The first part of the article revealed more about the people responsible for growth in B2B e-commerce; who they are, why they like to shop online; and how this affects the purchasing decisions they make in their role as business users. It is now time to talk about new technologies that, although seemingly not related to the topic, will have a major impact on the e-commerce development. Finally, we will give you brief guidelines for good customer service and successful business.
AI, AR, VR, IoT
New technologies entering the online retail, such as Artificial Intelligence, will eventually play a role in B2B online sales as well. With their ability to respond to not that complex questions, chatbots for example, are a good option for servicing thousands of customers at once, 24/7. From personal experience, I can say that a chat agent can effectively handle up to 4-5 chats at the same time. How many employees do you need to provide a flawless customer service to 20-30 queries at once? Round-the-clock? Chatbots technology has advanced to the point that some of them even identify new business opportunities by offering consumers additional products based on current order or purchase history.
Artificial Intelligence can also be useful in areas such as warehouse management. The technologies can predict the times of the year when you will need to have certain quantities of particular products in the warehouse, so you meet customer inquiries in the best possible way. Also, AI can predict which part of the day is the most appropriate to send a mail to a user, depending on the data accumulated in previous communication with them (Microsoft already provide such functionality with Embedded Intelligence Suite for Dynamics 365).
Just like AI, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality can also improve processes in your organization. For instance, with VR Marketing departments will have the opportunity to “explore” different ideas for Christmas and New Year’s gifts without spending hours (sometimes even days) with wholesalers demanding samples from multiple manufacturers in search of the “perfect” present. With the Augmented reality, Administrative directors will be able to “visualize” how a cabinet, or another piece of furniture will fit in the office, what space it will occupy, whether it suits the rest of the furniture.
End-user innovations like the described above will definitely enter the B2B world as well. Let me give you an example with the Amazon Dash. As many of you know, this is an IoT based service where customers place orders for specific household goods by simply clicking a button. Our colleagues from Dynamics Mobile implemented similar logic for one of our clients – a big distributor of mineral water for businesses in the UAE. Now, when an office runs out of the water, the employee responsible for the supplies presses a button and the request is automatically entered as an order directly in the ERP.
Visual and Voice Search
Speaking of Amazon, the benchmark for customer experience, we must mention the technology that “recognizes” objects and shows them as search results, thus saving you time and effort on manually entering data in the search box. To make it even easier, users have a voice search feature available.
Voice search is not only available on Amazon and it is not limited to smartphones and tablets, as many of you might think. All giants such as Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and Google are developing “smart” devices that perform tasks via voice commands.
These and other technologies, offering speed and convenience, will further detract people from the use of keyboards. How do you think this will affect the way business users look for products and services in the future?
According to ComScore, a US media measurement and analytics company, in 2020 around 50% of all searches will be voice based.
Considering everything written above, we should not restrict online sales to a good-looking, functional website. B2B companies should borrow the omnichannel approach present in B2C sales, as their customers receive the same level of service via any device and any channel – desktop, smartphone, call center, sales representative, social media, email, VR, IoT, and others. This is important not only because different users prefer different ways of communication but also because they often apply cross-device approach.
According to Google 6 out of 10 Internet users start shopping on one device but continue or finish on another, and 82% of smartphone holders look for more information about products they are about to purchase in a store.
Have you ever been searching online for information on a product that stands on the shelf just in front of your eyes? Or have you ever been to the mall just to try the size of a pair of shoes that you saw on the web at a lower price?
360° customer view
To get a complete view of the customer and offer the same level of service across any channel, you need to integrate all the data that you have – in your CRM, chat platform, social listening tool, and more. In addition, the data should be easily accessible to everyone in the organization so that the customer feels like “talking” to a single person, no matter if it is the salesperson, the call center agent, the social media specialist, and so on.
But when building an online store, especially a B2B one, the most important integration is the one with the ERP system. This is an important topic that is frequently overlooked by organizations, so I will examine it in a separate post.
Instead of a conclusion
Although some of the trends outlined in this article may sound distant (even abstract), most of them will come true and others will develop in different directions. There may be even others who, at the time of writing this article, we do not suspect exist.
Whatever happens, we need to remember that technologies are constantly evolving, and consumers who grow up with them are changing as well. Failing to meet the habits and expectations of millennials and the following generations will gradually get you out of the game. So, keep track of technology developments and integrate them into your business at the right time and in the right way. Investments like these are crucial to your company’s future. The first step, however, is building an online store.