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The path to making purchases is no longer flowing in one direction. Very few customers do all their research and shopping at the point of purchase. Instead, most people turn to social media, websites, magazines and even thought leaders before making their final decision. This multi-channel approach to shopping has forced organizations to create omni-channel platforms in order to meet buyer demand.
This is not only the case for retailers and other B2C companies, but in B2B environments as well. B2B sellers in today’s rapidly changing world are working quickly to build effective omni-channel experiences for their buyers. They’re looking to integrate new technologies and upgrade legacy organizational processes. Early adopters of these changes will likely find substantial advantages over their competition, which is why Accenture and hybris software, an SAP product, requested a study by Forrester Consulting.
The study examines how B2B sellers are changing the way they go about selling and delivering their goods and services. The following is a brief overview that examines their findings.
- High customer expectations have led B2B firms to shift toward rich omni-channel experiences
Forrester’s first finding focuses on how customer expectations are forcing B2B firms into adopting fully capable, omni-channel experiences. In our day-to-day lives, we are constantly involved in making personal buying decisions. We browse catalogues, visit stores, and click our way around online retailers such as Amazon. The rise of e-commerce in B2C environments is increasing the demand for the same features within B2B sales. This has led to increased buyer expectations in the following three key areas. They are:
- Enhanced fulfillment capabilities – The ability for next day shipping, or the ability to order online and then pick-up at a physical location
- Inventory visibility – This one speaks for itself, but businesses, like consumers, want increased transparency of product availability in-store and across other channels
- Superior customer experience – B2B buyers are looking for useful services to make their purchasing journey even easier. This can be anything from online assistance via chat or a mobile app containing the seller’s inventory
All of these expectations are on top of the normal considerations that need to be given to the importance of creating systems and channels that work hand-in-hand with each other. Customers demand a seamless transition when switching between different devices, like starting a purchase on their phones and completing it with a desktop. Or even making orders online, but picking them up at a physical location.
- Providing a comprehensive omni-channel experience helps ensure customer loyalty
Purchases made on mobile devices are becoming just as common as purchases made in-person, or on a traditional desktop computer. This change in purchasing behaviour has forced companies to offer the right omni-channel experience if they hope to maintain customer loyalty. The Forrester study found that omni-channel offerings are crucial for meeting customer demands.
Everyone prefers shopping in their own manner, meaning the more channels, the more likely you are to meet everyone’s specific needs. According the the study, B2B sellers with the right channels will find improved customer loyalty and retention. This is likely due to the fact that companies that embrace multiple channels can offer options than say, pure-play internet suppliers.
- Merchants will fall behind if they fail to adapt their technology to buyer needs
Because technology is so important to businesses, sellers are rushing to find new ways to leverage tech features in order to better serve their buyers, who already have high expectations thanks to B2C environments.
Of those surveyed, over 80 percent are planning on investing in, or upgrading, their current e-commerce platforms within the next six months. This is because for the most part, legacy systems and platforms are ill-suited to support the demands of an omni-channel approach. Those looking to succeed and surpass the competition will need to invest in the right technology as soon as possible.
However, this recommendation comes with a warning. The right technology doesn’t mean the latest and greatest. Many companies have a tendency to over-engineer their solutions. They key is to focus your efforts on finding the right tools that will complement current strategies and make them more successful. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. The key is to get the right training. There are a fair amount of IT certification training courses online, just make sure you find the one that helps you master the tools you have.
- Technology investment must be aligned with organizational and process change
On the coattails of implementing and investing in new technology comes the challenge of fine-tuning current operations that match the development of change management programs. After all, not all improvements in an omni-channel environment are customer facing. Organizations will need to consider a number of other changes in the process. Most common among them are likely to be:
- Creating organizational structures that align with customer behavior
- Enhancing business processes to enable omni-channel experiences
- Overcoming technical challenges to support digital transformation