Online shopping was growing in popularity before the pandemic hit, yet COVID-19 made e-commerce almost mandatory as face-to-face sales ground to a virtual standstill. Now, as America and the world emerge from the virus’ long shadow, in-store shopping has resumed, slowing the growth of e-buying and -selling.
However, there’s no taper in commercial e-commerce because B-to-B buying is stronger than ever. In fact, the pandemic-fueled appetite for B-to-C shopping fed B-to-B buyers’ expectations for making more products and elaborate purchasing options available in self-serve. Businesses must respond and enterprise businesses have the most to gain with the most dynamic inventories.
Commercial buyers are retail buyers in their personal lives and want the same availability of self-service transactions. They’re so comfortable with everyday online purchasing that they’re willing to click-and-buy big-ticket items that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
As the standards for a great e-commerce experience rise, legacy technologies now fall short of supporting everything B-to-B customers demand from online buying and selling.
In cases where B-to-B companies want to sell their more complex configurable products via e-commerce, existing CPQ technology is often used to facilitate the configuration logic that enables the online buying experiences for their products. However, as buyer expectations around performance and experience increase, current tech often reveals deficiencies in performance and an inability to offer the flexible, guided experiences customers demand. This often results in buyers resorting to needing to get in touch with a salesperson and risks losing the sale by delaying the buyer’s decision — exactly what companies try to avoid by simplifying buying and selling.
Hurdles to Overcome
The solution to these CPQ limitations when extending to e-commerce experiences mirror the problem a bit: it’s a complex one but can be simplified when approached intuitively.
B-to-B companies need tech that removes repetitive tasks that bog down salespeople in menial duties. It must conveniently guide customers to identify their needs and connect them to the specific product options. And the tech must handle exhaustive, sophisticated commercial product lines, connect them to customers’ various uses, then scale as companies expand product options.
There are three focus areas where e-commerce tech must expand and overcome its limitations:
- Catalog Management: As product lines expand and their features grow more sophisticated, options and uses multiply. All possible combinations overwhelm mainstream e-commerce platforms. Businesses face enormous internal demands of maintaining data sets of thousands of products and variants. The proliferation of SKUs makes life incredibly difficult for sales teams. It often requires dedicated resources to manage effectively, putting a strain on the bottom line.
- Configuration Experience: As buyers seek customization in self-serve product searches, they must share details of what's needed and view the options and attributes of products that meet those demands. Traditional tools can’t shepherd that sharing, accept all the information, and connect it with the latest, best product alternatives. The sophistication of advanced, modern products is too complex.
- Guided Selling: Simply presenting buyers with a list of your products, options and features doesn't provide the experience that lends itself to buyers finding exactly what they need and require. It puts shoppers in a place where they need to speak YOUR language to understand if there's a solution for their needs, instead of the other way around. Rather than listing products and features, businesses should implement solutions that act as decision-management systems for customers. These solutions help get to the core of the buyer's needs, collect their requirements in their own words, and use intelligence to determine what solutions meet those requirements and how other solutions will meet future requirements. It eliminates buyers guessing or asking salespeople question upon question that mirrors other buyers’ concerns.
Transforming traditional online selling with new tools, such as the commerce logic engine (CLE), is where e-commerce tech is headed. These new technologies are able to take e-commerce from a hunt-and-peck obligation into an immersive, intuitive buying experience.
E-Commerce Modernized With AI-Guided Selling Technology
Online shopping opened the world to convenient buying and selling, just as shopping malls surpassed Main Street shops and big-box stores edged out many malls.
Similarly, guided selling technology for B-to-B e-commerce will transform the buying experience in enterprise settings. Its enhanced, intuitive environment — simplified and engaging for the buyer on the CX side of transactions and the seller on the UI and UX side — can handle the complexity of elaborate products and solutions.
And the CLE is a scalable tool that accepts increasingly complex products and mirrors the accuracy and tolerances of products as they evolve to meet customers’ changing needs.
This improved e-commerce environment will make its way to the B-to-B world. By directing customers’ browsing and putting the right products for the correct uses onto their screens, 24/7 self-service buying becomes much more efficient in all online domains. Salespeople connect more effectively and deeply by becoming involved when customers have unique problems needing exceptional assistance. Their talents will be more focused on selling, too, rather than dealing with tech support.
Adapting this decision-management system will build strong customer-company relationships at every turn, better than any tech yet devised. There’s no turning back in this new evolution of commerce.
Fazal Gupta is co-founder and vice president of product management and architecture at Logik.io. A former product manager at Big Machines, director at Oracle and Workday, Gupta earned his bachelor’s degree at Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology, a master’s degree at University of Chicago Booth School of Business and serves on the board of Autism Career Pathways.