Geoff Webb, VP of Strategy at PROS explains the importance of moving towards an eCommerce business model.
The impact COVID-19 has had on businesses has been well-documented. With footfall into physical stores and warehouses on the decline due to lockdown, traders that have historically relied upon in-person custom as their main source of revenue have had to re-think their business model.
As a direct result of these circumstances, brands have had to adapt to what the market is telling them, which has led to a surge in online buying. Digital transformation projects have had to be accelerated out of necessity in the past months, as companies consider how their sales environments could adapt to meet the growing appetite for eCommerce.
Now B2B businesses find themselves at a crossroads. Companies have accepted a shift in B2B buying behaviour. They know that more needs to be done to sell online and are taking steps to do so – but what are the practical solutions they need to implement in order to maximise their eCommerce strategy?
The new buyer landscape
According to research from our COVID-19 B2B Buyer Trends Report, 37% of businesses have been primarily purchasing through digital channels since the COVID-19 outbreak, up from 29% pre-pandemic. And that figure is expected to rise to 40% in the coming months. This is further supported by research from Clearwater International, which indicates that average annual revenue for eCommerce businesses has increased at least 15% since April this year.
The reality of the situation is, not all businesses were prepared for such a rapid shift towards online purchasing. In fact, two-thirds of buyers expressed that throughout COVID-19 they faced challenges working with some of their vendors, as they simply weren’t agile enough to adapt to what was happening. The three major pain-points that B2B buyers identified as being the greatest issue when trying to buy online were slow response times, inconsistent pricing, and lack of inventory transparency: clear starting points for businesses to focus on as their eCommerce strategy picks up pace.
COVID-19 has created volatility in purchasing decisions. Products that have historically been popular or even critical are perhaps now no longer in demand and vice versa. As a result, the supply chain is impacted and demand forecasting becomes that much harder to get right. If the logistics network is not well integrated with the digital selling channels, then customers may well be left ordering products that are out of stock – highlighting the importance of a holistic eCommerce strategy for a good customer experience.
Additionally, the infrastructure that supports eCommerce channels is being stretched to breaking point. The massive surge in traffic means that simple tasks like getting up-to-date product configuration options or pricing information can suddenly slow to a crawl, delivering a terrible buyer experience and driving customers away.
Optimising your digital selling capabilities is a great step to take but if customers cannot obtain a reliable price in real-time or have a clear understanding of what products are in stock, then ultimately customers will be dissatisfied and will look towards a competitor that has that functionality.
The right tech for the job
Digital transformation is crucial for supporting the modern B2B worker. Manually calculating profitable prices for every product can lead to different members of the sales team offering different prices to customers – and they may not even be doing so at a profitable price. What’s more, trying to operate a supply chain based on intuition alone will be inefficient and will lead to human error, particularly in the current climate.
Companies today have reams of transactional and marketing data that, when partnered with artificial intelligence (AI), can extract meaningful insight that informs key business decisions. In fact, one of the most efficient and highly effective ways AI can be deployed as part of an eCommerce strategy is digital selling.
In practice, the value of an enhanced digital selling strategy can be understood as follows. First, when AI is working from customer and market data, it can be used to automate pricing across the business, in real-time – giving companies a profitable and competitive price they can feel confident in using. This also gives autonomy to the sales team, who will now be able to calculate the lowest they can go on a price-point without making a loss.
Second, by analysing the customer transactional data as it comes in, AI can help businesses to understand which products are in the most demand so they can purchase and forecast accurately to support the supply chain. This is particularly critical in the current climate where purchasing patterns are more erratic and less predictable than before. Applying artificial intelligence insight to the problem helps the company to ensure it has the right products available at the right time, and it can be used to inform the online ordering portal, for transparent inventory.
Digital selling has emerged as a key part of digital transformation efforts but market-relevant, self-service purchasing alone is not enough for a strong online strategy. All wider avenues of selling need to come together for a defined, holistic omnichannel experience. Simply spinning up eCommerce without connecting it to other channels in a strategic way will quickly de-rail growth as it creates channel conflict and confusion in your customers as their buying experience will vary so much between channels.
COVID-19 has made eCommerce a priority that cannot be ignored, and for businesses who want to know where to start, it’s essential that they begin with an approach that delivers a buyer experience that is fast, personalised, and consistent across online and traditional channels.