B2B omnichannel is now the expected way to do business. However, B2B omnichannel isn’t as simple as turning a key and immediately reaping the benefits. Organizations have to reckon with the question of “What comes next?” Here’s our guide to solving the most common B2B omnichannel commerce challenges so you can enjoy a smoother experience.
Common B2B omnichannel commerce challenges
Back offices aren’t always aligned with front offices
Companies that utilize traditional offline channels like sales representatives or physical storefronts tend to have unique processes per channel, many of which are manual. Despite the availability of digital systems, internal employees may need to work around it or avoid it altogether. A sputtering back office hinders productivity, lowers visibility, impedes communication, and wastes valuable manpower. These issues persist as companies move from a multichannel (asynchronous) to an omnichannel (concurrent) approach. As a result, customers need timely information, and customer-facing teams must constantly scramble to cover and fix the 'fires.'
Facilitate better communication with unified digital systems
You'll need to open up communication channels between the front and back offices and develop more straightforward operating procedures—either alone or with the help of a consultant. Additionally, front and back offices for omnichannel commerce are often managed with different systems, platforms, models, and even people. You can eliminate friction by implementing a platform to facilitate internal and external business activities. This helps information flow back and forth in a productive, efficient, and transparent manner.
There are several important considerations when selecting a platform:
- Employee buy-in. Ensure that employees understand the big picture of why omnichannel is necessary and how a unified digital system creates better front-end and back-end processes. Without employee buy-in, no platform will be effective.
- Utility. Check if everybody is utilizing the system. If adoption lags or employees continue to rely on manual processes, dig deeper into technical blockages. For example: perhaps staff feel the process is necessary because the system is not inclusive and needs to be altered.
- A single source of truth. Stakeholders within the company need to be on the same page. Using multiple back-office systems can quickly lead to confusion between teams and departments. Nominate one system and ensure that everyone uses the system to update or edit the data— especially the ones shared across multiple touchpoints.
- Data governance. Data governance is paramount because omnichannel success depends on accurate data between channels. Make sure a clear data governance policy is in place for all to follow. Define what is mandatory and what is optional. We recommend you seek a system capable of validating data before inputting and updating.
- Real-time updates. Update frequency is essential to reduce misalignment between the front and back offices. How often are factors like pricing, inventory, and order status updated in the back office? Is that information then communicated to the front office on time?
It can be tough to integrate B2B channels
An omnichannel approach to business is supposed to be seamless—for the buyer and the seller. But channel integration has proven tough for organizations. They’re asking questions such as:
- Which channels in an omnichannel strategy are most valuable?
- How can I provide a cohesive experience for my customers across all channels?
- How do I manage the updates across many channels?
Overworked operations teams often need help with the tedious task of updating the channels to provide an illusion of an 'integrated' experience.
Seek platforms that offer you centralized control over your channels
Though it’s long been assumed that big-ticket sales require in-person contact, McKinsey reports that 20% of B2B buyers would be willing to spend more than US$500,000 on a fully remote or digital sales model. And over a tenth of B2B buyers would spend more than one million online. B2B buyers have made it clear that they prefer a cross-channel mix when engaging with vendors. Nowadays, many third-party platforms exist to help you facilitate channel integration. These services allow you to update and manage many disparate channels from a single centralized dashboard, reducing human delays and inaccuracies.
Lack of coordination across teams hinders sales
Modern sellers now interact with customers through video, phone, apps, and occasional in-person visits. However, not all merchants are fully accustomed to selling digitally. Teams are experiencing a steep learning curve, and their pain points are numerous:
- Finding the most effective way for field reps to work from home
- Replicating the intimacy of in-person experiences
- Providing insightful proofs of concept and digital demos
Invest in best practices and training for sales staff
To manage this challenge, B2B businesses need to develop best practices for sellers, and agents tasked with engaging potential customers still need to be fully in place. Training and development programs are a worthy investment to ensure that sales representatives can make the most of the tools at their disposal.
Logistics and inventory challenges compound
There are two problem areas in terms of omnichannel order management that elude manufacturers: fulfillment and replenishment.
1. Fulfillment. Companies often run into challenges during fulfillment—receiving, packaging, and shipping orders. For example, you might experience lengthy packing delays or improperly shipped orders, which frustrate customers. Massive orders can cause strain on the business as you struggle to procure and ship large volumes.
- Where do customers want to purchase their items?
- Where will the products be shipped?
- Am I spending too much on packing?
2. Supply replenishment and stock turn. Without bird’s-eye visibility into your inventory, it’ll be difficult to predict the cycles and flow of your supply—when to order and how much. Perishable goods companies tend to suffer the most from low stock visibility. Some considerations:
- How many items will sell by size, color, and style?
- On which channels will the goods be displayed?
- How will seasonal changes affect the inventory I need to prepare?
Use data to re-evaluate your logistics
To achieve B2B omnichannel commerce success, you’ll need to re-evaluate logistics chains and distribution. Consider seeking alternatives to your traditional supply chain and tracking the performance of distribution points such as warehouses. People, processes, and technology must work synchronously to ensure continuity and deliver a seamless omnichannel experience. If technology consistently hinders or becomes an obstacle to improvement, your business may have outgrown it and should consider switching to new technology that will expand with the business as it grows.
Is it time to replatform?
A transition to omnichannel is easier said than done. There are three guiding factors for omnichannel success that you can keep top of mind during your transformation to reduce the likelihood of failure: speed, transparency, and expertise. These factors should be built into your omnichannel approach to ensure lasting success.
1. Speed. Speedy service means that potential customers have instant access to the information they need from the channels of their choice. You’ll need to optimize for convenience and simplicity through features like one-click purchases, chatbots and information directories, and shortcuts for repeat orders.
2. Transparency. A transparent omnichannel commerce approach affords customers an at-a-glance look at their many options and their costs versus benefits. Transparency can come in the form of an online product comparison tool.
3. Expertise: 33% of buyers rate 24/7 live chat as a top-three requirement for best-in-class suppliers. Can your omnichannel platform help you answer technical customer questions regardless of day or time?
Many retailers want a fully-integrated marketplace that can reach buyers no matter where they are—with speed, transparency, and expertise. But that isn’t possible without a modern platform that unites data, analytics, and logistics. The right B2B omnichannel platform doesn’t just track data from your many touchpoints: it also collects the data into insights that you can use to refine your company’s strategies and processes.
If your process challenges have been addressed and there is still an issue with scaling, then the business can explore replatforming. Though replatforming requires investing—in the form of time, money, and intensive change management—the benefits are enormous. Your omnichannel platform is arguably the biggest blocker preventing you from capturing the total value of this new business model.
Is your B2B omnichannel platform helping you achieve your fullest potential?
The B2B opportunity is now greater than ever. B2B buyers are more comfortable making large purchases without in-person sales meetings. Augmenting face-to-face meetings are helpful channels that will nurture customers in your stead—more attentively and consistently than a team of humans on their own.
To be a successful B2B omnichannel seller, you must continuously develop your online business and choose an e-commerce platform that meets your current needs and enables future innovation and advancement.
Get in touch with Intershop to learn how to do so today.