The Empowered Consumer: Navigating the New B2B2C Digital Landscape
This article first appeared in Multichannel Merchant on Tuesday, July 23.
As the world of commerce becomes increasingly omnichannel, the boundaries that once clearly separated eCommerce markets have begun to fade away. Whereas a brand might have traditionally kept business-to-business (B2B) sales and business-to-consumer (B2C) sales in silos, today’s connected commerce experiences have created a new selling environment: B2B2C.
Navigating this new landscape successfully requires embracing a holistic view of the entire sales process. Quite simply, a siloed approach to B2B and B2C sales models no longer make sense today. Brands must instead create a new synergy between these two channels to build equivalent, unified online shopping experiences for both business and customer buying journeys.
What Is B2B2C?
A B2B2C sales model can manifest in several ways. Typically, it involves a manufacturer or service provider that sells to consumers through a retailer or distributor. For example, Coca-Cola sells its fountain products via an extensive distributor network, but Coca-Cola also markets its products directly to consumers.
Makeup brand Tarte Cosmetics offers another version of B2B2C. Tarte sells its products both direct to consumers via its own eCommerce website and also through retailers, such as Ulta and Sephora. Ulta and Sephora, meanwhile, engage with Tarte as a business buyer rather than a traditional consumer.
In either example, it’s no longer enough to treat the business sale and the consumer sale as completely separate sales models. Instead, the B2B2C mindset better reflects today’s new retail landscape, in which all consumers – both business and direct – are demanding more from their online shopping experiences to cater to their specific consumer or business needs.
Business buyers, in particular, have become more discerning, and in response, brands will need to step up their game. Salesforce research suggests 70% of business buyers now expect an “Amazon-like” buying experience from their business vendors, and 74% of business buyers expect their vendors to personalize these experiences to their needs.
Considering that B2B eCommerce sales are expected to reach nearly $8 trillion in 2019, this shift in expectations comes as no surprise.
So, what should brands keep in mind as they transition to a B2B2C model? Ultimately, success will depend upon a brand’s ability to deliver a traditional consumer-focused shopping environment for all online customers. This requires choosing the right technology to create a truly connected customer experience.
B2B2C Ecommerce Platform Options
Sales and marketing today are fueled by a wide mix of technologies – and yet the average B2B2C company seems to be lagging. Gartner reports that the average B2B technology stack includes 12 different applications, including lead management, multichannel campaign management, and digital asset management. For B2C companies, the average stack includes 15, with a heavier focus on digital marketing hubs and customer data management platforms.
The average B2B2C company, however, uses just three applications: web content management, email marketing, and web analytics solutions. As the Gartner report makes clear, “These brands have an opportunity to treat dealers and partners more like customers and deliver superior customer experience through technology that creates a differentiated advantage.” Even though business consumers may engage with a brand less frequently than direct consumers, business buyers still want a great all-round experience from the brand when they do engage.
Historically, the B2B ordering process has been more low-tech and focused on personal relationships with account executives, where an order is more likely to be placed over the phone or even by fax than by visiting the organization’s website. But these manual processes are difficult to automate and create latencies and risks of error. Instead, strive to create a process where the B2B relationship is handled more like a B2C relationship.
Several technology providers are making significant strides in enabling this B2C-like experience for B2B buying.
Amazon Business – modeled after its ubiquitous consumer retail model – launched in 2015. By 2018, the platform was generating $10 billion in sales annually. In addition to the familiar online marketplace with an enormous range of products, Amazon Business empowers B2B brands with extensive data and an easy-to-use dashboard to help companies better understand their metrics across the platform.
Meanwhile, SAP’s Commerce Cloud, Adobe Commerce Cloud, and Salesforce B2B Commerce Cloud all promise to enable brands to more easily connect the dots across their channels to create seamlessly integrated customer experiences.
What’s interesting here is the implication this has on not only the B2B buying experience but also the selling experience. Modern B2B sellers have come to expect the same level of data and analytics they use in their B2C commerce platforms – something B2B platforms have not traditionally provided. These new updates from the three major players in this space represent a potentially major, transformative shift.
Regardless of the platform a company chooses, the goal is to create a cohesive ecosystem for delivering the very best service and quality for both direct and business consumers – resulting in an end-to-end customer experience that is so engaging, they return again and again to purchase.
Doing this well requires a 360-degree, full-lifecycle view of both types of consumers, with easy access to data across eCommerce, marketing, sales, service, and the right technology foundation to execute wisely on that data.
There’s a lesson here for all of us: As businesses dive in and focus on the day-to-day intricacies of delivering stellar online shopping experiences, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. Fortunately, the transition to B2B2C doesn’t have to be overly complex; it’s simply about adopting the right perspective and understanding that allconsumers, whether direct or business, expect and deserve a shopping experience that caters to their own individual needs.