Category: Technology

Creating the offline customer experience in a digitalised world

By Michiel Schipperus, CEO at Sana Commerce

The pandemic saw many B2B suppliers wave goodbye to traditional sales, meetings and handshakes to set up shop online. B2B buyers experienced the range of benefits that online can bring – increased efficiency, real time updates and time savings – cementing this era of selling. But with online comes more choice and therefore more competition. Suppliers are now under increasing pressure to ensure their buyers trust their e-commerce business as much as they did when it was offline.

Sana Commerce recently conducted research among 200 UK B2B buyers on what they consider to be the essential trust indicators, in other words, the features and functions that B2B organisations should be displaying on their e-commerce sites to help instil trust in their customers. Many of these indicators pointed to the need for an online experience that mirrors their offline interactions.

Don’t overcomplicate things

B2B buyers have been used to traditional processes, which usually involve picking up the phone and speaking directly to a sales representative who then helps them with the heavy lifting. That’s why the online process needs to be just as accessible and hassle-free. Your webstore needs to be intuitive – anticipating what the buyer wants before they know themselves. It sounds simple but make sure your search function brings up relevant results. Not only should products be easy to find through search, you should also use functionalities like options for recently viewed or related items.

You also need to make the checkout process as quick and simple as possible. Offer buyers reassurance through well-known and reputable payment providers. Our research shows that this helps to build trust, with over a quarter (26%) of B2B buyers stating they feel unknown payment providers and options on an e-commerce site would cause them not to trust the supplier. While they may not be spending their own money, it’s their job that could risk being compromised if there is issue with a payment resulting in financial loss. Buyers need to know that their investment is safe and secure.

Keep it personal

So much of traditional business is built around establishing and strengthening relationships. B2B suppliers often deal directly with clients on a personal basis, which is why online customer personalisation is imperative. It shows your buyers that they are important to you and that you value their custom. You can do this by offering, for example, a ‘buy again’ or ‘save order’ function to help with those high volume, repeat orders. Other functionalities like making product suggestions based on previous purchases and storing information on delivery terms can go a long way to show your customer that you know them.

Offering a login functionality is a great way of honouring personalised prices and deals that may have been made offline. No buyer wants to go online, only to be charged a standard rate that’s more than they previously paid.

A really simple way of adding a personal touch is by adding photos of your sales representatives to your ‘my account’ page – this helps to humanise the experience.

Access to information and the all-important human touch

Imagine you’re face to face with a salesperson – you get to ask all the questions about the products you’re purchasing and fully understand how they work. There’s something more reassuring when you hear the words from a person’s mouth, rather than simply reading them from a description. This can be especially helpful when it comes to breaking down complex products which is so often the case in B2B. That’s why explainer videos are key to recreating this experience online. We know that B2B buyers are often time poor, so its valuable to them if there’s a video that breaks down complex products or processes, using appealing visuals and bitesize explanations. This all goes towards helping them to understand your business and value proposition faster. In fact, 19% of B2B buyers identified explainer videos on supplier webstores as a key trust indicator.

When it comes to customers wanting more information, your webstore needs to make it easy for them to ask questions and receive a quick response. It could be a good idea to consider using an AI chatbot or an online chat team to field quick responses. But don’t rely solely on robots – you need to make sure your customers also have the option to pick up the phone and speak to a human too. The ability to connect to a human through supplier e-commerce sites was identified as a top trust factor for over a quarter of B2B buyers (26%).

Delivering the optimum store to door service

Finally, don’t forget about putting the detail in delivery! The customer experience lasts right through to when product is in their hands and beyond. The role of online has meant orders can be shipped far and wide, whereas before many B2B buyers would have made purchases locally. This means the delivery process needs to be reliable and informative. Start off by giving realistic delivery timescales at the checkout. Make sure you don’t over promise as late orders can have a domino effect on the buyer’s business, causing frustration and damaging your relationship. If you want to build on that trust even further, make sure you provide delivery tracking throughout the journey. Buyers want to have full visibility over the delivery status, shipping method and courier.

Wrap up

Online B2B selling is all about building and maintaining relationships by offering the same experience online as offline that’s reliable and easy to use, and ensuring you are meeting the latest expectations of the b2b buyer. If you can master those three aspects, then your customers will likely get everything they need from your webstore. Online B2B selling shouldn’t simply be there to fill a gap, if you pay attention to your customer’s needs, you can use it to directly enhance their buying experience.