The must-have features for B2B Commerce

B2B outgrew its predecessor, B2C long time ago. Initially, it was the consumer that companies targeted directly. However, business-level collaboration directly benefits the end client too. Merely a child of B2C, Business-To-Business soon outperforms its successor.

When all manufacturers, suppliers, and retailers gear up to deliver and turn the process into a model, the estimated profits linger in the trillions.

What makes B2B tick

Before reaching the shelves of a gas station, a can of Coca-Cola, for example, goes through an incredible journey since production through various warehouses and distribution channels. But what about the distribution of billions of cans? It is only possible thanks to the efficiency of a vast and well-grinded network of business partnerships.
What makes B2B run flawlessly and improve? Let’s explore the eCommerce features I think are here to stay and not just a temporary fluke of tech choice.

Getting the best Price

The price is a big influencer, whether B2C, C2C, or B2B. How different models define their price forming is what fundamentally sets them apart.
The end customer is interested in seasonal deals, while the B2B expert looks for—among other things— a possible preferential discount by volume. Although all models have always put the customer in the spotlight, B2B takes the roundabout route, ensuring that the final output is quality. Those who succeed in doing so reap outstanding awards, and the projected scenario is the wards will only get bigger.
Price-forming is detrimental to B2B and very specific. The special prices companies get when using the services of other companies are not immediately clear from the get-go. Business partners must align their internal policies to achieve best what their partnership can guarantee at the end. A B2B supplier is likable because of its quick-shop options for partners. Although this feature is a massive convenience for regular purchasers, rules related to pricing are subject to constant change. After all the collaterals related to price-forming are finally factored in, the seeming price relief businesses enjoy is not that easy to achieve.

Profit by quantity

One of the oldest merchant strategies to profit from a tight margin is to ramp up the quantities. Resellers use certain margins when they purchase in bulk from suppliers and others – to finalize their profit after the end client has received their item.
In B2B, there are many mechanisms focused on maximizing the benefits of bulk orders – minimum order quantity, one-click order, and so on. These methods aim to make it easy for partners to handle the recurring processes and optimize them for mutual benefit. With minimum order quantity, you can clearly define your conditions to your supplying partners. One-click order is a sign of long-term business relationships based on experience and trust.
As a mass supplier, you could fine-tune your prices for partners, effectively embedding your pricing policy within those rules. Of course, the prices for customers and suppliers are naturally different, but we never experienced the convenience of having other price groups, as we presently do, thanks to B2B-powered marketplaces.

Refined customer relations

In B2C, a lot of the marketing effort is getting recognized by new clients. In B2B, all stakeholders are marginally more aware of each other’s needs and requirements.
When a regular client reaches an eCommerce website, they are in the midst of their shopping journey. In contrast, when a B2B customer reaches a vendor’s portal – their journey is almost over. They most likely are already well aware of the website and even have personal login credentials for a specialized section of the website where they go to do business.
A B2C customer may visit the website once, never to return. In comparison, B2B customers always return, and they are usually part of long-term partnerships.
Despite the peculiarities of B2B eCommerce, it shares a similarity with B2B regarding customer relations. Even though B2B is ultimately about improving the effectiveness of the supply chain, clients are still a central factor. Relationships in B2B have the potential for longer and healthier terms.

Rich Media Services

B2B, just like any other eCommerce directly selling to customers, is in dire need of content optimization. It is important to note that following some popular trends in customer behavior. Most shoppers turn out to watch a video of the product – if available – before locking on a decision. Videos are frequently the natural go-to media during product evaluation. One of the few disadvantages of online commerce compared to your local store is the lack of the product’s physical appearance. Walk-in store merchandise looks vivid, and is touchable. In contrast, one of the biggest fears of online shoppers is not getting what they thought they purchased.
Clients must know what they are buying, even if they are physically distant from their desired item. Therefore, the use of vivid media is key to making products more reachable and more real. With omnichannel media coverage, products get the necessary exposure through customers’ preferred communication channels. In B2B, although the client is not the end-customer, the use of rich media bears high importance. How about introducing a new product to your partners using a comprehensive demo clip, how-to video or intuitive infographics? Customer engagement in B2B is just as meaningful.  –Like B2C customers, B2B agents love the convenience of rich media.

eCommerce with Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality has already stepped outside what we previously thought within the domain of science fiction. The improvement of the presentational quality of products through its power is undeniable.
When browsing items in your local shop, you have the luxury to touch and possibly even carry the product with your own hand before buying it.  In general, AR and any online commerce have a hard time making products as accurate as those displayed on the shelves of conventional shops. However, AR can wrap products into a spectacular three-dimensional overview, with a strong pronunciation of every detail, viewable from any possible angle. As Tim Cook from Apple once shared in an interview for Vogue Magazine, there won’t be a single industry not affected by AR.
Even though not all companies will benefit from adopting this fantastic tech, the fashion industry, for example, is a viable candidate for a complete changeover. There are hardly any more personal products other than items from the fashion industry: clothing, shoes, make-up, and jewelry. All these necessitate a thorough—sometimes intimate—examination by the client before purchase. Women will hesitate to buy a dress without trying it on first. Clothing vendors understand this point clearly and turn to augmented reality methods as a vital substitute to traditional walk-in and browsing. Fashion connoisseurs are used to browsing by walking around in shopping malls. Augmented Reality is one of the many intriguing methods eCommerce uses to compensate for that trend.
AR also opens up possibilities for mobile applications that work offline and can let you try various fashion articles, including make-up and jewelry. This opportunity to extend customer interaction through an offline app once again resurrects the immense possibilities of PWA. As we mentioned in previous articles, progressive apps are like no other when it comes to flawless interaction with low- or no connectivity. Fashion vendors are gearing up to extend their wares into virtual libraries their clients can browse at their leisure.
The implications of AR for B2B are noticeable, especially in the ability of companies to promote buying. Thanks to Augmented Reality, the product has a different story than the one told in conventional commercials. It is no longer about the extraordinary life of some anonymous actor in the video ad. Instead, the role of the main actor is rightfully played by the customer. A seemingly minor change in the perspective result is a significant shift in customers’ perception of products.

Due to the realistic essence of the Virtual Reality experience, AR users are bombarded with sensation. AR already tackles many sensory inputs, including touch, sound, even smell. There has been a scientifically proven link between our memories and our sense of smell. When we smell something, the sensory input gets analyzed by two particular brain structures, directly related to emotions (amygdala) and memoryforming (hippocampus). AR is primed to be great for product presentations with mood modifying capabilities, still growing as a potent commerce weapon.
Along with the sensory overload of AR, here comes enriched customer engagement. Clients become more personally invested in the shopping process, experiencing shopping in ways that bond them emotionally to the product.
AR picked up speed after the release and the quick success of the multiple Guinness World Record holder app Pokemon Go. However, augmented reality only touched the tip of the iceberg with such examples from the entertainment industry. What initially led to a multi-million idea featuring a planet-scale virtual world now poses real opportunities for insightful eCommerce owners.

Virtual Reality

While AR focuses more on enhancing the world as we already see it, VR is more about simulating it. AR products like Google Glass build on top of our reality, while in VR, we are purposefully locked outside the real world for better immersion. VR and AR can be great when using in unison. For example, some eCommerce sites allow you to view their products in a virtual tour and then use AR through the same app to view exactly how the product looks as if you already purchased it and made it part of your home.
Even though both VR and AR are about creating an alternative environment for us, they are more like technological cousins than siblings.
Online shopping has a list of benefits, but touching the product before buying it is not one of them. To compensate for this painful flaw of eCommerce, more companies adhere to exciting opportunities to make it easier for customers to ‘feel’ the product before locking on it. One such option is building customer-focused virtual environments.

Virtual Reality apps help create a setting where customers and buyers clearly understand the product or services’ value. Virtual showrooms can host powerful product overviews featuring rich and immersive product interactivity. For example, a VR tour for a dentist chair can help customers (dentists) play with the controls and learn about the chair maneuverability without having to drive a showroom or buy the product, only to find something undesirable later.
Virtual Reality apps save travel time and the time customers take to consider choosing one product over another.

VR enables users to test intricate product features remotely and conveniently. It has been on the radar of eCommerce entrepreneurs ever since Facebook seemed to have recognized its potential after acquiring Occulus for an estimated two bln USD in 2014. When the most extensive social network received full rights for a brand new technology like VR, it is easy to recognize how any emerging tech can become central in presenting the next big product.
Businesses from all industries re-calibrate their policies to allow exciting next-generation computing platforms to enter their domain and captivate their audience. Despite the lingering hardware-imposed limitations and other developmental hiccups of Virtual Reality, I think we are yet to see the true rewards that come from VR applications. Why not take it a step further a bring out the heavy artillery: VR as a service.

Automation

Automation made the otherwise unachievable traits in online commerce very possible, from bulk-handling repetitive processes to turning copious amounts of data into a meaningful source for further research.

But does the intensity and the scale of our AI measure our success in B2B?

We use live chatbots not necessarily because human interaction is impossible. Sometimes, the client needs to learn about small details readily available through an interactive quiz. Although live bots are not great human substitutes, they are indispensable at unloading a fraction of a necessary workload.
Automation saves workload, but it sometimes does so by losing a bit of the ‘human’ part of customer interaction. Although some successful eCommerce websites rely heavily on AI to build relationships with their clients, they align it perfectly with their core customer relations strategy.
B2B opens a vast ground to automation, but the human touch should always stand one step behind the robot, ready to chime in. Too much automation does show some technical prowess but can be harmful in establishing a good connection with the customer. You could carpet-bomb your clients with relentless mailing lists and pings, but in the end – this might bring more harm than good. Some businesses require human interaction, and the clients also expect it.

But how to achieve a healthy balance between human and machine interaction? We know that face-to-face sales interaction is times better than the more impersonal phone call. But what if the potential client does prefer to be reached by email? Therefore, it is best to factor in customer feedback and uses it to learn more about customers’ original intention, rather than the reason they specifically gave up on a selected product or a service.
With each new piece of tech we get at our disposal, we had the opportunity to improve the quality of our communication with clients and partners. However, we could just as easily ruin it by failing to understand that what to us looks like an improved method might not find its match across the table.

Conservative clients might find live chatbots insulting, while some millennials may find the face-to-face approach a bit too intruding. People change, and so does technology. The way humans and AI work together has always been the result of a carefully managed balance. Learning the proper steps towards learning to sustain this balance is sometimes a life-long journey.
After all, on the quest for ultimate personalization, knowing your client intimately reveals their personal communication preferences and helps you build trust with them. One way to gain your clients’ trust is knowing what part of their shopping journey can and should be automated. The result comes after what ideally should be an intimate discussion.

One of the most outstanding and fast-growing applications of B2B automation is marketing automation. Although it sounds a bit presumptuous—and maybe a bit hypocritical—streamlining your marketing efforts does not always happen at the expense of the quality of your customer relations. Processes like lead generation, segmentation, feedback management will be impossible without the helping hand of AI. Marketing automation improves the operational efficiency of B2B and will support your retention, cross-sell and upsell strategies.

“Talking Robots” are here for the long run

Chatbots are one of the well-known AI applications in eCommerce and remain a robust tool for intelligent automation. Compared to other advanced techs like AR, chatbots seem like a work-ion-progress solution for customer management. But we still use them, and they are far from the temporary solution they seem. It is unlikely that an exciting new technology will soon replace them – they are the most convenient and to-the-point tools for eComm. 

Chatbots are still instrumental in helping marketers receive and organize more leads. Live chatbots help reduce the man-hours of humans. Customers can still get essential information without even speaking to a person. Chatbots interactively promote self-learning for the users and also boost their sense of independence. 

ECommerce experts warn us that too much AI can ‘deface’ a company and cause its customers to lose trust or undermine their shopping journey. However, only a fraction of all customer support issues qualifies for human intervention. For anything else, customers are more than happy to resort to a helpful AI. In fact, some point out that we may already live in a world where AI solves most online-related problems.
Among other things, AI bots cans also do strategic pitching and are possibly better at it than humans. For example, if a customer is occupied with an item, a sales agent could mention the slightly better option. For a human agent, exploring every opportunity for an upsell can be a laborious and time-consuming process. In contrast, an integrated custom chatbot will never miss a chance to probe the customer.

Conclusion

Unlike a B2C customer, who might resort to impulsive buying or choose a product simply based on the price tag, the purchasing decisions of a B2B agent differ. B2B customers don’t merely indicate their personal preferences but the intent of the whole company they represent.
Volume and size are common concepts in B2B. It comes to little surprise that B2B’s value might already surpass that of B2C. On average, a B2B order is for a larger amount—products or funds— and occurs with a steadier rate. Such a massive process is only possible through the precise help of customized eCommerce add-ons. 

I believe the add-ons mentioned above will not only remain on our radar but have the potential to solve the unique challenges of B2B eCommerce. However, don’t just rush to build a PWA app or raise a web portal for your suppliers because it’s trendy.
Whatever your B2B digital transformation approach, your business model and common practice will necessitate both the right eCommerce add-ons and the rock star development team who can build and integrate them.

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Author

Andreas Maier | CEO

Andreas is a result-oriented CEO who brings nearly 30 years of experience gained in the high-tech industry. His experience ranges up to leading positions in Fortune 100 companies such as rentalcars.com (PCLN) or Intrasoft International, a leading EU based R&D software vendor. He holds a Ph.D. in Neural Networks from the University of Cologne, Germany.
In the past Andreas has successfully founded and co-founded several startups among others XXL Cloud Inc., eShopLeasing Ltd, and WDS Consulting SA. His expertise is strongly focused on modern headless Commerce and the optimization of processes in IT ecosystems.