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can contribute to their career development, potentially earning the B2B vendor a lifetime customer. When B2B buyers shop online, all of this

applies. Business customers need to feel that they have an individual relationship with their supplier, that they are getting a good deal for their company, and that they have chosen wisely. In practical terms for ecommerce, this means that the site must recognise a returning customer and be able to apply automatically whatever terms have been negotiated. It also means that customer service still matters. Buyers will simply give up on an order if they run into trouble and don’t receive the right level of help, so service agents need to be well-informed and equipped with the right technology to deal with problems.

Everyone wants a smooth shopping experience Another important point is that an ecommerce site for business still needs to look good and be easy to use – on any device. Someone who is searching a business site for valves or heaters may well have just been browsing for shoes or books on the same smartphone. If the contrast between the two experiences is too marked, that individual will be far more susceptible to other suppliers offering superior site capabilities. Finding a product on a business site needs to be as slick – or even slicker – than on a consumer store. Business customers increasingly expect to be able to use free text search – maybe even voice – to find an item quickly. When they get there, they also expect to find information about

current and future availability. There’s no question of simply transferring a paper catalogue to a website.

In B2B the detail matters There is a point at which the needs of the business buyer diverge from those of consumers. An ecommerce site aimed at businesses has to take into account the workflow processes of the corporate customer. Purchase orders and other sign-offs may be required for baskets above a particular value, while buyers from large organisations may be authorised with tiered levels of approval. Advance orders and regular orders are all common in B2B, and detailed reports – not only of orders but also of payments, returns and cancellations, all need to be made available online. It’s a lot to handle.

Buyers will

simply give up on an order if they run into trouble and don’t

receive the right level of help, so service agents

need to be well-informed and equipped with the right technology to deal with problems.

How to get it right Achieving all of this means taking on board all the practical requirements of a B2B customer as well as their desire for a purchasing experience that can match the one they receive as a consumer. To do this, vendors need to look not only at software that can handle the B2B-specific functions such as dynamic pricing, complex approvals and pre booking etc, but also at the marketing tools that are now ubiquitous in B2C. Personalisation and recommendation engines can work as well in the business world as for consumers. Just as physical stores tried to replicate the “helpful assistant” online, manufacturers and wholesalers need to replicate highly individualised relationships. The days of traditional transactional purchases are over; a shift in gear is required for B2B businesses to be come more competitive.

A new world for B2B The move to online purchasing for business may have ramped up suddenly, but it’s here to stay. As a new generation of buyers emerges, the B2B sector has a great opportunity to shake off its image as a place where creativity and human relationships don’t belong. Long term business relationships will thrive in an online environment which nurtures customers and provides a personalised, efficient service. Now is the time to adapt and open up to a new channel to sell online and grow your business further.

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20 | electrical wholesalerMay 2021

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