Consumers were quick to adopt the convenience offered by online shopping, and now B2B customers want the same. Some products simply pair better together and that’s certainly proven to be the case for B2B commerce and Configure, Price, Quote Solutions.
In this Q&A, I interview Austin Lowry, Vice President, eCommerce with Oracle Commerce Cloud System Integration Partner, Pierce Washington. He dives into what differentiates a B2B customer from their B2C counterpart and how Pierce Washington helps meet the unique needs of this customer group.
We all know that retailers and merchants are facing major disruption. What are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities for more traditional B2B organizations?
I think distributors are the businesses truly feeling that first wave of disruption, and it’s similar to what the retail industry has been facing for a few years now.
Retail customers searching for a feature rich, more convenient shopping experience turn to Amazon because it’s a convenient, one-stop shop. Or they go direct to the manufacturer, which can provide a premium experience because of their intimate product knowledge. B2B isn’t that dissimilar as distributors, like Grainger and Ferguson, innovate on their eCommerce offerings. As a result of this success, Amazon has been finding its way into the B2B space while at the same time manufacturers are becoming less afraid of channel conflict and going directly to customers.
That’s not to say that manufacturers are immune to disruption. Distributors and customers are comparing experiences, which make it easier to find local dealers, repair information, replacement parts, or to self-service the sales cycle online. These are experiences they leverage when given a choice. Product quality and cost are no longer the lone deciding factors for customers.
What types of solutions are available for these B2B organizations?
We are just now starting to see B2B point solutions come together to create connected experiences. eCommerce platforms that support B2B, Configure Price Quote solutions, and self-service portals have been in the market for over a decade as separate, disparate solutions.
The change we’re seeing is these point solutions coming together to create a seamless customer experience. It’s great when a customer can request a quote, order a product, and check their order status online. But, do they really have to log into three different systems to do each task? Connecting these systems is the key to improving margins and the customer experience.
Oracle is really leading this space in creating connected customer experiences. By putting these products under the CX umbrella, we’re seeing businesses provide the same experience regardless of the channel the customer interacts with.
With new offerings from Oracle such as CX Unity, we can now leverage customer information across channels. The customer that requests a quote online can be provided a quote in the field by a salesperson, have a reminder sent about the open quote through email marketing, return to the website to complete the transaction, and then receive a confirmation follow up via phone. All of this happens with perfect information about who the customer is and how they interacted at every step along the way, with AI powering the next best experience.
We know that B2B organizations want to offer more B2C-like experiences. How do you help them achieve this?
When we talk about B2C-like experiences, it’s important to define what we want to borrow from B2C and apply to B2B. The two key concepts I believe B2B buyers are seeking are omnichannel experiences and the ability for self-service.
Omnichannel in B2C essentially means that a retailer should provide the same experience regardless of the channel the customer chooses to engage. For instance, in-store and voice assistant experiences should be consistent because the customer thinks they’re the same.
The B2B buyer has come to expect the same experience as that of B2C customers. They don’t care that your website and ERP systems aren’t the same. They want the ability to buy online, contact Sales to modify an order, and then check the status of all orders regardless of whether they were placed online or by phone. Further, when they go online to order replacement parts, they should be presented with options based on the seller’s knowledge of what that customer already owns.
In the same way most customers have been trained by Amazon, they don’t need to talk to someone to self-service themselves. That may mean using search and guided navigation to find products or accessing order history through an online account to re-order products. Or, it may mean using a configurator to walk through a complex product configuration and order process. Your customers have a job to do and they simply want to do it as quickly and easily as a B2C buying experience.
How does a B2B customer’s expectations of the buying experience differ from those of a B2C customer?
While B2B customers want an experience that’s as fast and as easy as a B2C experience, you also have to keep in mind that a B2B customer is doing a job. While we as consumers may need easy access to our order history to reorder our favorite replacement water filter, B2B customers have tasks to fulfill, like restocking, maintenance jobs, or finding the exact replacement part required for a piece of custom manufactured equipment.
In addition, B2B customers need an even higher level of personalization than B2C customers! B2B customers expect a product catalog, pricing, and even product content that are tailored specifically to them. They don’t have time to waste filtering through options that don’t apply or that may be wrong and end up costing time and money.
This means that it’s even more important in B2B that all customer touch points and data be integrated. ERP, commerce, CPQ, CRM, service, and marketing teams and technology all have to work together to provide that unified experience.
How does an integrated CPQ and Commerce solution address the needs of a B2B buyer?
The combination of these two products allows the B2B buyer to speed up and streamline what may be a very manual and difficult process today. By guiding the buyer through the configuration process, they’ll have more confidence in the final purchase, which can be initiated when it’s convenient for them.
Because Oracle has merged CPQ and Commerce into a tightly integrated solution, the experience a customer may have with a salesperson will now be fully consistent with their online experience. The product they configure online and request a quote for will be the same configuration that a salesperson would advise, discount, and return a quote on. This ability to request, review, and accept quotes that reflect their negotiated pricing without having to hunt down a salesperson is a huge step forward in the customer experience. Here at Pierce Washington, we have also automated Price Agreement negotiations through CPQ that can then be exposed to customers directly in Commerce.
How does a well-integrated CPQ and Commerce solution improve internal business processes?
The value of CPQ and Commerce goes well beyond the customer experience. Without these tools working together, businesses struggle to connect the dots in the sales process. Sellers have to fall back on manual processes, which are costly and error-prone. The self-service model also means shorter sales cycles and a lower cost of sale for sellers.
What types of B2B businesses or product offerings are the perfect fit for a CPQ + OCC solution?
Any business that wants to improve efficiency in the sales cycle by enabling customer self-service and by automating internal workflows is a good fit. The complexity of the goods being sold either by requiring configuration, complex pricing rules, or the generation of contracts or other documents only strengthens the need for an integrated solution. Some key verticals that can benefit from integrating these products include manufacturing, telco, and even financial services.
B2B implementations are often complex. Do you have any guidance on how to get started?
This is an area Pierce Washington has guided many, many customers through over the years. It starts with understanding what the functional requirements are for the website. Do you need real-time inventory or is a daily refresh sufficient? Do you have pricing tiers you can apply to groups of customers or do you need real-time pricing integration to solutions like E-Business Suite Advanced Pricing?
Once we understand the requirements, we can walk through each integration and discuss options, methods, and technology. We begin every project with a Foundations phase to understand and document how everything will work before we begin our implementation.
Austin Lowry is the VP, eCommerce at Pierce Washington. Austin has over 15 years of eCommerce experience; first as a practitioner running eCommerce at AutoZone and for the last 8 years working in eCommerce product management, sales engineering, and implementation consulting. He is responsible for the OCC practice at Pierce Washington.