considered these features as important as their catalogue.

But, not all platforms are created equally, so ensure you choose the one that is right for your business goals and outcomes. Unsure how to decide on the right platform? Find out more here.

This is only touching the tip of the learnings manufacturers can take from B2C. At the end of the day, all B2B customers are also B2C customers, so expectations will continue to transfer between them both. And, the digitisation of B2B commerce isn’t slowing down anytime soon, so it’s on manufacturers to keep up with the evolution of digital commerce or risk being left behind. Those willing to invest will reap the benefits. 

To find out how we can help you to take advantage of the learnings from B2C and take your B2B commerce function to the next level, get in touch today.

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Managing Director, Design & Technology UK

Lizzie Powell