B2B buyers and sellers have different perceptions of what is important to the buying journey, according to Amazon’s “B2B E-Commerce in Evolution Report.” Amazon surveyed 250 U.S. B2B buyers and 250 B2B sellers in December 2020 and January 2021. Buyers reported that online features were far more valuable to them than phone calls with a sales or customer service rep or the ability to view products in a store. According to them, the most important online features in their buying journeys include product comparisons, detailed product descriptions and self-service.
Even though buyers didn’t rank phone or video calls with sales reps in their top-five most-valued features provided by sellers, the sellers did consider calls part of the top-five features they offer. This illustrates a disconnect in what buyers want – and what sellers think those buyers want.
A TrustRadius survey of 1,134 B2B buyers revealed that today’s buyers demand self-service options: 87% of buyers want self-serve as part or all of their buying journey and 57% of buyers make purchases without ever talking to a sales rep. This report also emphasized the influence of millennials and Gen Z buyers, who are twice as likely to search and discover a product online than older generations.
It’s clear that sellers overvalue an in-person/high-touch customer experience and undervalue online features important to today’s buyers.
How can distributors bridge the gap between buyers and sellers?
Because the customer is always right when it comes to the experience they want, it behooves B2B sellers to give it to them. A 2019 Accenture survey of more than 2,000 B2B buyers revealed that there is a path to provide a better customer experience with a service-over-sales approach that blends digital innovation with human interaction.
They outline a few steps:
Unlock powerful data by leveraging technology
Knowing your customer — what they need and when they need it — is an essential component of a best-in-class customer experience. AI makes it easier and faster to bring customer data to the front lines of a sales interaction and use it to solve customer needs. More so than other technologies, AI can deduce what customers will actually buy because it takes into account all data from all sales channels — including online browsing activities and sales transaction history. Taking a holistic approach to data analysis can translate to personalized recommendations for every unique customer — on the e-commerce site or through sales and customer service reps.
Assemble a digital-human dream team
Digital tools and humans must work together to be successful today. B2B buyers still value the expertise of sales reps, but they don’t always rely on it. Technology and humans working in tandem give B2B buyers the best of both worlds. Not only can technology improve response time for sales reps, it also gives sales reps a more complete view of customers’ buying behaviors and the information they need to serve them better.
A digital-human dream team results when sales and customer service reps can see what’s happening with their customers on all channels, including what they’ve been looking at online. That information helps them have more proactive and consultative conversations with their customers.
E-commerce sites can benefit from “knowing” what was recently discussed with a rep so customers can be nudged to purchase an item that they received a quote on last week. When those channels work together, it breaks the information silos that historically exist between sales channels.
Have a plan for change management
Giving the customer what they want will require a distributor to make changes in the organization. Some of those changes might be established workflows and processes, mindsets and digital tools. Integrating digital tools, no matter how useful to sales reps and customers, requires a distributor’s team to be open to and embrace change. Because humans are resistant to change, it’s important to have change-management strategies in place to boost adoption rates for new tools (for both customers and your internal teams).
While there is a disconnect between the customer experience B2B buyers want and the experience being offered by B2B sellers, it’s not insurmountable. Distributors still have an advantage: existing, mature relationships with customers. All they need to do is minimize the evolving gap between what buyers want and how distributors can deliver it on both digital and personal channels.
Benj Cohen founded Proton.ai to help distributors harness cutting-edge artificial intelligence. He learned about distribution firsthand at Benco Dental, a business started by his great-grandfather. Later, while studying applied math and data science at Harvard University, Cohen saw an opportunity to bring his two worlds together. He’s on a mission to supply distributors with the innovative technology they need to thrive in modern markets. Reach him through proton.ai.