B2B ecommerce

Digital Strategy

Personalization in B2B eCommerce

Monday, March 21, 2022
Layer One - Digital Marketing Specialist - Chris Renaud

What Level of Personalization Is Right in B2B eCommerce?


Gone are the days of lengthy phone calls with sales reps and flipping through catalogs to place an order. Instead, digital tools and platforms including ecommerce have become an essential part of the B2B researching and purchasing process. According to a McKinsey survey, more than 90% of B2B respondents had shifted to virtual sales models within a month of the pandemic’s start. And nearly 70% of customers prefer to do business remotely, with nearly 97% of them willing to make purchases online, self-serve, exceeding $50,000. The majority of those businesses reported that they plan to continue using digital models even after the pandemic subsides. Although most manufacturers understand that ecommerce is necessary to meet B2B buyers’ changing expectations, many overlook a critical element of succeeding online. As the shift to online shopping and buying grows in B2B, manufacturers need to make sure they don’t ignore the importance of personalization in the product research and selection process online.


Why is Personalization in B2B So Important?

Because B2B buying is complex and involves various departments, customers want to minimize the time and effort it takes to find the information they need to make purchasing decisions. As B2C personalization becomes the norm for online retailers (the most common example is Amazon.com), B2B buyers are starting to expect the same level of care from their business purchases. In fact, according to McKinsey, more than 70% of customers expect personalized interactions when they shop, and more than 75% become frustrated when companies don’t deliver. Personalization allows businesses to understand their customers on a deeper level. Analytics provide insight into customer interests, purchasing habits and product needs. With the right data, you can make more relevant recommendations and identify potential upsell and cross-sell opportunities. Personalization helps customers find products that meet their needs more effectively and improve both customer satisfaction and your share of wallet. With so many options to choose from, it’s much easier for shoppers to select manufacturers and distributors with personalized, user-friendly options over those that rely on cumbersome, traditional sales tactics, or hard-to-navigate ecommerce websites. Because many larger companies have been slow to invest in personalization, there is room for small and mid-sized competitors to fill in the gaps.


How Is Personalization Different for B2B and B2C Buyers?

The ways B2C and B2B customers research and buy online are vastly different. Because B2C customers generally purchase items for personal use, understanding their shopping behavior is not complicated. For example, if someone buys a bag of dog food and a collar, it’s safe to recommend dog toys during their shopping experience on your website. Because these customers often make the same or similar purchases over long periods, less complex data is required to personalize their ecommerce experience.B2B buyers are less predictable. Working in ever-shifting industrial environments, they move from project to project, each of which requires a different product. Although they may reorder the same items, it can be hard to determine whether they will need a product long-term or for just a few months. For example, an engineer may be working on a prototype, and testing different solutions. A plant manager, on the other hand, may be looking for an ongoing source of safety gloves. This inconsistency within the same business and even the same job means that long-term data trends are not as reliable as the short-term picture. For example, if an engineer bought something a month before, it may be safe to assume they are still working with the same components. However, it is less likely that a product they ordered two years ago still has anything to do with their current projects. With the right data and technology, we can sort B2B buyers into multiple segments based on their industry, interests and purchases made within a specific timeframe. A sales team can then use this data to make helpful recommendations based on the segments a customer falls into; an ecommerce website automatically makes recommendations helpful to that buyer in the moment.


Examples of Personalization in eCommerce

Businesses have been working toward greater personalization for decades. In the early 2000s, Amazon began working on systems that would analyze customer buying and browsing behaviors and use that data to make targeted recommendations. Suggestions include:

  • “For you”
  • “Customers also bought”
  • “Popular deals”
  • “Frequently bought together”
  • “Add to cart”

Amazon has applied the same idea to its multibillion-dollar Amazon Business, which targets B2B buyers. The company quickly found that the same personalization strategy used for B2C customers would also work for industrial buyers. While shopping, Amazon’s platform fills in gaps and offers suggestions for complementary parts and products a buyer might have forgotten. Today, Amazon’s recommendation platform generates billions of dollars across its businesses - around 35% of its total revenue. Amazon’s success is just one example of how powerful personalization can be for B2B businesses. Manufacturers and distributors globally are following Amazon’s lead and are seeing significant returns on their investment.


How Can B2B Businesses Personalize Their Platforms?

Personalization does not happen overnight – it is not a switch that users can flip on and off.  Instead, there are two fundamental elements of a great shopping experience: stable technology and robust data.

The first step is to stabilize your technology foundation. If your website isn’t reliable or you can’t trust the information coming in, your data will be useless. In this case, finding a technology partner you can trust is essential. The right partner will analyze your systems and provide solutions to ensure:

  1. You are collecting reliable information
  2. Your buyers are enjoying a top-quality digital experience

Once you have reliable systems in place, you can begin to gather information about your customers and their shopping behaviors. You should know who you are marketing to, what they are interested in and how they prefer to make their purchases.

To provide customers with a personalized digital experience, you must leverage three types of data:

  • Customer data – Who are your customers? Where do they work? What types of customers do they work with? Customer data tells you everything you need to know about your buyers so you can understand their interests, buying behavior and pain points and deliver higher-quality pitches and product recommendations.
  • Product data – Your product offering and its attributes, including how they are named; how customers refer to them; characteristics of the products such as color, size and shape; packaging type; and more.
  • Channel data – What, how and when are your customers buying across all of your sales channels? It is essential to look at which channels your customers naturally gravitate toward and how they prefer to buy. This will help you uncover opportunities and identify areas that may need improvement.

These three types of data must work in concert for personalization to be effective. For instance, by analyzing customer, product and channel data, you can identify useful patterns. An example of this is when multiple customers purchase product A and product B together via your ecommerce platform. Because these two products go well together and customers often buy them together, your team can utilize this data to improve product recommendations on your site to provide a personalized experience. Your sales team will also benefit from this information. Salespeople can be more consultative and make better upsell and cross-sell offers when they have access to these unique customer insights. By understanding who your customers are, what they are shopping for and which channels they prefer to buy from, you can create a truly personalized experience that resonates with buyers.


Personalization for every buyer

With a firm foundation, you can dig deeper into your data to create a personalized experience– even if a buyer has never visited your site before. Keep two types of customers in mind when considering which personalization tools to implement: unknown and known customers.


An unknown customer is a first-time visitor to your site. Even without prior data, it is important to consider these customers when building your ecommerce site and choosing which technology to integrate into your systems. Ignoring these buyers will only result in lost revenue.


Known customers are users who have already interacted with your business. For example, they may have purchased from you before or have spent time browsing your website. As a result, your system should already have a repertoire of data about them. This makes it is easier to target what products they may be interested in and what channels they prefer.

Although marketing to existing customers may seem more straightforward, you probably have more information about first-time visitors than you realize. After all, even if you don’t know who someone is, you can train your system to monitor their interactions with your site and make real-time adjustments based on their behavior. By analyzing the browsing and purchasing patterns of similar (known) users, your system can intelligently determine what a new customer may be interested in and what they are most likely to buy.


Where should manufacturers start with personalization?

Even if you don’t offer a shopping cart on your website, it is still important to provide an environment where people can quickly research and select the right products before being transferred to a distributor or other sales channel to make a purchase. Your website is where new and returning customers interact with your brand. To leave a lasting impression and ensure browsers convert to buyers, you must integrate personalization into your platform. Remember that this is a process – not an cut-and-dried one-time solution. For personalization to work well, it must be backed up by stable technology and robust data. However, technology is not the only piece of the puzzle – you must also have a team that is strategic about how these changes will improve your current processes and a view toward how personalization could be applied across your sales channels.


Take technology out of the equation – Instead of treating your buyers as “cookies” (a term for technology that tracks website activity), treat them like people just as you would on any other channel. Treating customers as real people online will make your sales team more consultative and helpful, and you may even find products or services valuable to them that they don’t realize you offer.


Start small – Take it one step at a time. Focus on building a solid platform and gathering quality data before trying to implement unnecessary features.


Ensure your platform is reliable – Without it, your customers will have a lackluster shopping experience, and may head to your competitor.


Your website is an extension of your other sales channels. After all, buyers still want to interact with real humans along their shopping journey – especially those needing specialized support for highly technical purchases. According to McKinsey, “76% of B2B buyers find it helpful to speak to a salesperson when they are researching a new product or service. That figure falls to around 50% for repeat purchases of products with new or different specifications. And only 15% want to speak with a salesperson when repurchasing exactly the same product or service.” Personalization works best when it is implemented in an omnichannel environment. Customers want to have an outstanding experience every time they interact with your company – whether talking to sales representatives on the phone or repurchasing parts on your website. With the right technology in place, you can improve sales, productivity and customer satisfaction.


At Layer One, we partner with clients to create outstanding and compelling digital experiences in the B2B market. Our team of experts utilizes Sitecore, Umbraco, Insite and other platforms to provide flexible technology solutions, digital strategy and measurable success.

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