In previous posts, I wrote about The Big Shift in Commerce (Part 1 and Part 2) and how it’s being powered by changing customer expectations and technology. In this post, I write about how to respond to The Big Shift and position your company as a digital commerce leader.
Although the commerce landscape has been dramatically changed over the past ten years, there are still plenty of opportunities for growth. But, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers, must realize that the buyer is in control. Sellers must ensure that all sales and marketing channels are working together to support the customer’s path to purchase regardless of that chosen path.
Here are five investments to make to better support your customer’s path to purchase. In doing so, you will increase the engagement you have with your customers, sell more goods and services, lower your cost of doing business, and ultimately, have more loyalty from your customers, channel partners, and employees.
1. Know Your Customers Better Than Your Competitors Do
Since the buyer is in control of the purchase process today, you need to understand who your buyers are and how they go about making buying decisions. It is more important than ever to invest in the proper research, so that you can learn and understand the different segments of your market and the various personas within those segments.
You will need to conduct both primary and secondary research.
- Interviews with your internal stakeholders, channel partners, and customer facing staff
- Analysis of your order history with different types of customers (past and current)
- Online survey results, post purchase actions, and in-store/ in-person behaviors, will all provide a more comprehensive view of your customers
Ultimately, you will be able to group buyers into similar personas to represent buyers with similar buying attributes. The goal here is to understand enough about each persona to do a better job of engaging them where and when they make decisions along their path to purchase. Those engagements need to include the right content and merchandising to move them to the next step in their process.
2. Personalize Your Buyer’s Customer Experience
Once you understand your markets, customers, and their buyer’s journey, you need to ensure that the customer experience supports their chosen paths. First and foremost, you will need to design an online store that delivers an experience that is exceptional and personalized, to align with your personas and customer journey.
These best practices come into play here:
- Implementing Search, navigation, content, product data, user reviews, and so on
- Monitoring site performance, merchandising, promotions, checkout, and all the other site capabilities required to power an online store
- Aligning your marketing channel content with the path to purchase
- Using the data you know to learn about customer to deliver content and merchandising offers that are relevant to the buyer.
- Understanding the context of the visit, like behaviors on the site, the weather, the time of year, device, location, and past purchases
To support this type of personalization, you will need to create and maintain a lot of content. The biggest barrier right now for many companies is having the right resources to create and maintain the personalization rules and content. Machine learning and artificial intelligence help with the personalization rules. Connections to back-end systems and third party data sources will help with that as well.
3. Connect Your Online and Offline Sales and Marketing Channels
Whether your business is B2B, B2C, B2B2C, or omnichannel, you need to ensure that your online and offline channels are working together. Brick and mortar retailers have suffered severely because they didn’t react quick enough to changes in consumer behavior. Manufacturers and distributors are facing a similar challenge, as they aggressively pursue digital commerce.
The focus needs to be on delivering a consistent experience to your customers. This means that you must connect those channels together digitally. Here are some tips on where to start:
- Provide your customers with a view of online and offline purchases
- Create a self-service portal for your customers that includes order status, order history, return requests, etc.
- Supply your sellers and customer service agents with tools that provide digital channel data and analytics
- Integrate your quoting tools and provide your sellers with the ability to take orders digitally and create wish lists and cart ready quotes to simplify customer's buying processes
- Create engagement plans for your marketing channels, so that consistent content and promotions are being presented to individual across all channels – email, social, website
4. Use Data To Power Your Customer Engagements
Data is readily available and underutilized by manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. Businesses capture data on sales, website traffic, loyalty programs, returns, requests for quotes, leads, and so forth, but fail to use it to power future engagements.
The data collected should be analyzed and used to power customer engagements across all channels. Here are some examples:
- Enable personalized customer experience and merchandising
- Make better informed decisions around pricing and promotion
- Use KPIs to deliver insights into why your business is performing at the level it is
- Optimize your business operations, supply chain, fulfillment, and even energy consumption
5. Invest in Flexible, Scalable Digital Solutions for Buyers and Sellers
Last, but certainly not least, invest in flexible, scalable solutions for both your buyers and sellers.
- Make sure your online stores and marketing websites deliver a great experience, but also build them to be easily modified and enhanced
- Arm your B2B sellers with mobile tools – tablets and smartphones - that deliver high value data and content to support their daily job tasks.
- Do proper strategy and research to design tools that will truly be used every day by your sellers—because they help them improve their performance, not because it helps your sales management better manage their pipelines.
Any digital investments should be built with scalable technology in an iterative manner. Don’t do the big monolithic development. Switch to strategies that are more agile in nature but guided by a roadmap. Try to design and develop major releases in 3-6 month timelines instead of 6-9. Better yet, roll out new features in 3-4 week sprints. Consistently reprioritize your opportunities as needed based on your analytics and A/B testing as well as market changes.
These five investments will help you improve your relationships with your customers and improve your sales results. They do not need to be done at the same time, nor is this a list that needs to be done in the order presented. Your digital properties should be under continuous improvement. Your knowledge about your customers will be informed by the data that you collect and use more efficiently. Executing a program that addresses all five areas of improvement over a 1-3 year period will improve your sales across all channels.
Rightpoint leverages core capabilities in Digital Strategy, Customer Experience Design, Technical Implementations, Sales and Service, Change Management, and Digital Execution to design and implement solutions that deliver the business outcomes our customers are seeking. Learn more about how our deep understanding of B2B and omni-channel retail commerce enables our teams to drive digital transformation across all your sales and marketing channels.