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B2C customers are used to being able to login to websites to download an invoice or subscribe to regular goods like consumables. Finally, the B2B industry answers this trend, and B2B self-service portals are the new way to go.

In the past (but not so long ago), B2B websites were mostly “procurement” sites, where customers could access a large product catalog (rather say a product listing) and place quick orders by entering SKUs or uploading a CSV file. But the new, internet-savvy generation of business buyers needs appropriate digital tools and features to be happy. According to the Intershop Digital Trends Report, there has been a generational shift in B2B companies, meaning that many digital natives such as millennials now occupy decision-making positions: 73 percent of them are already involved with procurement, and one-third report to be the sole decision makers.

This article answers three important questions:


What is a B2B self-service portal?

A B2B self-service portal is a website where business users can login to find answers to their questions, submit support tickets, download invoices, book a service appointment, and more. Also, it personalizes the website's content to the user's specific role and need. This can affect product assortment, prices, shipping conditions and more.

Typical B2B self-services are:

  • Online incident management (error on delivery, defective item …)
  • Online return management
  • Delivery tracking
  • Online follow-up of inquiries (sales team, customer service …)
  • Online booking of maintenance service
  • Checkup of machine health
  • Exploding views of the machines in use (installed base)
  • Blog or knowledge base pages
  • Product documentation
  • Video tutorials/Online trainings
  • Downloads such as invoices, security bulletins, manuals or warranty documents

B2B buyers want self-services

B2B buyers today expect the same level of service from their suppliers as they receive when shopping for personal goods. Reminder: a B2B buyer is also a B2C buyer! This new generation of buyers has a strong digital focus, and expects to find it in their professional purchase experiences, too.

Once on the portal, B2B buyers are able to discover additional content related to their initial inquiry, find inspiration on your company’s other products and services, or free your service staff from time-consuming tasks that can easily be automated. A B2B self-service portal for example offers the possibility to subscribe to regular consumables instead of calling a service agent every week to purchase it again and again. In fact, according to the data from McKinsey, 86% of B2B executives would instead use self-service solutions for reordering than speak with a salesperson.


What are the benefits of a B2B self-service portal?

In a B2B self-service portal, businesses connect for longer time frames and across all segments of the customer journey.  By providing self-services, you can improve the loyalty of your B2B buyers. And the provider doesn't only benefit from the obviously higher customer satisfaction. For the manufacturer or wholesaler, a B2B self-service portal is efficient and helps to save costs.

What are the other benefits?

In a B2B self-service portal, you can streamline customer interaction

The relationship between your customers and your company changes over time. Your customers interact with you when they place orders, talk to sales reps, learn about new products, search for documentation, or ask for quotes. In a B2B self-service portal, they can do all this by themselves, because all those information are being drawn in real-time from different sources like ERP, Commerce platform, CRM, PIM and more.

This makes the interaction between you and your customers more transparent. If customers are having trouble placing an order, finding a document or contact information, they are increasingly likely to switch to your competitors!


In a B2B self-service portal, you can leverage collected data

Customers interact with your products, creating a unique product history. They generate data when a machine is used, when they configure service agreements that can be modified later, and customize their machine with accessories through upgrading or repair. In a self-service portal, the product can be digitally mirrored, giving the customer access to a detailed product history (purchase date, specification, repairs, service agreements, etc.). As a supplier, you can use the e-commerce platform to offer matching spare parts, accessories, or additional services such as (predictive) maintenance.


With a B2B self-service portal, your customers can help themselves

An example from the after-sales phase: When a machine throws an error, ordering the correct spare part needs to be done quickly, but the piece can be somewhere hidden inside a plant or be a small part that may not even exist anymore in its original form. This is where a digital twin of the machine comes in handy.

The user can open the digital (exploded) image of his/her specific machine, including all customizations. The needed spare part can be picked from that exploded view and put into a shopping basket. The technician doesn't need for the account manager to have time or the customer service to dig into the individual details. The technician knows the machine best and can save time and money by solving this alone - with the right self-service.


In a B2B self-service portal, you can boost efficiency

B2B customers love efficiency. They want the buying process to be as quickly and smooth as possible. They benefit from convenient search options, exact and personalized product information and self-services like online booking of maintenance appointments and other services.

Self-services and easy access to information reduce the customer's administrative burden and allow them to maintain their existing internal processes. B2B buyers no longer want to be dependent on the availability of a sales guy, the working hours of your customer service or the opening of a brick-and-mortar store. Positive online experiences are valuable because customers expect seamless service 24/7.


Why should a manufacturer consider a self-service portal?

Sure, developing your B2B website from a pure "information" portal to a full-fledged self-service portal, you invest a lot in time and money. As always, the question of the ROI of such an investment should not be overlooked.

But, if your sales team has no time to nurture customer relationships, your customer service team is not covering 24x7, and most importantly, if your customers demand an omnichannel service and support offering, you need to provide B2B self-services online in order to survive as a business.

A B2B self-service portal can also be a versatile source of information and offer, e.g., knowledge base articles or how-to content. Personalized services that are available 24/7 to all of your clients will not only decrease the load on your customer service team, but also the waiting time for your customers. Self-service portals can serve different user roles independently, having access rights and features available based on their role within the company. 

So yes, by providing your customers with a B2B self-service portal, you will greatly enhance your overall customer experience. And in the end, that's what you want, right?

Read our whitepaper to find out how you can put your customers first by implementing a digital customer portal with comprehensive B2B self-services. Are you ready for a boost?

Download: The value of a digital customer portal from a business perspective