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GUEST COMMENT Understanding the typical B2B buyer – why ‘rogue is the new vogue’

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The new business to business (B2B) buyer is not the procurement department of the past – it is multiple end-user buyers, from different departments, all of whom have very distinct user-experience expectations. A major shift is happening in business buying, and a new breed of B2B customer is emerging. It’s a wake-up call for B2B suppliers looking to connect with, engage and retain customers.

There’s a wealth of opportunity out there for companies willing to embrace the new realities of B2B commerce. According to Forrester, B2B ecommerce notched up $559bn (£364bn) sales in 2013 (excluding commerce based on electronic digital interchange (EDI)) – double that achieved by business to consumer (B2C). Gone are the days of procurement department monopolies. Frustrated with formalised internal purchasing, individual B2B buyers are bypassing enterprise procurement policies to purchase direct online what they want and need for the workplace.

One thing is clear. If you want to sell in a B2B environment you’ll need to think beyond corporate procurement professionals, because there’s a new corporate end user buyer in play. And while procurement professionals might be happy to use ‘green screen’ technology or dog-eared catalogues, the new B2B buyer expects a very different and much more consumer-like experience.

Commissioned research conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Intershop shows that today’s typical B2B buyers are just as likely to be directors, departmental heads and typical ‘end users’, as procurement professionals. The independent research firm conducted in-depth surveys with over 1500 of this new category of buyer across Australia, China, France, Germany, the US and the UK. What’s more, these B2B buyers are making ‘spot purchases’ direct and online – without utilising the enterprise procurement team.

Going ‘rogue’ is now in vogue

While procurement policies become more stringent, in reality companies appear to be loathe to tamper with how employees and managers buy ad hoc or low volume goods and services. Half the business buyers we spoke to told us that their company’s reimbursement policies do not represent a barrier to making purchases for work – with a third confirming approval procedures are not an issue for them either.

Today’s new breed of ‘rogue’ B2B buyer is unlikely to fill out an internal procurement form or wade through a stack of print catalogues. Instead, they’ll go online to find what they’re looking for; one third of respondents (30%) told Forrester they’re not concerned about procurement policies at their organisation and will go ahead and buy the product or service they want anyway. What’s more, a staggering 64% stated they make purchases online at least weekly or monthly – without going through a corporate procurement channel.

Evidently, today’s B2B end-user buyer is a force to contend with, and planning to buy yet more goods and services online in the future; 55% of survey respondents said they expect to increase or significantly increase the total percentage of work purchases made online.

Prioritising connecting to this highly empowered base of B2B buyers is becoming the name of the game. But to successfully tap into this opportunity, you’ll need to deliver a top-notch and enhanced commerce experience across all channels.

B2B customer needs are changing

The B2B commerce journey is evolving and it’s no longer B2B as usual. With 73% of buyers telling Forrester that their personal experience as online shoppers is prompting them to make regular and on-going purchases for work, it’s no surprise that expectations for an exceptional online buying experience are high.

While the majority of research for work-related purchases begins on a desk or laptop (95%), 69% of buyers confirmed they’re also secure using a tablet and 51% feel secure using their smartphone for work-related purchases. And while typically that research begins on search engines (35%) or brand manufacturer websites (27%), business buyers were clear on one thing – content is king.

These increasingly savvy business buyers expect to access the information they need with ease, browsing rich and relevant content. Unlike consumer customers, the business buyer needs technical information such as brochures, specification sheets and manuals in order to progress their purchases. Indeed, business buyers told Forrester they want a choice of rich media and searchable content that includes delivery and stock availability information, detailed product information – and of course, competitive pricing.

As experienced B2C shoppers in their own right, this new breed of B2B buyer expects to find engaging relevant content, delivered in the right context, and accessible on whatever device they’re using at that moment in time.

Convenience is key

As you’d expect, today’s B2B buyer purchasing behaviours are being driven by a growing need for convenience. Over half the respondents (52%) confirm they buy for work online because it’s both convenient and faster – indeed, in the quest for convenience, 25% of buyers who research online make their final purchases via consumer websites.

In addition to being able to access the rich and relevant content they need to make their decision, these buyers expect online suppliers to offer choice in terms of a broad selection of brands or products and the best possible price. They’re also demanding recognition of their particular work-related requirements and personalised customer service possibilities – for example, they want online suppliers to offer fast shipment options and provide online order tracking functionality.

When it comes to supporting the B2B buyer journey with a high-quality commerce experience, convenience, content and ‘simplicity’ – or ease of doing business – will be critical to developing your online direct-to-business buyer strategy.

Food for thought

A major shift is taking place in B2B commerce – one where content, convenience and context are the key to connecting and engaging with the new breed of buyers who purchase direct online. Forrester’s in-depth surveys with B2B buyers reveal exactly what you need to consider if you’re looking to profit from the explosion of online purchasing that’s on the horizon:

• Think beyond procurement buyers – individual B2B buyers are bypassing corporate purchasing processes and buying direct online. Ignore this at your peril as today ‘spot buying’ represents up to 20% of an enterprise’s total purchasing – and this figure is set to grow. To capture the opportunity you need to open your site up to the growing number of ‘non registered’ rogue B2B buyers going online to buy the products and services they need.

• Tailor the experience for business buyers – offer convenience, selection, product information and rich media. While procurement professionals might be satisfied with EDI-like purchasing portals, the growing numbers of B2B direct buyers have very different expectations that have been shaped by likes of Amazon in the consumer world. When these buyers go online to buy for work, they expect to encounter the same high quality commerce experience.

• Deliver an end-to-end buying process – it’s not enough to simply replicate your catalogue online. To satisfy the demands of time-crunched B2B direct purchasers, you need to make pricing, inventory availability, shipping costs and delivery scheduling openly available to site visitors. Delivering a sophisticated commerce experience that’s designed around the specific requirements of B2B customers.

Jochen Moll is chief executive of Intershop

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