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Is omnichannel the future for B2B?

By Andrew Ardron on Thu 30 November 2017 in CRM

Customer experience has become the new battleground for competitive advantage and, across the board, the ability to ‘do it well’ is considered the gateway to brand loyalty and business growth...

With this in mind, why is it that, as a B2B customer, our purchasing experiences are often fragmented and inconsistent compared to those in the B2C realm?  The answer is that many B2B organisations have focused solely on enabling multichannel sales, which can lead to inconsistency – whereas the smartest and most successful are delivering an omnichannel experience.

So, how can B2B companies achieve this same level of customer service? Let’s start with a definition.  Omnichannel is not just another buzzword – it’s the difference between a satisfied customer and a satisfied competitor. It is the combination of a multichannel sales approach and an integrated shopping experience. Although multichannel is at the heart of the omnichannel approach, the two things are not the same. A company that provides purchasing options across multiple channels is multichannel, but a company that has integrated all those channels so that each customer interaction picks up seamlessly where the previous one left off, has achieved omnichannel.  

Sadly the majority of B2B organisations have failed to join the dots from multichannel to omnichannel – and have instead created independent, siloed channels that do not share the same systems, data or back-end processes. This narrow, multichannel approach generates islands of valuable information with no means of utilising it, while the lack of connectivity between channels can lead to an inconsistent offering of prices, delivery options, even products. It’s a far cry from a seamless experience – and it can, unsurprisingly, motivate customers to shop around for better deals elsewhere.

 The solution lies in the integration of CRM and eCommerce. While conventional CRM systems allow field representatives to access a customer’s history for sales made via traditional channels, a lack of integration with eCommerce platforms can leave them unaware of online orders. They may not know, for example, that a company has placed an order online the day before and therefore won’t require a visit. Or that an unexpected fall in stock led to an interim order that means lower volumes will be required next time around.

 Equally, when eCommerce systems are not linked to the front office CRM, account details are normally restricted to online history; the system does not know a customer’s historic ordering habits, their preferences, their product requirements or their payment terms. This leads to an uncomfortable buying journey where a client struggles to recall product codes or specifications, and subsequently orders the wrong thing or gives up altogether.

In order to achieve the necessary level of integration between eCommerce and CRM to avoid these scenarios, companies must leverage Cloud technology. It’s impossible to provide an integrated experience without moving CRM data and processes into the Cloud – and then using it to drive different sales channels.  Companies need to think ‘omnichannel-first, Cloud-first’; there cannot be one without the other. The simple application of familiar Cloud technology could transform the customer experience offered by B2B organisations as a result.

 The most progressive SMEs are already embracing the opportunity of omnichannel, have recognised the long-term benefits and know that their customers don’t just want a joined-up experience, they expect it. Not only that, but they will go elsewhere to find it.