As a $1.6 trillion industry, B2B ecommerce in 2021 grew 1.17 times faster than the growth of all U.S. manufacturing and distributor sales. Early adopters and companies that made progress reimagining the digital side of their business fared significantly better in accelerating their efforts during the pandemic than those that didn’t. In fact, McKinsey reports that due to the pandemic, which fundamentally changed the pace of business, companies’ overall adoption of digital technologies had sped up by three to seven years in a span of months. And companies with superior technology capabilities are winning the race. It further revealed that in 2023, most companies will need to build new digital businesses to stay economically viable. Let’s explore some of the compelling reasons why.`
B2B buyers’ increased digital adoption
When the pandemic restricted in-person contact, agile sales and marketing teams sprang into action by breaking down the remnants of growth-limiting historical silos, pivoting in record proportions to assess and address their digital ecosystem to meet buyers’ new expectations. None of this pivoting-on-steroids would have been possible without the ability to leverage enabling data and analytics derived from their technology stacks to deliver meaningful customer value.
B2B buyers figured out the best ways to use search engines, social media, mobile devices and ecommerce websites to find and receive essential and alternative information, products and services in our new contactless world – just like consumers. And data shows they were doing this during evenings and weekends! A business-to human (B2H) mindset became the new B2B approach, and this consumerization of B2B buyers’ experiential expectations will continue.
Value attributes also evolved, shifting from a primary focus on product features and benefits to providing value by bringing relevant new insights and discovering unmet needs that lead to improved business performance — a very different mindset than the traditional we-first approach.
The increased size of B2B buying committees now include more digitally native Gen Zers and millennials who were quite comfortable with conducting their own due diligence through self-directed research. In fact, a separate but related McKinsey report revealed that more than 70% of B2B decision makers prefer remote human or digital self-service engagement, and this preference intensified after lockdowns had ended – contradicting a common assumption that things would shift back to pre-pandemic habits.
But when they were ready to engage via live chats, texts, emails, etc., brands knew where they had been, when they were there, what they consumed and what devices and channels they used. They were also equipped with the next best customized action on the buyers’ path to purchase.
According to Digital Commerce 360’s 2022 U.S. B2B Ecommerce Report, B2B buyers are more willing than ever before to spend substantial amounts through remote or online sales channels, with 35% willing to spend $500,000 or more in a single transaction. And 51% of business buyers come to a B2B ecommerce site attracted by an excellent user experience.
All powered by data and analytics.
The symbiotic relationship between data and analytics
Data is the raw materials and information that fuels your business. This structured (relational) and/or unstructured (non-relational) information is commonly stored in data lakes or data warehouses respectively. Customer data platforms (CDPs) are becoming a favorite for real-time analyses of customer data for customized interactions. Think of a CDP as the mothership that downstreams behavioral data to other systems that track, analyze, personalize and manage customer interactions.
Analytics is the discovery of patterns and trends gleaned from your data that provides meaningful and actionable insights to achieve desired outcomes. Just as it’s hard to see the picture when you’re in the frame, when you’re in the midst of so much data, it’s almost impossible to make sense of it all. Analytics gives us this clarifying bird’s eye view of historical and real-time data in four primary formats:
1. Descriptive analytics – what happened
2. Diagnostic analytics – why it happened
3. Predictive analytics – what’s likely to happen
4. Prescriptive analytics – what should happen next
Insights can’t be gleaned without analytics, and analytics is useless without data. Collecting data and applying advanced analytics for insights leverages artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), big data and internet-of-things (IoT) technologies to optimize buyer experiences.
So many choices
Whether you build or buy your data and analytics capabilities, the technologies you use can make all the difference in your success. And there is a plethora of options available.
The 2022 Marketing Technology Landscape monitored by Scott Brinker, Editor of chiefmartec.com, represents the comprehensive list of technology providers used by CMOs, CSOs and their teams. It includes almost 10,000 commercial marketing and sales technology solutions in 49 categories, which can be thrilling — or paralyzing.
Many businesses make the mistake of being dazzled by provider promises to solve all of your data and analysis problems with the latest and greatest shiny new martech object — and plan their strategies around it. One solution rarely does. And technology tools should be thought of as enablers of your strategy — a means to an end, not a place to start.
Keep these three simple consideration points in mind when selecting the best solution to improve buyer experiences and avoid “analysis paralysis,” which can derail your data strategy:
1. What will this new tool allow us to do in pragmatic customer-centric terms?
2. If we’re not doing that already, should we be doing it and why?
3. If we’re already doing it, will it allow us to do it better, faster, smarter and easier than our current state?
Beyond sales and marketing alignment
When we always do what we’ve always done, we always get what we already got. In order to obtain the coveted 360-degree view of buyers, sales, marketing, customer service and product development teams are de-siloed, data is democratized, and operational processes are connected.
Establishing a center of excellence (CoE) around operations and infrastructure that brings voice of the customer (VoC), market, channel and competitor intelligence and customer experiential data across all digital and offline brand touchpoints can be a game changer. A unified, holistic viewpoint informs go-to-market strategies, segmented buyer personas, journey mapping, marketing and sales strategies, customer service resolutions, new product launches, and cross-and up-sell opportunities throughout the entire customer lifecycle – from pre-sale to advocacy.
This type of Third Box Thinking (a term trademarked by The Summit Group for outside-in, cross-functional value creation), along with a transformational change management framework, will ensure that all boats keep rowing, with full synchronized strength, in the same buyer-centric direction.
Getting intimate through social selling
Understanding buyers is key to sales success and today that means engaging through social media selling. Seventy-eight percent of salespeople engaged in social selling are outselling their peers who aren’t. These progressive sellers know that smart social selling isn’t about immediately connecting on social media channels and asking for new business.
It includes proactively gathering intelligence from social media listening, sentiment and monitoring analytics, paying attention to what executives and members of buying committees discuss, which causes they care about, the online communities they participate in, etc. Then, engage in dialogues based on what you’ve learned.
You’ve heard the saying, “Buyers don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care … about them.” Show that you care by earning the status of a trusted advisor who understands who they are, what they do in terms of strategic business priorities, their pain points, challenges, opportunities and desired outcomes. Then, step into their journey at exactly the right moment, equipped to add pertinent value by bringing market, business and value chain intelligence that benefits them as your potential customer and their customers – in the context of your solution(s)’ value proposition.
Thinking and doing better
Maya Angelou wisely stated, “Do the best you can. And when you know better, then do better.” We don’t let a day pass without wanting to know better – and are privileged to be surrounded by courageous, curious and creative innovators who celebrate but never rest on their laurels, enjoy challenging the status quo – even when it’s serving us well – and understand that it takes a collaborative village to deliver exceptional buyer experiences.
With a hyper-focus on customer obsession, an agile mindset and an integrated set of data and analytics tech stacks that you select to help you better understand and respond to ever-evolving buyer personas, preferences and behaviors, your business will be well poised for long-term profitable growth and enduring customer relationships.
Choose wisely and your destiny will be revealed.