B2B Online Florida 2023 brought together over 200 digital executives in manufacturing and distribution and technology vendors to meet, collaborate and learn about digital transformation strategies to drive innovation and growth. Michael Scholz, Vice President of Product and Customer Marketing at commercetools, served as Day 2 chairperson of the event, moderating two keynote panels.
Here, we offer up key highlights from the second discussion, “The Role of eCommerce in Driving B2B Sales.”
When you bring together the leaders of two B2B powerhouses with experts from a system integration agency and a product search and discovery software vendor to discuss how to help B2B leaders, you’re going to end up with many compelling takeaways. With a goal to help B2B leaders rethink their sales strategy from the traditional purchasing model to a more modern digital approach, the panel discussion delivered on how B2Bs can meet the expectations of buyers today.
The consensus among all the panelists was that B2Bs can, and should, tap into what B2Cs have already learned about the importance of delivering robust product discovery and omnichannel experiences.
Chris Baltusnik, eCommerce Transformation and Operations Leader at Owens Corning, opened the conversation by presenting the three things he focuses on at his company, all of which are applicable strategies for all B2Bs today — enabling customer growth, protecting long-term profitability and exploring new channels of growth. As he formerly worked in the B2C space, he shared that the challenges B2Bs are facing today are very similar to what B2Cs were going through 10 years ago.
Jon Panella, Group Vice President of Publicis Sapient and Eli Finkelshteyn, Founder & CEO of Constructor, agreed that many B2Bs are just now starting on the journey that B2Cs have already taken. Both said their companies are seeing increases in their B2B client base. Jon said that almost half of Publicis Sapient’s pipeline and leads are now coming from the B2B sector, explaining these businesses are looking for ways to take advantage of the composability of modern technology to enhance their digital experience, enabling them to improve buyer engagement and drive higher sales.
While it’s true that a large number of B2Bs are still new to eCommerce, Steve Grzymkowski, Senior Director of Global eBusiness at BDI, said his company started on its journey about 10 years ago with a goal of expanding its footprint globally. The company now sells in 12 countries. “12 languages and lots of different currencies — and we’re always looking at ways to make eCommerce more user friendly and easier for our customers.”
The importance of product discovery in B2B eCommerce
Chris sees the main differences between B2B and B2C commerce are in the way products are searched: B2B buyers take a more technical approach and search occurs in the way the sales cycle works. “You’re not necessarily using social media and you’re typically searching for something very specific. And then, as far as the sales cycle goes, it's not necessarily a ‘buy now’ tactic, it's an education tactic.”
Eli agreed, mentioning that in a B2B search, “People know exactly what they want to buy, they just need to find it with the availability that works for them and with the price that's available to them.” But regardless of whether the end customer is B2C or B2B, his company’s goal is to make sure their client’s search delivers products that are relevant to that customer.
As Jon pointed out, B2Bs don’t have the luxury of time to mature the product discovery experience that B2Cs had over the past 10 years.“The folks that are buying in B2B, they're already buying in B2C today so they expect those same experiences, they expect that same personalization — so our role is really ensure they get to that point very quickly…and have the opportunity to differentiate sooner versus later.”
What omnichannel means in B2B
Chris said he is currently ramping up the company’s omnichannel approach by developing a strategy of new verticals for Owens Corning to start selling into. He singled out Amazon as an avenue the company can’t ignore — simply because they are fast becoming a big player in the building materials space. “When I say Amazon, a lot of people in the audience may scoff and say, ‘we don't even want to think about Amazon’. It's a competitor channel conflict. But I think the importance of developing an Amazon strategy, it's here. It's not going anywhere. Amazon B2B is taking off.”
I'm not saying you need to list products on Amazon, but for us could be as simple as, we need to control Amazon, we need to see who's selling on Amazon. For all manufacturers out there, I'd challenge you to look at, go and search your products on Amazon, see who's selling and how they're being detrimental to your brand. And then the strategy could just be to kick those people off the site to help protect brand erosion.
eCommerce Transformation and Operations Leader, Owens Corning
Steve said that for BDI, “omnichannel” currently means ensuring that the customer gets the same answer no matter how they ask a question. “Whether it's about price, availability or what can you sell to us. Whether they call their salesperson, go to a website or use a mobile device, making sure that all those touchpoints, the price is the same. And that might sound simple, but a lot of times it’s a sales rep negotiating a price with a customer but [we have to] make sure they put that price in our backend system so the next time they go to the website, they see that price. So it's tying these things together and getting synergy between them.”
How B2Bs can drive eCommerce growth
Steve also shared that BDI is currently leveraging more of the analytics from its customer’s website journeys to help feed their salespeople information, giving them more ideas on what to talk to the customer about based on their behavior on the site.
Eli said Constructor has also been experimenting with ways to help their clients better utilize buyer data. He explained that while a B2C can’t predict the potential needs of an individual consumer based on the behavior of another consumer, B2Bs can apply learning from different buyers who work at the same company to improve personalization.
He called it “account-based personalization,” and said that early A/B tests with their client Fishery Supply are delivering positive results, suggesting attendees review the case study found on their website. “So many people were buying so often that we were able to figure out, “Okay, what else can we recommend to those people that maybe they don't know that we sell?”
When you talk about customer experience, to me the key is no matter what the channel is, no matter what touchpoint you're with that customer, make sure it's a consistent experience, same data, same look and feel, same brand presentation.
Group Vice President, Publicis Sapient
While Jon acknowledged that it’s difficult for a B2B to maintain control over everything when you have multiple people, distributors and channels selling your product, “The more you can wrangle that control of both content pricing and searching, the better off you're going to be. It doesn't matter what touchpoint they hit at, they're going to end up at the same product.”
Chris said that delivering this type of consistency and ensuring their partners do it as well is how he believes Owens Corning can build long-term profitability. “ So, we want to be able to give our partners the tools, assets, whether that's content, digital marketing help, anything that's needed to enable them to be able to sell in partnership with us on Amazon.”
While that strategy is working for Owens Corning, Steve said BDI has tried both Amazon and eBay and neither delivered significant sales.
We'd rather really build our own website and get our customers coming back there where they can also get their invoices. They can do a lot more value-added things while they're on the website. So, our strategy right now is more relying on our own eCommerce site.
Senior Director, Global eBusiness, BDI
Jon summed up the discussion by stressing that B2B leaders should recognize that growing eCommerce business isn’t just about prioritizing one channel or one search strategy because what works for one B2B may not work for another. What’s important is that your business has the flexibility to discover how to best meet the expectations of your customers and can touch base with them wherever they are. “The ideas of being able to take advantage of modern architecture and composability so you can plug in a better search engine when you need to or plug in a different commerce engine when you want — so you can future-proof your company. Think about putting together an architecture and a solution from a composable manner that allows you to bring all those pieces together.”
Understand your customer, understand what your customer wants, understand their buying habits, and be there to support that.
eCommerce Transformation and Operations Leader, Owens Corning
To explore seven more key takeaways from the 2-day event, read Key insights and highlights from B2B Online West Palm Beach 2023: Driving digital transformation for success.