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Personalization. Customization. Free shipping. Member preferences. Special deals. All of these things buyers find in the B2C world add up to a great customer experience and more control over the buying process. And buyers expect the same treatment in the B2B digital marketplace as they receive when they shop for consumer goods. The problem is that many B2B businesses looking to sell their goods online are still using outdated selling techniques, wasting precious time and resources trying to capture customers who have long since moved on.

To be successful, B2B sellers need to proactively anticipate and meet customer needs. Sounds straightforward and simple, right? Not so fast. That means they must transform their sales processes to remain competitive and profitable. Transformation is difficult and uncomfortable, but the traditional way of selling is dying, and unless B2B sellers adapt to what Forrester Research refers to as the Age of the Customer, they will continue to cede competitive ground to those who do.

Build Your Digital Roadmap

Before you begin the process of crafting a powerful B2B digital customer experience, you need to develop a digital roadmap. By following this e-commerce strategy checklist, you can work towards creating a more meaningful customer experience and increase sales.

1. Paint Your Vision — Design the ideal customer experience for your business

B2B leaders already realize that offline and online customers are unique, but it’s important to understand how and what that means for your unique business processes, systems and people. Today’s online buyers want more control over their purchasing journey, and they expect the journey to be convenient, seamless from device-to-device, and fast. From the moment your buyer enters your site or launches your app, the path from shopping to buying should be an intuitive experience where buying is the only natural outcome of their visit. Make sure you have an idea of your desired end state from the outset.

2. No Sacred Cows Allowed — Evaluate legacy processes

Before making any changes, examine the processes you already have in place to gauge whether they are still relevant to your buyers. Don’t be afraid to change legacy processes — it’s not uncommon in B2B organizations to highly-customize systems and processes for a small population of important customers. Those custom paths can wreak havoc when you move to a more streamlined digital process for a broader population of customers. An assessment will also help you pinpoint precisely which processes to retain and which you might need to send out to pasture.

3. Clear out the Clutter — Inventory all systems that touch your customer

Taking an inventory of all of the systems that directly or indirectly impact your customer experience will help bring into focus aspects of the customer journey that can be refined and illuminate customer touchpoints you may not have previously seen. Take every opportunity to reduce the number of systems that touch your customer in order to remove barriers and ultimately increase the efficiency of the buying process.

4. Teach them to Fish — Make self-service a key part of your digital strategy

A shift in the buying process towards self-service has led to the evolution of a new kind of customer service representative — a “consultative” seller. This “suggestive” seller has much more power to upsell and can act as a solutions provider rather than a troubleshooter of problems caused by an inefficient, error-prone manual process.

Keep in mind that the two most important things to a B2B buyer is access to their order history and shipment tracking. Focus on providing these two features when incorporating self-service into the buyer journey.

5. Don’t Forget the Basics — Digitize your product catalog and maximize findability

When it comes to B2B e-commerce, if your product is not discoverable, nobody will buy it. But digitizing your product catalog is only half the battle. Equally as important is ensuring your products are easy to find by developing customer-centric product taxonomies. If customers can access your product in an intuitive, convenient, Amazon-like way, you are likely to see much stronger sales.

6. Create a Data Management Plan — Utilize data to personalize the customer experience

Gartner estimates that by 2018, 70 percent of B2B e-commerce sites will have integrated personalized features for customers. They go on to say that businesses that effectively use personalization outsell competitors by 30 percent. Personalization requires a robust mastery of data — behavioral, financial, etc. Before setting out to collect data, know exactly what question you are trying to answer and how that data will be used. Maximize the time spent on gathering data by first ensuring you know what you want to accomplish.

7. Sell Your Vision — Make executive buy-in your highest priority

Your digital roadmap will help you identify tasks that need to be completed in order to create an ideal e-commerce customer experience. Use the roadmap to gain alignment and support from senior leaders. Transforming the customer experience will likely require changes across your full customer lifecycle — changes only executive leadership can drive across the organization.

By following the e-commerce strategy checklist, the most forward-thinking B2B companies can join the ranks of successful e-commerce companies that provide best-in-class customer experiences.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License Title image by  benjaminasmith