The Digitally Collaborative Approach for Brands, Retailers, and Customers

In this Q&A with Forrester Senior Analyst Joe Cicman, he details a few ways retailers and brands utilize digital tools to foster a collaborative approach to doing business.

The digitization of retail today has taken the world by storm by allowing brands and retailers to shift towards a more holistic business strategy that is focused on improving the buying and selling experience for not only the customer but for everyone involved.

In this Q&A with Forrester Senior Analyst Joe Cicman, he details a few ways retailers and brands utilize digital tools to foster a collaborative approach to doing business.

For more information on this topic, listen in to the webinar with Cicman, NuORDER’s Tommy Fazio, and Frank & Eileen’s Founder/CEO Audrey McLoghlin to find out more about the way technology has allowed wholesale, D2C, retailers and customers to work together to optimize the shopping experience like never before.

Webinar link:

1. Are B2B buyers increasingly favoring self-service over a sales rep?

Yes, and to a significant degree.  

Between 2015 and 2018, 67% of B2B buyers say they prefer to not interact with a sales rep, up from 59%. And 61% prefer to gather information online on their own, up from 53%.

Buyers demand a seamless experience as they jump between channels and touchpoints to consume information, increase their purchase confidence, and transact. Many B2B organizations struggle to escape the gravitational pull of old-school offline selling and phone-based order-taking - despite the availability of omnichannel technology. 

To succeed, sellers have to win, serve, and retain customers as effectively online as offline. This requires a change in sales organizations. In particular, digital self-service leads to the demise of order-takers.

In 2015, Forrester predicted that the shift from offline-only to online-only and omnichannel B2B purchasing would displace 1 million salespeople in the US between 2012 and 2020. The most affected group is "order-takers" — sales and call center reps who mostly deal with easily identified, low-priced items. 

So, what does this new sales organization look like? Forrester sees four new pairs of seller & buyer archetypes:

  1. “Serve Me” buyers pair with an “Order Taker” seller model
  2. “Guide Me” buyers align well with “Navigator” seller archetypes
  3. “Show Me” buyers need an “Explainer” seller model
  4. “Enlighten Me” buyers necessitate a “Consultant” seller archetype

For more, see the Forrester Reports: 

2. Are B2C buying journeys reshaping B2B buyer expectations?

Yes. And that’s because B2B buyers are also B2C consumers. Forrester sees 3 things exacerbating the contrast in customer experience between the best B2C sites and the average B2B site: 

  1. The two-windows phenomenon. This is when buyers have a B2B website open in one window, and their favorite B2C website open in another window. The B2C site is almost always more visual, easier to use, and more relatable. 
  2. A rising premium for immediacy and convenience.
  3. B2B buyer’s desire to price-compare.

To adapt to this reality, B2B eCommerce needs to takes several pages from the B2C playbook.

Early B2B winners incorporated proven B2C features into their buying experiences. The key best practices that B2B sellers should be eyeing are built on personalization, interactivity, and advanced search capability.

B2B sellers should capitalize on the principles that B2C eCommerce has proven through years of trial and error by offering: 

  • Web pages that can be personalized and customized to a customer's buying habits
  • Intelligent decision tools that can make important recommendations
  • Interactive product catalogs
  • Advanced site search capabilities
  • Self-help tools and how-to guides
  • User-generated content

For more, see the Forrester Report: “B2C Sets The Standard For B2B” 

3. Does enabling self-service with B2B eCommerce impact your bottom line?

Yes. It does so because of a virtuous cycle. 

It costs less to process an order online than it does offline. That means it’s more affordable to serve smaller customers – so you can take on more of those customers. 

And when you get the online experience right, your orders actually increase in value – customers buy more. When you free up staff from taking rote orders, you allow them to dedicate more of their time to understand your customers’ business, thereby growing those accounts.

And the increased attention your customers get from you, leads to them getting more value from you, which results in greater loyalty.

Loyal customers decrease churn and decrease the acquisition costs of new customers.

So, self-service impacts your bottom line because it:

  • It lowers your cost to serve
  • Increases your customer base
  • Increases your customer value
  • Decreases your churn and customer acquisition costs

For more, see the Forrester Reports: “Measuring Up: Benchmarking Your B2B eCommerce Performance”

4. Do B2B firms need to enable a consistent omnichannel sales experience?

Yes, they do. That’s because providing an omnichannel sales experience is table stakes.

67% of B2B buyers prefer to conduct research online instead of with a sales rep. 74% prefer to buy online once they've decided what to buy. 44% of sellers say that their eCommerce site influences at least half of their offline purchases.

It’s not enough for B2B sellers to simply have a strong digital footprint. Their buyers want to have control of the sales engagement. Buyers are forcing sellers to rethink traditional selling models to deliver a superior customer experience. And that pressure extends to sellers’ ecosystem partners such as resellers, distributors, service providers, agents, and manufacturer sales reps.

B2B firms that win their customers’ hearts, minds, and wallets all have one thing in common: Their customers can operate in their preferred channel, they can seamlessly migrate between channels, and they have a consistently great experience regardless of channel. These B2B firms are able to systematically deliver differentiated value regardless of customer touchpoint and drive greater operational efficiencies across the organization.

That’s because successful firms have made digital the core of their businesses. 

Their definition of digital enablement extends beyond just the customer - it includes customer-facing roles like sales and customer service. 

When a firm executes on a true omnichannel strategy it no longer suffers from the delivery of disjointed customer experiences. Omnichannel B2B leaders will:

  • Create greater customer value and loyalty
  • Optimize their organizations for deeper customer engagement
  • Accelerate revenue growth
  • Innovate and enable new channels more quickly

For more, see the Forrester Reports:

5. What are your top 2 predictions for B2B eCommerce disruption in 2020?

The API economy and marketplaces have proven to be more effective at delivering value than vertically integrated value chains. This applies to multiple parts of the B2B eCommerce ecosystem – buyers, sellers, eCommerce platform offerings, and the technology vendors themselves.

Here are another couple of takeaways from our 2020 B2B commerce predictions:

Manufacturers will need more helpers to reach digital buyers. With the shift to online selling, more sellers will engage affinity- and affiliate-type partners that are nontransactional but influential in the early buying journey. Top brands will not only double down on these relationships but will also make new investments in order management systems to plug into ecosystems. A few will outsource their marketing and sales to these digital experts or even PE firms that look to launch new types of marketplaces/next-gen distributors and go after underserved niches or emerging industry segments. (Look for more coverage of these types of vertical solutions and apps from our team in early 2020.)

Mega vendors will pivot away from acquired legacy platforms. We know the cost to refactor old platforms continues to mount, not only because it’s harder to find tech talent that wants to work on the “old stuff” but also because the opportunity costs mount. We see partnerships and behind-the-scenes cloud OEM activity picking up pace in 2020 for this reason, resulting in more modern — and vertical — solutions. Meanwhile, for the big vendors (SAP, Oracle, Salesforce, etc.), investor pressure to grow revenues and margins will drive investments in both SaaS startups and the marketplaces to support them.

For more, see the Forrester Reports:

Reimagine Wholesale for Your Business


Ty Morris

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