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Beyond the Data: B2B vs. B2C user experience

Most commerce platform buyers read the surveys and assume that all B2B Millennial buyers want sexy apps and gamification to go along with their B2B purchasing systems...which probably isn't reality! Spryker Systems co-CEO Alex Graf recently sat down with Brian Beck, Commerce industry guru and author of Billion Dollar B2B Ecommerce (Monrovia Media, 2020). Alex and Brian engaged in a compelling discussion about which parts of the buying process ARE in play for user experience and which parts are overblown with unrealistic expectations.

Alex Graf
CEO, Spryker
10. Jun 2021
7 min read
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  • Alex Graf

    Brian, thanks again for spending time with Spryker Systems. We have all seen that the survey data show B2B buyers and procurement teams are younger, millennial-type personas--and they might LIKE all the bells and whistles of a retail buying experience. But what type of fancy usability features do most enterprises really need to return value to the enterprise?

  • Brian Beck

    Right! Most people don’t realize that 75% of ALL B2B buyers will be millennials by 2025. And yes, they like what are commonly referred to as ‘bells and whistles’ of a B2C ecommerce experience, and they already expect this from their B2B sites used for corporate buying. I argue that these features are not ‘bells and whistles’, but are now well-honed and proven best practices for delivering an easy and understandable online shopping experience for B2B buyers. These critical features include navigation, advanced site search (e.g., type-ahead, visual search, merchandising in search results, etc.), streamlined checkout, clear calls-to-action and user flows, multiple payment options, stored shopping carts, mobile optimized experiences, among many other things.

    These types of features are now a cost of entry to Ecommerce for B2B firms, not fancy options! Couple this with the complex buying patterns and workflows and complicated products that some B2B firms sell, and you have a tall order for B2B executives looking to introduce Ecommerce to the enterprise. Not only do they have to accommodate consumer-like features (the fancy stuff) but also the practical paths to purchase that B2B buyers expect (e.g., buying on credit terms or requestors passing shopping carts to the procurement team for approval). Luckily, modern Ecommerce platforms (like Spryker Cloud Commerce OS) have invested millions in solving these issues for B2B sellers, bringing the ‘fancy stuff’ while also solving for the B2B complexities.

  • Alex Graf

    I cannot agree more. What we are seeing now is more a catch-up game by many vendors. Many B2B companies we encounter don´t have the necessary PIM (Product Information Management) data available for such features, nor do they have product managers that are able to fine tune the search engine. I agree that most B2B buyers already know what's needed, but often stand in front of a very poorly managed product data and customer data infrastructure. It’s not so much technology that's helping here but hiring enough skilled people that can manage the data mess.

  • Brian Beck

    Yes, the data is critical. Too often this is the most under-estimated part of Ecommerce roll outs. Some of the more successful B2B Ecommerce implementations I've seen have been preceded by months of "roll-up-the-sleeves" data prep work by teams of as many as 5-10 people. These companies are today enjoying very significant double-digit revenue penetration of Ecommerce to the overall business, but it took a lot of sweat equity to get there. And this data can be used across multiple channels, including for launching programs on marketplaces like Amazon Business. So, there is considerable leverage you get by doing this step well.

  • Alex Graf

    So, Brian, given the many ways that B2B buyers are looking for B2C experiences, what technology features in the B2C and B2B buying experience represent the 'must have', critical features for adding business value?

  • Brian Beck

    At the core of all Ecommerce is meeting the customer where they are – online. And whether you have a B2C or B2B business, making the buyer’s job easier and faster is critical. These are the baseline features that we have all been trained to expect by the most common Ecommerce platforms, such as Amazon.

    I believe there are three key common denominators here: 1) product “find-ability”, 2) purchase decisioning and enablement, and 3) post-purchase experience. Find-ability refers to navigation and search. Modern buyers have NO patience when it comes to finding product that they are looking for. If you don’t deliver on this, they are gone. Well-tuned product search on the site, and intuitive navigation, are basic, must-have elements. Too often, I find sellers, for example, that use industry-specific terms in naming product categories which aren’t friendly to the buyer. Purchase decisioning has to do with ensuring that enough information is available on the product page for customers to determine if the product is right for them. This includes images, videos, product specs, compatibilities, shipping times, inventory information, and more. And you can’t forget about post-purchase experience. In this day of Amazon Prime, customers expect to receive products in 2 days or less. Meeting and beating expectations—including B2B--is critical for success.

  • Alex Graf

    Let me rephrase the question a bit…What is the area with the biggest difference in expectation vs reality? In my point of view, it is AI--AI in search, AI in product data, and AI in CRM. I have never seen an AI concept that could add value if all the data were not already working smoothly in the existing systems. If you are not able to show prices for your products because of outdated restrictions, AI in your recommendation engine won´t help you or your customers. It’s all about the basics first, I definitely agree with Brian.

  • Brian Beck

    Yes, Alex! There is much promise in AI. But with 50% of B2B companies still lacking basic Ecommerce, we've got to hit this first. Without the basics in place, companies aren't even on the playing field, let alone winning the game.

  • Alex Graf

    Outstanding points, Brian. For the last question, let’s discuss Minimum Viable Product (MVP). How can an MVP approach to developing a commerce solution impact the delivery of desired user experience and usability requirements?

  • Brian Beck

    MVPs should be re-named “Most Valuable Product” because they are a fantastic tool for B2B firms to use to roll out Ecommerce, particularly for large, complex global organizations. Too often, I see companies try to take the ‘big bang’ approach. Do it all at once. And they fail. It is common for companies to have multiple systems in place (such as multiple ERPs, Content Management Systems, Product Information Management systems, etc.), and often already optimized. Trying to integrate to all of these at once, especially if they are in multiple countries or across numerous business units or product lines, is a recipe for never finishing the roll out! Instead, companies can use an MVP, which contains limited functionalities, perhaps a smaller group of ‘test’ customers, and 1 or 2 geographic regions, to provide a manageable project that can demonstrate the efficacy and value of Ecommerce, while building the organization’s digital capabilities. But don’t confuse ‘MVP’ with ‘POC’ (Proof of Concept). I do not believe that Ecommerce needs to be proven. POCs are a waste of time. Your customers want Ecommerce, and there are thousands of B2B use cases to demonstrate it.

  • Alex Graf

    Wise words! We did a lot of research about the ‘big bang’ approach. In 99% of big bang projects, we never heard a project manager say, "That was fun, let's do it again." So how can this be? How can projects fail so hard even with the best project management resources in place? In our fast-moving environment—especially post COVID--you need to test and deliver your idea within weeks or even days so you can adapt better to the changing customer needs. Nobody can solve a rapidly changing problem with more PowerPoint charts! We still see POCs that only make things worse. It will never be as cheap as it is today. Tomorrow will be even more complex - so MVP is the only way to go.

Author Brian Beck is one of the world’s leading authorities in B2B Ecommerce and a 20+ year veteran of the field.

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A commerce industry visionary with more than 20 years of experience analyzing business trends and providing valuable insights to business leaders through numerous articles and books, including the industry benchmark The E-Commerce BookOften a speaker at commerce and technology events, he also runs his own very successful blog and podcast Kassenzone. Prior to founding Spryker, Alex co-founded numerous companies including Etribes, Europe’s leading Amazon agency Factor A, and Hamburg born AboutYou.

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  • B2B
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  • Spryker Cloud Commerce OS
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