Having a webshop has become crucial for B2B companies as demand for online purchasing in businesses is increasing. But how can we define B2B e-commerce? How is this different from B2C e-commerce and what makes a successful online portal, a single point of information, for business customers?
In general, I see three main distinctions between B2B e-commerce and B2C e-commerce.
- Customer Profile: In B2B, the customers are professionals skewed towards rational decision making and who focus on the products’ features and properties. As a result, the buying decision is planned for and is taken by a committee to fulfil a critical company need.
- Purchase Process: Since the buying decision usually involves greater risks and substantial financial investments in B2B, the purchase process takes a lot of time and is very complex based on business needs and business logic and is usually a repeated purchase.
- Customer Relationship: the B2B buyers would rather invest in a lasting relationship that doesn't end after the purchase is made. Therefore, B2B buyers’ lifetime value is much higher than B2C buyers. This makes customer relationship management more complex and customer satisfaction and retention even more critical.
Not surprisingly, today, the common thread unifying both B2B and B2C is user experience. So how can we offer an exceptional online buying experience to a business customer?
This can only be done by choosing an e-commerce solution that provides the right tools and by implementing necessary feature-sets that range from navigation and quick purchases to multi-system integrations. The most important feature, however, is personalization!
Relevant search results, a lesser number of clicks, saved payments, no overload of information – these are just a few of the expectations of today’s online buyer. As a seller, it is as important to provide relevant buyer-specific information as it is to help customers find the right product. Personalization is a key element in designing an e-commerce solution. Typically, a well-implemented personalization strategy can increase customer experience, customer retention, loyalty to your business and revenue.
Personalization in B2B
While B2C personalization is aimed at driving sales by making the customer add more items to the shopping basket, often by “impulse buys”, B2B personalization must be more sophisticated. It is unlikely a B2B customer will engage in a procurement process on impulse. Instead, B2B personalization must create value and efficiency for the user. Typically, B2B personalization will need to focus on delivering efficiency to the customers.
Personalization in B2B focuses on customized catalogs, contract pricing, supporting segmented information based on roles, allowing quick bulk orders and handling roles in the order process. It requires the use of all knowledge about your products and customers that you have access to.
The spare parts business
So why is personalization important in the aftermarket and spare part sales? It has many similarities to the normal B2B case in presenting relevant information to the customer and supporting different roles.
But it also adds some additional complexities.
When servicing a product, the exact structure will be crucial. A design change from one month to another may make one spare part fit and another not. The actual install base in terms of exact versions or individuals becomes essential. So, when purchasing a spare part for service or repair, the customers know what they need. Add-on sales based on recommendations from other users or similar purchases become irrelevant. The customer’s main focus is to reduce stop times and maximize uptimes which makes anything to support uptime of greatest value.
Strategies for personalization in the spare part business
The expectations that users bring with them from their B2C shopping experiences must be met. It must be equally easy and fast to find and get the right spare part for an existing product as to purchase a piece of clothing. As an OEM, personalization can be taken further to make it more efficient and easier to get the needed parts. Naturally, the B2B personalization strategies will apply also to the aftermarket and sale of spare parts, but they must be complemented with additional tools. Here is an overview of the toolset available for an OEM to personalize the spare part business:
- Keep track of install base. Knowing your customer’s install base is the key to making it relevant and presenting the parts needed. It may save several clicks and thus valuable time.
- Ensure to store the connection between the ordered part and the product it is needed for. It will help in making future purchases smoother as well as important information to the R&D when improving product quality.
- Focus the spare part search on finding the exact right product version or individual to ensure the right parts and service information is presented.
- Provide visual support for the selection of the right spare part, like exportable CAD Drawings in 2D or 3D, integrated with the internal PLM.
- Use cross-sales and up-sales strategies for your spare part business. Cross-sales and up-sales will differ a bit compared to product sales. What others have shown interest in will not be relevant, and algorithms presenting offerings based on statistics can turn out to be misleading. Instead it must be based on the experience of a spare part team and tailored to the specific product. When a customer orders a spare part for a product, an accessory that fits that product may be relevant. Suggesting additional spare parts that may be wearing down could give great value to the user.
- Ensure to handle legacy parts and their replacements. Old parts may have been replaced in several steps and this needs to be communicated and handled on the e-commerce site.
- Add content for easy maintenance and support. If customers can find the needed information to change parts, as videos or textual descriptions of the support, along with the parts, valuable time will be saved. Getting the correct part is equally important as an efficient service operation.
- Provide a unique digital interface for the whole purchase experience. Contextual to the purchase of a spare part, allow customers to book service or installation, follow up the shipment, download the invoice, and even have an easy return process.
Some other common navigation feature sets that ensures a customer platform simplifies the purchase process for B2B buyers are:
- Advanced and intuitive search: one of the most important navigation tools since it enables buyers to find the right product quickly and easily and thus increases conversion rate.
- Shopping cart: assist buyers while making the purchase. It allows them to add items in their basket and start the checkout process.
- Integration with ERP systems: speeds up the process fulfilment by automatically updating the inventory levels both at the front end and the back end, displays prices based on user type, etc.
- Multiple users: Each user may have rights to access the platform which can be managed by an administrator.
- Availability and catalog: These features enable real-time inventory updates of each product and offer information that are useful to the buyer.
In conclusion, implementing a digital sales portal, that is tightly integrated with your aftermarket PIM and catalog system, with smart personalization strategies, is bound to increase your customer’s experience and at the same time efficiently compete with third-party vendors. Keeping track of the install base will help the end-user find the exact right part. At the end, it will strengthen the brand loyalty and increase the aftermarket revenue.