By: Karthik Chidambaram

B2B customers expect a buying experience similar to what they enjoy from B2C players like Amazon. These buyers are increasingly digital-native Millennials who prefer digital shopping. While distributors had already begun to move toward a digital-centric approach before COVID-19, the pandemic accelerated this change and dramatically shifted how distributors interact with their customers. 

According to the 2022 State of Distributor Sales, 58% of distributors are using ecommerce as a sales channel. This is a significant increase. Buyers often browse and research products online, even if they complete the transaction through another channel. 

B2B customers use more than ten channels to interact with suppliers, according to McKinsey. They’re also beginning to purchase higher-priced items online: 77% of B2B buyers said they would feel comfortable spending over $50,000 in a single online transaction, and 35% said they would spend over $500,000.

To give buyers what they expect, distributors must be proactive and invest in ecommerce and other technology to increase profitability. 

What do B2B Buyers Want?

Distributors need to prepare their organizations as buyers’ demands change. Identifying what the buyer wants in a purchasing experience will help organizations with customer retention and satisfaction. Here are a few ways buyer demands are changing:

  • Digital Channels: Gartner research shows that 44% of Millennials prefer no interaction with a sales rep when purchasing. Buyer demand is shifting from in-person sales interactions to digital channels, with only 17% of buyer time occupied by a sales rep. 
  • Confidence: Buyers want assurance that they are making a good purchasing decision. Helping buyers make sense of complex information and eliminating buying uncertainty instills confidence. 
  • “Make my job easier”: Identifying what makes a buyer’s job easier goes beyond making the purchasing process easier. According to the NAW Handbook for Thriving Through Disruption, making a buyer’s job easierincludes endless assortment and reliable and fast delivery. Intuitive digital tools can also make the B2B buyer’s purchasing process more efficient and low-effort. Gartner says “the key to accelerating revenue growth for B2B sales organizations is a low-effort, digital buying experience that helps customers feel more confident about their decisions.”
  • Fewer Sales Visits: As B2B buyers migrate from in-person channels to digital, they are less interested in having traditional sales visits. 
  • Positive Post-Purchase Experience: Service doesn’t end after the sale. B2B buyers want seamless delivery and return process. Distributors who supply a positive post-purchase experience are more apt to build customer loyalty and reap additional sales.

How Distributors Can Give B2B Buyers What They Want

Delivering what buyers demand requires investment in the right digital tools and processes, including: 

Omnichannel Sales Models

As buyer preferences shift toward ecommerce and other sales channels, it becomes essential for distributors to adopt an omnichannel sales model. This change doesn’t eliminate the need for sales representatives but changes how they offer value. 

B2B buyers often shop and buy in different channels. They have to operate within purchasing systems and follow procurement protocol. Unlike B2C buyers, B2B buyers must fill out purchase requisitions and buy on credit. 

An omnichannel approach allows distributors to drive down costs associated with outside sales reps. The flexibility of multiple channels –  in-person and video visits from field sales and outbound calls from inside sales – enables sales reps to interact with more customers each day. 

Easy B2C-like Buying Experience 

Buyers expect their purchasing experience on the job to be as easy as it is when they purchase for themselves. To do this, distributors can focus on a few key aspects of ecommerce:

  • Making products easier to find 
    • When buyers can easily find products they need, they are more likely to be repeat customers. 
  • Comprehensive product content 
    • Having robust, insightful product listings increases visibility on Google for those who start on Google, and it provides an avenue for customers to research products before they reach out to your sales team. An ecommerce website can be an effective catalog of your products, allowing a searcher to view photos and video, real-time stock availability, dynamics pricing, and more complete product descriptions and specs.
  • Offer personalized recommendations 
    • Use customer data and data analysis to engage customers with due-to-reorder, customers-also-bought suggestions and substitutions (important especially with supply chain disruption). This data can also predict customer behavior, so your systems and sales reps can proactively offer better experiences.
  • Simple returns process
    • Don’t underestimate the post-purchase experience: 92% of ecommerce buyers would buy from the same vendor again if their returns process was easy. A streamlined and integrated system with real-time product data, inventory levels and more can reduce returns. 

Embrace Technology and Digital Tools

When all your business systems and channels aren’t communicating, an omnichannel approach falls short. 

Imagine a customer browsing your ecommerce site. After trying to determine what fitting is appropriate for a particular pipe and not finding the answer on the site, they pick up the phone to call customer service. The customer service rep requests contact information from the customer before digging in to the customer’s question. Since the buyer must get approval on the purchase before placing the order, they end the call.

A day later, the customer calls their sales rep to clarify some info on the products they are looking for. Since the sales system isn’t linked to the customer service portal, there is no record of the customer’s previous call and discussion with the customer service rep. So, they must repeat the previous day’s conversation, so the sales rep is updated.

In an integrated system, the buyer’s information would be transferred between systems to ensure consistency in the purchasing process and to provide better service at every touchpoint. It also allows for purchase history to be tracked between systems to make reorder notifications and purchase recommendations. It also enables sales reps to confidently follow up with the customer and offer assistance and technical support. 

Having your systems integrated enhances the buyer’s experience by:

  • Speeding up the purchasing process
  • Reducing the buyer’s frustration
  • Providing real-time information about stock levels
  • Having the same product information and customers details on every channel, no matter where the buyer chooses to buy
  • Enabling robust data analysis and use of AI to provide product recommendations, suggested substitutions and more

For distributors to remain profitable as buyers’ demands change, they must invest in digital tools and continue to develop the technology they already have. Using new digital tools can increase sales productivity and automate some of the sales processes to free up time for sales reps to provide more assistance to buyers. 

Ensuring that your buyer’s demands are met means having an integrated network of systems to make the purchasing experience for the buyer easier and more streamlined. This also helps you manage business operations more effectively, so it’s a win-win situation. 

Karthik Chidambaram

Karthik Chidambaram is the Founder & CEO of DCKAP. He bootstrapped the company from his small apartment in Chicago, Illinois. DCKAP was started with 2 people, 2 computers and 2 desks and is now a global and distributed team. He reckons industry setbacks and renders solid & practical solutions to organizations. Karthik holds a Master’s Degree in Computer Engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago.