Anticipating the needs of a customer differentiates a successful online business from a mediocre one. This is not just true for B2C but also for B2B. As customer expectations change, B2B buyers expect similar experiences on a B2B ecommerce site as they receive buying as a consumer.
Although there are differences between what is needed for successful digital solutions for B2B versus B2C, B2B sellers can follow many of the same best practices and use similar merchandising tactics as those that have been used for B2C. For personalized experiences, B2B buyers expect sellers to make relevant recommendations by using a combination of product relationship data, first-party data about customer actions, and third-party data about customer demographics.
So what does B2B merchandising success look like for buyers and sellers?
Success from the Buying Perspective
- Relevant product recommendations most likely to meet the customer’s need
- Personalized product offers and recommendations based on purchase history, jobs, customer segment, industry, or location
- Consistency with offline merchandising and promotional programs
- Presentation of solutions not products
To make this happen, you need a strong data set that can make the interaction more personal and streamlined for your buyer. However, data does not interpret itself. Analysis of the data allows you to glean valuable insights that become key to successful merchandising.
An example of a company doing this successfully includes structuring product data to serve recommendations, conducting cohort and individual behavior analysis, and having dynamic merchandising and promotions.
Success from the Selling Perspective
- Deep integration of the commerce platform with ERP, PIM, CRM, and business intelligence systems
- Merchandising and promotions are integrated and easily managed for specific products or storewide
- Wallet share is increased and there is higher average order volume (AOV), higher Average Units per Transaction (AUT), and higher Customer Lifetime Value (LTV)
An example of a company doing this successfully has merchandised category, subcategory, and product landing pages. Customers are shown alternate products if what they searched for is not available. They are also shown products that other customers also viewed or purchased. Product ratings and reviews are also included, allowing customers to see how the product met other’s needs.
Merchandising Maturity Levels
Technology complements an organization’s people and processes. Since not all companies are at the same level of digital maturity, let’s take a look at three merchandising maturity levels that we will call “Good”, “Better”, and “Best”, considering technology, processes, and people for each.
|Technology||Merchandiser tools are available, but may be siloed, and technology is developed organically.||Reporting tools are in place to analyze merchandising metrics and the technology infrastructure supports growth (for example, expanded SKU assortment and bundles).||The technology includes a recommendation engine and real-time elasticity modeling and offers.|
|Processes||There are established defined and documented processes to manage merchandising content and promotions. However, the processes are manual.||There are automated recommendations based on cohorts and personal data, and integration with order and product management.||Actions are informed by customer insights. Offers are delivered in real-time and there are elasticity models for promotions and pricing.|
|People||The roles and responsibilities for merchandising are loosely defined, but there is knowledge about product assortment and competition.||There is an established, experienced, and accountable full-time merchandising team.||There is effective communication with all channel owners and integration with SEO, paid search, email, and customer service teams.|
Tactics and Activities for Improving B2B Merchandising
There are a range of tactics and activities to get you started with improving B2B merchandising on your ecommerce site. A place to start are Merchandise Plans that could include the following:
- Product content audit and content correction plan to identify issues and prioritize corrective actions
- Product-based plan using product data relationships such as alternates, replacement parts, kits, and bundles
- Peer-based plan using the actions of similar customers that could be considered a peer based on industry, geography, buying patterns, and other demographic and firmographic attributes
- Personalization-based plan typically focusing on using bill to, sold to, and ship to selections to control display of product content and promotions
- Merchandising playbook for people, process, and systems to provide consistency as merchandising efforts expand to additional categories, lines of business, and acquisitions
Other activities include implementing database relationships for related products, implementing data capture to populate personalized dynamic merchandising, and updating page designs. Over time, you will need to continue to optimize merchandising.
Depending on your situation, goals of your B2B merchandising could be relevant, personalized, and high-converting recommendations, increased product up-sell and cross-sell conversions, and increased AOV. No matter how you get there, your goal should be to work toward a more mature merchandising offering.