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The Guide to Understanding B2B Ecommerce Personalization

A Brief History of Customer Experience Personalization

Personalization has been a hot topic in the digital space for many years. It started with content management system (CMS) vendors offering personalized content based upon a user's journey through a site and the content that user had engaged. Soon CMS vendors started using buzzwords like digital experience management, but rarely stated the effort and teams needed to make this level of personalization work.

As selling direct-to-consumer grew and B2C ecommerce became a hot topic, similar approaches to personalization were applied. Often this was about personalized shopping experiences and recommendations based upon items that were viewed or placed in the shopping cart. However, many early ecommerce platforms lacked a true content management system and content was often not part of the shopping experience.

Today, B2B ecommerce is the hot trend and many of these same concepts are being touted by B2C ecommerce platforms that suddenly (in need of new revenue and growth) are repositioned as B2B ecommerce platforms. However, personalization in B2B ecommerce is significantly more complex.

Business models supported in serious B2B ecommerce efforts require many features not supported in B2C ecommerce platforms. Requirements such as unique account based pricing, parent/child roles for account and user management, curated catalogs by account, user or segment highlight some of those intricacies. Addressing B2B2X and B2X business models require much more native capability to operate, let alone deliver a personalized experience.

Jump ahead:

The Complexities of B2B Ecommerce Personalization

Personalization in B2B ecommerce increases efficiency for every stakeholder involved in the ordering process for a customer. Additionally, it is about the convenience factor of ordering more rather than the impulsive nature of B2C ecommerce personalization. The customer will order more when it provides value to the organization, and when the rest of the stakeholders align to that value.

Value in personalization is aligned to true B2B commerce expectations when utilizing an ecommerce channel for ordering. Functionality like segmentation, pricing, catalogs, order management, search, approval routing and content management all provide purchasing experience optimizations for the business user's needs.

B2B ecommerce personalization should deliver these three core objectives:

  1. Provide value to customers to increase engagement
  2. Reduce the cost of sales throughout the customer lifecycle
  3. Deliver efficiency in the customer experience throughout the B2B commerce cycle

Meeting these objectives results in dramatic increases in revenue for manufacturers and distributors due to an increase in share-of-wallet. Personalization in B2B ecommerce rapidly impacts any customer experience, Znode provides the how.

Segmentation of Existing, And New, Accounts

The ability to segment an audience is required for personalization. Luckily, segmentation is a core competency for most B2B companies using CRM platforms. The same segmentation data can power a personalized B2B ecommerce shopping experience, however it may often be underutilized.

The creation of customer accounts serves as the first foray of personalization in B2B ecommerce. It provides the entity to which contracted business terms can be applied. Such contract terms can be pricing, product catalogs, payment terms and methods, etc. Regardless, without an account entity in a B2B ecommerce platform, personalization would be far more confusing and complex.

After account creation, individual users can be applied to the customer. These users often have different responsibilities for the customer businesses, including researching, buying, servicing and more.

“Personalizing the uniform program and specifications to customer accounts is enabled utilizing Znode’s parent-child/account-user functionality. Znode’s profile capabilities solve for multiple programs offered to a single account.”

- Ariat, Znode Customer

Since users have specific responsibilities not always aligned to the primary function of B2B ecommerce, order placement, the ability to segment users into user profiles is a necessity. With Znode’s user profiles, personalized experiences can be aligned to user roles within customer accounts. Unique experiences can be delivered by prioritizing specific types of content by roles such as product compatibility for researchers, service material information for service technicians, or pricing alignment and inventory availability for buyer roles.

Personalization in B2B Means Contract Alignment

Most customer contract negotiations happen offline, however the need for contract alignment is key to success with a digital ordering channel like B2B ecommerce. Depending on the level of complexity in and variation between customer contracts, alignment can become a daunting requirement.

One of the first areas in which personalization occurs at an account level is the products that are presented to a customer. These products can be organized in account, user or segment specific catalogs in Znode. Aligning shoppable products to a user or segment can increase efficiency.

“Znode’s flexible data structure allows the operations team to create hundreds of account catalogs for schools and easily manage the process from the administrative console without the need for technical support.”

- School Uniforms by Tommy Hilfiger, Znode Customer

Along with products comes pricing. Pricing must align to an accounts contract. If it does not, any other efforts of B2B ecommerce personalization are irrelevant. Customers expect their pricing to be accurate and appropriate price breaks to be reflected.

With the personalization of product offering and pricing, the omnichannel customer experience can be reflected in digital marketing efforts to specific accounts, users and segments.

Another area in which personalization can occur is the checkout process. Again, this can default to contract alignment in the case of payment term lengths (30, 60, 90 days, etc.) for purchase orders (POs). However, this is also an opportunity for personalization. Take the example of a user type at a restaurant chain customer account where store managers may be given rights to place orders with credit cards rather than just POs when time is a necessity. Znode provides the ability to configure payment methods by account, user and segment. This can further reduce the cost of a sale (eliminate the need for customer care inquiries to process credit card payments) and provide value to the customer.

Even once an order is placed there are specific personalization criteria that may need to be aligned to in regard to a customer’s contract. Take the case of inventory selection and order cycle time constraints. Customers may be forced to purchase from inventory outside of the ability to meet order cycle time agreements. This may mean notifying customers that selecting such products will not meet contract obligations or may require the recommendation of products that meet order cycle time agreements.

Customer contract alignment requires a level of personalization out of a B2B ecommerce platform that any B2C platform would require a myriad full of plug-ins and customizations to achieve. Znode delivers such personalization natively.

Personalizing the Shopping Behavior to Customer Stakeholder

As a researcher at a customer account looks for the “right fit” product, the ability to find the correct information efficiently is pertinent to the success of the business. Utilizing product searches to meet the product requirements being sought without being served irrelevant products is a must. Additionally, all supporting information, such as product manuals, MSDS sheets, warranty information and more, for a final product selection will be key to winning the inevitable purchase decision.

"92% of B2B purchases start with search."

- Forrester

Service technicians require an equally important yet very different personalized search experience to identify products. Technicians often utilize mobile or tablet devices to quickly identify products via QR or barcode scans, increasing efficiency. Delivering corresponding product information, like nearest availability or installation diagrams, provide even greater value to completing job tasks.

Personalizing search is imperative because the number of searches executed throughout an order cycle, and even greater amount throughout the customer lifecycle, means a significant opportunity to deliver value. Numerous different roles at a customer account will utilize search functionality from researchers to buyers to technicians. Personalizing search maximizes time spent on an B2B ecommerce platform by reducing time spent looking for relevant information. A personalized search experience delivers both efficiency and value to a customer.

An additional area of the buying process that often requires personalization is approval workflows. Addressing approval workflows on a customer-by-customer basis can be complex. The ability to customize approval workflows by account is key to providing the necessary controls a customer demands in B2B ecommerce.

“In addition to multi-store, MWG now leverages a number of built-in B2B features, including customer-based pricing, quote and order approval workflows and account management.”

- MWG Apparel Corp., Znode Customer

One more area not typically thought of in B2B ecommerce that aligns to the need for delivering a personalized experience is the sales team. When a customer is interacting offline with a sales team member, the ability to quickly curate the dialogue to provide value to the customer based upon ecommerce behaviors is a level of personalization relatively untapped. Znode’s Sales Console delivers such a customer experience management capability for data backed value delivered in-person encounters.

Personalization with Content for the User Experience

In B2B ecommerce personalization can mean so many different things that it is easy to overlook the ability to tell personalized stories to customers with content containers throughout the B2B ecommerce platform user experience. Utilizing segmentation (whether account, user or user profile entities) in Znode, specific content can be served to customers to deliver the necessary messaging at the right time to drive purchase intent.

Layering integrations with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms with the use of Znode’s Headless Content Containers enables the ability to feed segment information from a CRM to deliver personalized messaging to the right customer users. Take the example of service technicians in the midwest territory that are served timely content about service intervals on equipment prior to temperature drops in winter.

As personalization in B2B ecommerce becomes more advanced, the layering in of an Artificial Intelligence engine and Business Intelligence tools will only further the ability to deliver a unified commerce experience. Many businesses get trapped into the idea of thinking that B2B ecommerce personalization is about the short term return of impulse buys like in B2C. However, in B2B ecommerce, personalization is a long-term play for success provided through customer efficiency and value creation.

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