According to Google research, 89% of U.S. marketers reported that personalization on their websites or apps resulted in an increase in revenue. B2B companies are forced to keep pace with customers’ digital preferences and high expectations now more than ever. Customers are comparing the B2B online experience to the B2C online experience and won’t hesitate to voice their opinions publicly. System delays, process inconsistencies, and a lack of personalization and customization are just what customers need to start packing their virtual bags.
We’ve summarized the findings of a recent study we conducted to understand how B2B buyers perceive the current eBusiness experience. The survey went out to 125 B2B buyers in the U.S. In this post we also discuss the urgency with which leading B2B companies must respond to the new digital paradigm across channels and devices. Lastly, we provide ideas and advice on how companies can change the game with next-generation customer portals developed with the one-to-one experience in mind.
The Research in a Nutshell
- Almost 40% of respondents ranked process issues as the top source of friction when conducting eBusiness
- Customer experience ranked #1 for attracting and retaining loyal customers
- Fifteen percent of B2B buyers are not engaged
- Fifty-three percent of B2B buyers feel that companies are only somewhat responsive to their needs
- Forty-three percent of buyers believe getting things done easily is most important
- The retail industry was ranked #1 in providing the best eCommerce customer engagement
Getting to the Root of the Problem
These data help us identify the root of the problem. Hint: it’s not about your website; it’s about your entire eBusiness process and technology infrastructure. B2B eCommerce is inherently more complex than B2C, specifically for manufacturers, as they require heightened coordination and communication among systems and processes. But that doesn’t matter to customers who want to get things done quickly and efficiently. They only care about the experience they encounter and whether it meets or fails their expectations.
One common problem emerged among respondents regarding complications due to lack of automation in the order process. For example; let’s say John purchases 100 motor parts from a sellers’ portal. His purchase order generates a ticket that alerts the processing team via email. The processor enters the order into the system which kicks out an invoice. The invoice is then sent back to the customer for processing. This entire process could take days or even weeks because it depends on the bandwidth of the individuals. It also increases the chance of errors. Alternatively, a custom EDI integration would automate the process and take the onus off of the individual processor. With computer-to-computer electronic data interchange, this whole cumbersome, time-sucking process is seamless not only for the company but the customer too. Sellers can rest assured knowing that their multiplicity of documents are being processed and distributed automatically, saving corporations’ time and money.
Real-Time, Relevant Interactions
Inconsistent or insufficient information about products can frustrate customers who expect companies to have up-to-date information at the ready. Maintaining the integrity and freshness of your data is key to providing the latest and best information in real time. Real-time interactions including intuitive sales and service tools are a must for the on-the-go customer.
Integrating modern data analytics tools with your customer portal enables personalized communications via email and social media channels based on behavioral patterns. B2B customers appreciate gentle reminders and updates about the changes that affect them most such as order updates, product updates, and proactive notifications should a problem arise. Custom chatbots can also engage live customers to help drive sales.
Building the Next-Generation eBusiness Experience
Companies must adapt quickly and invest heavily in modernizing their IT infrastructures to be more competitive and responsive to customers’ expectations. Companies should seek out modern, customizable options for hardware, software, networks, IT resources and maintenance to optimize business performance, control costs, and improve the customer and employee experience. Integrating CRM, ERP (including the aging AS/400), inventory, data analytics, billing, content management, and other mission-critical systems are crucial to providing that seamless and personalized experience. Systems that don’t communicate with each other just won’t cut it in a customer-first world. Hosting your eCommerce platform on a private cloud is a smart and secure option. You may also consider a hybrid option that offers a consistent platform that spans data centers and cloud to simplify IT and deliver apps and information to anyone, anytime, anywhere. A hybrid option also allows you to scale the computing power and capabilities that your business demands without wasting onsite technology investments.
According to TechTarget, APIs have steadily improved software quality over the last decade, and the growing number of web services exposed through APIs by cloud providers is also encouraging the creation of cloud-specific applications, internet of things (IoT) efforts, and apps to support mobile devices and users. Integration of APIs such as sales tax calculations, shipping calculations, product catalogs, pricing, and inventory, enable companies to serve up information seamlessly. Simplistic site navigation, self-service, responsive design, and robust search capabilities are all fundamental elements of our era.
Building a next-generation B2B eBusiness experience requires a well-planned customer first strategy that leverages social, mobile, analytics, and cloud technologies to engage the busy customer. It also requires companies to modernize aging IT infrastructures to enable the optimal response to customer needs and preferences. The fact is you are now competing with companies that have crossed over from the B2C world to take a chunk of your business. Technology plays an integral role in helping you stay competitive. Ultimately, it will come down to how the customer perceives his/her experience with your business that will determine your company’s fate.
Enterprise companies often enjoy the advantages of a having a large in-house IT department to extrapolate insights from multiple data sources. Traditionally, they’d help line-of-business owners make smarter, faster business decisions. Innovations in technology, along with more competitive pricing models have enabled small business owners to access business intelligence insights without involving IT or enlisting the help of a data analyst.
Modern business intelligence analyzes and transforms data from up to 80 sources into highly visual charts, reports, and dashboards in a matter of minutes. These insights are no longer constrained to the back-office desktop they are accessible online anytime and across a host of mobile devices and native apps.
Modern BI is capable of integrating seamlessly with third-party, cloud-based services or legacy systems, and Microsoft’s Power BI is one of the premier options for companies running Acumatics, NDesk, SweetIQ, Web APIs, UserVoice, Github, Twilio and others. User-defined dashboards combined with customized visuals, live streaming, and interactive features make it an even more attractive option.
Business leaders already know they can’t afford to ignore the treasure trove of data that flows constantly. The challenge lies in accessing those insights quickly and easily without interrupting productivity. Business Intelligence by itself has limited predictive capabilities; however, embedding machine learning like Microsoft’s Azure can help companies predict trends with surprising accuracy. With the help of R language, an open-source language for statistical computing and data visualization, users can create their own desired output.
These insights can be used to optimize future behavior and improve an organization’s products and services. Small businesses can now leverage user-centric analytical tools with robust capabilities such as:
- SaaS analytics and virtualization
- Desktop analytics and visualization application
- Intuitive mobile apps for tablets and smartphones
- Embedded API to surface Power BI visualization in third-party applications
Cloud-based Power BI empowers teams to pull data from operational systems, sensors, and external sources – explore relationships between them, spot trends and predict ends – and then share routinely updated visual and statistical reports to multiple recipients whenever and wherever they are.
Avoid these common mistakes often associated with ERP initiatives
By Jignesh Mistry and Vishal Adheda
Since its inception in the late 70’s, ERP implementation has been a daunting task. From SMBs to enterprise companies these undertakings have pained executives year after year, often resulting in large capital expenditures with no tangible ROI.
To harness the full power of ERP, here are some critical components to have in place:
- Have a clear understanding of company needs:
Selecting an ERP solution based on short-term goals is a recipe for disaster. It is imperative that business leaders understand the unique needs and requirements of the business now and for the future. Performing a detailed analysis of functionality, flexibility and features will give insight into how the ERP system aligns with the organization’s processes and goals. A thorough analysis will also reveal any gaps in AS-IS and TO-BE process mapping
2. Involve actual end-users in the research process:
Don’t make the mistake of benching the people who will eventually become key users. Include these important stakeholders in the research process to create a sense of ownership in the project and its outcomes.
3. Ensure pre- and post-implementation governance:
Keep financial decisions and accountability for user adoption and performance with the steering committee. Call on your leadership to help stomp out confusion and beat back interference from competing initiatives.
4. Enlist competent project managers:
Select your ERP project manager carefully to ensure alignment of skills and vision. Let the PM take the helm of the process from the very beginning. Sadly, decisions are often made without the project manager’s knowledge, including final decisions about the solution. Once again, this mistake will result in little or no sense of project ownership.
5. Apply business process modeling:
This is a critical step in the process as it ensures that no business process or planned improvement remains undocumented. The current state (AS-IS) is influenced by existing users because they are most familiar with the process. Thorough documentation removes dependencies from specific business functions and a well-documented process provides clarity to the implementation teams. More emphasis on this phase can lead to increased efficiencies in a future state (TO-BE).
6. Document Standard Operating Procedures (SOP):
During most ERP implementations, the perceived value for SOPs is slim to nil. However, it’s worth thinking it through to realize the full value of your new system. SOPs help sustain routine processes which can then be automated in the new ERP system. Organizations with high turnover rates will benefit most from this exercise as it helps transition new employees into their roles faster.
7. Decommission legacy applications:
We’ve experienced instances of legacy systems lingering long after the new one is in place. In some cases, multiple systems are in use simultaneously, resulting in increased anxiety about switching to the new tool and swelling maintenance and support costs. Just let it go!
ERP systems provide an integrated view of how an organization gets things done and helps them identify ways to improve upon processes including automation. Companies that consider these seven best practices will achieve greater implementation success and realize more value from their ERP implementations.