Search

TRAINING HELPED HUNDREDS OF PROFESSIONALS TO MASTER ECOMMERCE 

Elevating Customer Experience in B2B Ecommerce

Learn how to implement best customer experience in B2B Ecommerce

B2B user interfaces are often known as pain points rather than examples of great customer experiences. Unlike their consumer-focused counterparts, many platforms feature legacy interfaces that are cumbersome, outdated, and downright painful to navigate.

It used to work well before as these interfaces were only used internally by employees trained to use them for their jobs. For example, I worked for a large company with a terrible and time-consuming expense report system. However, as an employee, I had no choice but to learn and use it as this was the only way to get reimbursed after a business trip.

Things change when a B2B company implements e-commerce, as it opens some of these internal operations to its customers, who have a choice and may decide to take their business elsewhere when faced with complex workflows, unintuitive designs, and disjointed user experiences.

The usability challenge is compounded by a crucial demographic shift as a significant portion of B2B buyers are now millennials, a generation of digital natives accustomed to seamless digital experiences in their personal lives. For them, interacting with archaic, mainframe-style interfaces optimized for machines rather than humans is not just inconvenientโ€”it’s disheartening.

In a business landscape where customer loyalty is increasingly tenuous, businesses cannot overlook the emotional dimension of customer experience.

First, a quick definition of customer experience (CX).

Customer experience, or CX, is a customer’s overall perception of your business after interacting with your business across the buyerโ€™s journey. It is not limited to what a customer thinks about your product, your website design, or how they interact with your sales and support teams โ€” itโ€™s all of it. Itโ€™s how they feel about their entire experience with your brand, offline and online.

Effective CX process begins with a nuanced understanding of B2B buyer personas. From procurement specialists to managers with budget responsibilities, each persona brings unique preferences, pain points, and purchasing dynamics.

In this article, we will focus on how to provide excellent customer experience across four segments of the B2B buyer’s journey: customer onboarding, product discovery, purchasing process, and post-sales support.

Customer Onboarding Experience, or is the door to your store half-closed?

The answer to this question determines not only the level of adoption of your digital channel but also its business performance.

As consumers, we are used to and expect openness when shopping online. We can enter any online store and expect to see product information and prices and be able to go through checkout.

That is not always the case for B2B buyers. Too many B2B shops hide behind a Great Chinese Wall as if the main goal is keeping customers out instead of luring them in.

Users are required to log in before even being able to see products, or they can see products but not prices, or they can see both products and prices but cannot buy.

Yes, there are (or at least were) good reasons for asking customers to sign a contract and pass a credit check before starting to do business with them.

But do these reasons sound outdated now with the adoption of online commerce?

Do we now have better tools to welcome our new prospects and customers and fully open the door to a B2B online shop that the company has spent so much money and time developing? And can we do it without increasing business risk?

I strongly believe that B2B merchants can and should greatly improve customer experience by welcoming new customers with the information they need to get to know the brand and its products and be able to buy during the first visit.

To achieve this, merchants may need to put some limitations in place for first-time buyers. For example,

  • limit the assortment of products available to new customers and do not allow them to buy customized or expensive products.
  • They can limit available payment methods and donโ€™t allow buying on credit.

The second option is to require your customers to self-register before buying and implement some checks to minimize fraud: require a business email address, automatically check the business registration number, and implement API integration with credit bureaus.

After a successful first order, a B2B merchant can perform additional checks on the new customer to enable the full functionality.

Traditionally, most B2B businesses donโ€™t display prices online, while some only show prices to logged-in customers. Companies rationalize the reasons as follows:

  • we donโ€™t want our competitors to know,
  • prices vary by customer,
  • prices fluctuate constantly,
  • personalized products/services have special prices, etc.

These are legitimate reasons in almost all cases. However, not displaying prices goes against customersโ€™ needs and thus creates a negative shopping experience.

Revealing the price on your e-commerce website is a way to gain visitorsโ€™ trust. They consider companies that present this essential information to be authentic and direct.

Transactions are more likely to occur when people feel informed about your offers and trust your organization. Displaying prices can be an excellent practice to increase conversion rates.

There are multiple ways to find a middle ground.

  • Even if you canโ€™t show the exact prices, display price examples, a range, or a โ€œstarting fromโ€. Many B2B products and services are complex. The price structure varies for each customer depending on countless situations. Still, this is no excuse not to post price information. Estimates can often appease prospects during the search phase.
  • Display default prices and encourage customers to register to receive discounts.
  • Only show prices for basic, commonly available products and ask customers to register or contact sales for complex and unique products.

Keep the door to your B2B online store as open as possible to increase usability, gain customersโ€™ trust, and grow your business.

Help Customers to Discover Your Products

Many B2B companies sell complex products and must invest in educational content and better product discovery tools to make it easier for customers to select the right products while avoiding costly mistakes.

Here are the essential steps to help you achieve a great customer experience in B2B Ecommerce during the product discovery phase.

Providing comprehensive product content to educate your customers

With many options available and complex products sold online, customers need help to decide which product is right for them. Buyers want to research and understand their options when buying new equipment or selecting a spare part.

Enriching product listings with comprehensive content is instrumental in educating customers about product features, benefits, and use cases. By providing detailed product descriptions, specifications, how-to guides, and multimedia assets, businesses empower customers to make informed purchase decisions.

Invest in white papers, analyst reports, case studies, product demos, and data sheets to provide additional support with product selection.

If a business sells internationally, it is important to consider localizing product content. Remember that localization goes beyond mere translation as it needs to account for different measurement units, date formats, currencies, and terminology used in different regions.

In most businesses, product data managed in internal systems like ERP are insufficient for selling online. It needs to be enriched with additional attributes and images to help customer compare them and select the best fit for their needs.

Investing in powerful search, filtering, and navigation tools

Search is the most frequently used feature in any online store, and implementing a Search-as-you-type feature and using autocomplete to show suggested search queries can greatly enhance the customer experience. E-commerce site search engines should be capable of recognizing product names, categories, and product attributes in multiple languages, knowing synonyms, ignoring cases, and understanding syntax.

To ensure customers arenโ€™t overwhelmed with a long list of results, search results should show categories containing the search terms, suggested products, and product-related content like blog posts or landing pages.

For e-commerce stores with extensive catalogs, filters, also known as facets, are essential tools to help visitors narrow search results on category pages.

A particularly useful feature of facets is their ability to show how many products satisfy filter conditions, enabling customers to quickly and easily find what they want. To benefit from facet filtering, product data should first be enriched to have a consistent set of attributes.

Coherent and intuitive site navigation is key to guiding customers through the purchasing journey. By logically organizing product categories and subcategories, businesses ensure customers can locate relevant products with minimal effort. Consider implementing multiple ways to navigate your site: by how products are used, by solutions they are part of, or by level of customer expertise.

While the best search and navigation practices described above enhance user experience in B2C & B2B online stores, there are also some additional B2B-specific usability requirements.

B2B buyers are professionals and, in most cases, have detailed knowledge of products they want to purchase when buying from established vendors. To achieve greater efficiency in product selection, they would like to do searches by using SKU numbers instead of product names, as well as use product identificators that are defined in their procurement system. In other words, they want to search by their internal product ID vs. IDs used by the merchant. While it may be too expensive to implement for every client, merchants should consider adding this capability to improve the CX of their most important customers.

Strategic merchandising of related products and bundles also plays a vital role in B2B CX. For example, B2B Merchants should create merchandising links between discontinued products and their alternatives.

Enable Digital Service-oriented Experience

Complex B2B purchases require a high-touch approach and an experienced sales team, and while having well-prepared product content is essential to answer most customer questions, some may still require the expertise of a business representative to make a final purchasing recommendation.

Therefore, combining the unique advantages of personal and digital selling is important.

Thankfully, many e-commerce vendors have implemented tools that allow sales representatives to access the e-commerce storefront on behalf of customers. With this feature, sales agents can log in to the store and assist customers in making their purchase decisions.

Integrating live assistance features into the online store enables customers to receive personalized support and guidance in real time. By offering live chat, co-browsing, and video conferencing capabilities, businesses bridge the gap between digital interactions and human engagement, fostering better customer experience.

Transparent Availability

Most of B2B purchases are time-critical. Real-time visibility into product availability greatly enhances customer experience by enabling customers to make informed purchase decisions and preventing potential stockouts or delays. By integrating inventory management systems with the eCommerce platform, businesses ensure customers can access up-to-date information and eliminate countless back-and-force emails and phone calls.

Enabling Mobile experience

Optimizing the eCommerce experience for mobile devices is essential for catering to the evolving preferences of modern professionals. By implementing responsive design principles and mobile-friendly interfaces, businesses ensure that customers can access and interact with the platform seamlessly across devices.

Buying experience

Guided selling and configurable products

B2B is known for selling complex products. Some of these products require customization and configuration before being added to a shopping cart. By guiding customers through the product selection, businesses empower them to make informed choices that align with their unique requirements.

To improve CX for complex purchases, merchants can build their proprietary product configurators or use 3rd party CPQ (Configure, Price, Quote) systems.

In B2B, one shopping cart is not enough

Large organizations usually have several purchasing processes in progress. They can start at different times and take time to be finalized.

That can be solved with multiple cart functionality. It allows customers to maintain multiple independent carts in parallel. The process becomes much more streamlined, and the user experience improves. B2B shoppers can assign names to these carts and configure them under specific organizational accounts or contracts. The same functionality should be enabled for wishlists.

Sharing and Collaboration

It is common for several people to be involved in placing a B2B order, and the shopping cart needs to be optimized for collaboration. A cart owner can share a shopping cart or list with a co-worker or anyone in their business unit. When sharing, it should be possible to control permissions by specifying what another person can do with the cart โ€“ full access or view only. Businesses also need ways to share shopping carts outside an online store. For example, a user can generate a link to a cart or list that can be copied and pasted into an email or messaging app.

Bulk order page

As many B2B buyers know exactly what they want to buy, they can search for products by SKU number on a Bulk Order page.

Keep in mind that large customers may request that B2B merchants support SKU search not only by their internal SKU but also by SKU numbers used in the buyerโ€™s procurement system. The quick order page should also allow customers to upload a CSV file with a list of products prepared in a spreadsheet or exported from an internal system or paste it as text from the computerโ€™s clipboard. When the list of products is ready, a customer can add it to a cart, create an order, or save it into a shopping list.

Request for Quote

A competitive B2B environment requires online stores to raise their game and add multiple features to effectively facilitate buyer and seller interaction, especially at the early stage of negotiating prices and signing agreements.

There are multiple ways to implement the RFQ process in Ecommerce. A quote can be initiated online by a customer or a sales rep who received the customerโ€™s request via email or during a phone conversation. A customer adds products she wants to buy in a shopping cart but submits them as a quote to a sales agent instead of going through checkout.

When a quote is created, it is used to negotiate the deal. A sales rep can edit the quote by modifying quantities, prices, and delivery conditions or suggesting alternative products. It is important that both buyer and seller can add comments to the quote and keep the history of the quote changes.

Multiple ways to add to the shopping cart

B2B online shops must be optimized for productivity and give customers multiple ways to add products to their carts. In addition to the familiar Add-to-cart button on product details or categories pages, customers should have the ability to re-order from previously placed orders, add multiple products at once from the bulk order page, upload a prepared in advance CSV file, search and add products by SKU, or add products from a wish list.

B2B Cart Page

The key principles for displaying cart content are clarity and control. It should be easy to understand whatโ€™s in the cart and the final cost, including shipping and taxes. It should be easy to make changes, like updating the quantity or removing products.

A B2B Shopping cart page requires some additional functionality. Customers should be able to add comments to the cart or specific cart items. Some customers may want to add an order reference from their internal procurement system to help reconcile the purchase internally. A B2B site can save customers time by supporting search and quick add-to-cart functionality right on the cart page.

Cart approval

The Approval Process feature lets B2B customers configure a single or multistep approval process in the context of an online buyer journey vs. an offline process. When the cart total exceeds a pre-configured threshold, a shopper may need the managerโ€™s approval before placing the order.

The employee can proceed to checkout only after the manager has received the request and approved the order. Depending on the price and products purchased, some businesses may require multiple approval steps.

Optimizing Checkout Flow for B2B

The checkout flow is the most critical part of any e-commerce implementation. It is directly responsible for driving sales and contributing to the businessโ€™s bottom line.

Modern B2B customers do not have the patience for a confusing checkout process involving multiple pricing details and a tiring registration process. The checkout flow must be streamlined to provide a distraction and interruption-free experience.

At the beginning of this article, we discussed the benefits of simplifying registration requirements to support new customers.

Customer experience can also be improved for registered B2B customers. The shipping and billing information is usually known and should be prefilled to simplify the checkout. Depending on the role, a buyer may not even have a right to modify it.

Many B2B buyers want to specify the required delivery date to fit into their production schedule.

Sometimes, customers want to split an order and deliver it to multiple locations. That is very common in B2B commerce when a buyer is placing one order for multiple business locations or requesting delivery on different dates. This process is called Split Shipment or Split Delivery. A customer should have the option to add an additional delivery address and then decide which items to go where.

Offering diverse payment options tailored to the needs and preferences of B2B buyers enhances flexibility and convenience in the purchasing process. By supporting invoicing, credit terms, and electronic payments, businesses accommodate varying payment preferences and streamline transaction processing.

Post sale support

Make it easier to repeat an order

Repeat business drives a substantial portion of the revenue in a B2B company. You need to make re-ordering as convenient as possible.

How do we achieve that in B2B implementation?

Firstly, itโ€™s important to note several differences in the Order management implementation of โ€œMy Ordersโ€ in B2B ecommerce compared to B2C. In B2C, โ€œMy Ordersโ€ refers specifically to orders placed by the logged-in user. In contrast, in B2B, the list should display orders placed by all users within the same business or, in the case of a large organization, by all users within the same business unit.

Additionally, since the list of orders could be extensive, searching and filtering past orders is the must-have functionality in B2B. Make sure that customers can filter by date and employee who placed the order. Let them search by product name, attributes, text in the description, and category. For large customers, allow search by an SKU number used in the customerโ€™s procurement system.

Make it easy to repeat the entire order or re-order some selected products.

Warn customers about any changes in product availability. If a model has been discontinued, offer alternative products. Nothing is worse than coming to check out just to be informed that a product is out of stock.

Let customers know if a new model of a previously bought product is available and make it easy to replace it.

If the price has changed since the last purchase, make it known as early as possible. Update customers on current promotions, which could be different from the last time the order was placed.

Configurable products retain product configuration for make-to-order, so the customer does not need to go through the configuration process again.

One of the key benefits of B2B Ecommerce is customer self-service capabilities. Implement the recommendations above to save your customers the most precious resource โ€“ their time.

Order status updates

Real-time visibility into order status and updates empower customers to track and manage their transactions proactively. By offering order tracking and notification features, businesses enhance transparency and build customer trust throughout the order lifecycle.

Not all order status changes happen in the Ecommerce system, but to improve customer experiences, businesses must ensure that ALL notifications are received through the self-service channel. If an order is modified after it has been placed, these changes need to be synced back to the E-commerce system to provide customers with a single source of truth.

Integrating Maintenance requests and support with an online portal

And to support customers after the purchase, create, support, and knowledge database, FAQ, and usage and repair instructions.

By offering the ability to place a maintenance request on self-service support portals and ticketing systems, businesses empower customers to report and resolve issues autonomously, reducing reliance on manual intervention.

Conclusion

At the heart of every successful B2B transaction lies a seamless customer experience. It’s not merely about satisfying immediate needs but about fostering long-term relationships built on trust, reliability, and value delivery. CX is the linchpin of sustainable growth and differentiation in today’s interconnected digital economy.

Using ideas from this article, you can create an excellent customer experience for B2B e-commerce to turn it into a competitive advantage.

Fit learning Ecommerce into your busy schedule with Microlearning posts. Subscribe to receive weekly updates 

Courses for Professionals Building Ecommerce of Tomorrow

Courses for Business Leaders, Managers, Marketers

Ecommerce training by Michael Vax

Fit learning Ecommerce into your busy schedule with Microlearning posts.
Subscribe to receive weekly updates.

Your data will never be shared with anyone else

Harness AI Advantage

AI-Powered Ecommerceย is the ultimate resource for professionals who want to understand and utilize AIโ€™s transformative potential. It is the blueprint for understanding and applying AI, giving your business just the edge youโ€™ve been waiting for.

The book aims to guide your exploration of the strategic implications of Artificial Intelligence for an online business. Itโ€™s not a technical manual or a list of -by-step instructions. Look at it as a toolkit designed to aid you, eCommerce professionals and entrepreneurs, extract the best from what AI offers to enhance and revolutionize your business.

ย 

Readers get a detailed analysis of eCommerce use cases for leveraging AI, recommendations on developing an AI vision and strategy for their business, and selecting the best technology to implement it.