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We’ve witnessed a seismic shift within the retail landscape as the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the widespread adoption of online buying. With this, consumer expectations have normalised around Amazon-like frictionless digital experiences – a ‘go-digital’ shift that has been further impacted by the rise of the millennial workforce.

Millennials now hold the B2B purse strings

Millennial digital natives are now, globally, the primary decision-makers in B2B sales, providing almost 75% in the field of hardware and software sales with 73% of them looking for a personalised B2C-style experience - even within B2B. Digital interactions have become table stakes for the millennial generation as they expect digital-first or digital-only experiences that B2B retail businesses can’t ignore.

Generational change can be challenging, but it spurs forward-thinking companies on to find new business opportunities and increase business growth – think easy-to-browse online catalogues, seamless check-outs, and personalised offers that we all look for when making personal purchases.

Thriving in the B2B ecommerce landscape will require a B2C style online journey that resonates with this growing generation of potential customers. So, how exactly can B2B businesses win over these digitally-native buyers?

1.  Turn browsers into long-term buyers with hyper-personalisation

Personalisation has become an expected aspect of every customer’s journey, with a McKinsey report revealing that 71% of consumers expect companies to deliver personalised interactions and 76% get frustrated when this doesn’t happen. Personalisation tactics throughout the buying process can be a key way to build customer trust, especially among millennials, and it’s something that B2B companies can’t afford to get wrong.

B2B ecommerce platform

However there are some simple ways to achieve this. Personalised product recommendations and search results influenced by order history can help companies make customers feel valued and encourage repeat purchases. You can offer special treatment for returning customers, such as exclusive deals based on the customer’s previous purchases. A CRM system is critical here to pulling off any successful personalisation strategy and can help companies stand out from the crowd. A good CRM-commerce integration can collect and store customer data in one location and effective CRM data management practices will ensure your data quality remains high to offer personalised experiences that can sway over digitally-savvy millennials.

But how exactly can the right CRM system deliver on your customer’s personalisation needs? With essential customer data always on-hand, it’s easy for retail businesses to ensure that:

  • Customer service agents know a customer’s details without the customer having to tell them
  • Customer service agents feel empowered with enough key information to offer tailor-made solutions to a customer’s problems
  • Market materials address customers by their name - such as using personalisation tokens in your emails rather than a generic ‘Dear customer’
  • Marketing emails speak the customer’s language – in other words, it only includes content and offers the recipient will be interested in. This is achievable when you’ve segmented your email database

E commerce in B2B

When it comes to building customer trust, it really is the irritating little things that matter most. Taking the time and effort to understand your customers and their needs, can be a crucial way to create long-lasting customer relationships.

2.  Don’t let information unavailability be the reason you miss out on selling opportunities

Unlike B2C customers who are often swayed by marketing and advertising materials that draw attention to new products, B2B customers are unlikely to buy on a whim due to longer buying journey and multiple-stage approval process .

In fact, just one out of four buyers consult sales representatives in their research, and instead depend on independent resources. It’s no surprise to discover that when it comes to the B2B Millennial approach, this figure is even higher, with a recent study suggesting that 58% of millennials initially research the information themselves and contact sellers much later during the purchase than previous generations. Regardless of when a buyer gets in touch, readily available and up-to date information is key to decision-making.

The omnichannel shopper: anytime, anyplace, anywhere, but keep it short and sweet

More and more B2B buyers expect to shop from anywhere and at any time, so it’s easy to miss an opportunity to sell if you don’t have the current product information available around the clock. It’s up to retail businesses to simplify the complex buying process and ensure information such as product availability, price, and delivery time can be digitally accessed from any device. With technology such as a B2B commerce portal, you can make it easier to find products and services on your website, which boosts the chance of conversion. 

Digital commerce solutions

But remember to keep your content brief! The digital attention span for a millennial is around 12 seconds, so think short form content – videos, social media, community-contributed content – as a way to grab their attention.

….and always on

B2B customers want consistently excellent customer service before, during and after their sale, so outstanding service includes excellence even after the sale. Sending after-sales materials and resources that are relevant to a recent purchase that the customer might find interesting is an excellent example of post-sales service. 

3.  The self-service kiosk is open 24/7 to meet customers where they are

In addition to readily available information, self-service transactions are integral to create seamless experiences that are easy to find, easy to use, and align to your customers’ preferences.

In the traditional B2B buying process, you always had contact with a salesperson. As a customer, you looked for a seller to be informed about the different options available on the market before making your purchase decision.  But now that’s all changed! Today B2B customers prefer to seek out self-service capabilities rather than speak to a support agent, with a staggering 88% of customers now expecting brands to have an online self-service portal and 64% of buyers being less likely to buy a product if they have received a cold call.

Customer empowerment at your fingertips

Millennial preferences are largely behind this shift in buying habits as 44% of millennials don’t want any interaction with a sales representative in a B2B buying journey – and for those that do expect some level of interaction with sales reps, this engagement is only acceptable much later in the purchase decision process.

E commerce for B2B

Unlike your business hours, self-service is available 24/7 and can be a great way to extend your customer service around the world, anytime. The always-on approach means that you can provide customers with an immediate response and at a time that’s convenient to them.

With technology being their comfort zone, 68% of millennial consumers demand a frictionless, integrated, omnichannel shopping experience. This is where self-service tools such as automatic product recommendations, quick video demos, and FAQs can be effective in providing these digital natives with the autonomy and digital exchanges they’re after. AI chatbots too can be a perfect tool to ask B2B customers questions and gain valuable actionable data at the earliest stage, which can enable hyper-personalisation throughout the sales funnel. 

Integrated business systems can help provide that seamless customer experience. An ERP-commerce platform integration provides the solution. B2B customers can find the information they need more easily without needing to speak to your service or sales team. And if they want to reach out to a human, offering omnichannel customer support gives them the power to contact you via the method of their choosing.

Take a leaf out of the B2C playbook

Millennials in the B2B space have a considerable amount of buying power in today’s retail market – and are not afraid to use it! Millennials have high expectations of a first-class experience and are more likely to show their dissatisfaction, with 90% of millennials and Gen Z being dissatisfied with their vendor compared to 71% of buyers from older generations.

To thrive in this transformed e-commerce space, B2B retail businesses will need to make their digital experience a top factor that differentiates their company from competitors. This is where a consumer-like shopping experience that exceeds B2B customer expectations will enable companies to tap into the lucrative millennial customer base.

We recently supported Toolstream to upgrade its B2B commerce platform, enabling them to deliver a B2C style experience in line with the needs of millennial and Gen Z customers.

Learn more by clicking here to read the full case study.



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