The Less AND More Approach to B2B Engagement


Those that know, know. B2B commerce is not, and will never be, like B2C commerce. That hasn’t stopped many from overstating the correlation between these fundamentally different business models. It has been on trend, for well over a decade now, to say manufacturers and distributors need to ‘deliver B2C-like experiences.’ That’s easily digestible as a soundbite, but not entirely accurate.

Usability is (or should be) a base requirement for any digital experience. Site search that contributes to business results can exist beyond big box retail. Personalization can be applied to business users as easily as consumers. These elements, and others like them, have long been fundamental to B2C commerce. Incorporating them into B2B experiences does not make them the same, nor should it. A power transmission parts manufacturer and a lifestyle apparel brand are inherently different. How their customers interact and shop are not the same, so the experiences each presents must follow suit. This lends itself to something we call the less and more approach to B2B engagement.     

Less B2B Engagement

We know. This section heading seems weird. Why would any brand want less engagement with their current and future customers? That’s because in B2B commerce less can be more, leading to happier, ‘more satisfied’ customers.

B2B customers shop only for need. As such, every element of the digital experience needs to be geared to enable any given user the ability to do their job faster, more efficiently, or more cost-effectively. While the long-held mantra in B2C commerce is to create “sticky” experiences, the north star for B2B commerce should be fluid experiences. Fluid experiences seek to shorten session duration and reduce pageviews by removing every conceivable point of friction. The goal is to empower a given customer based on their specific role to accomplish their goal(s) as quickly as possible.  

When onboarding new customers, what is the minimum amount of data needed? Are there fields that can be removed or deferred from the initial form? Fields that can be auto-filled? We would all like to collect as much self-reported data as possible, but additional data can be collected and enriched over time. If new accounts are curated and subject to approval, how can the process be automated, or further automated, to expedite the process? It can be argued that it’s better to accept and subsequently reject an order from an unqualified potential customer than to make a qualified customer wait X number of hours or days to place their initial order.

When it comes to content, where consumer brands focus on inspiration, B2B brands need to focus on education and enablement. This means proactively serving up role-based content that aligns with the better/faster/cheaper motivations that drive their behavior. This can be supplemented with brand-based content related to company news and achievements, product innovations, and new service offerings. At the product level, this means associating SKUs with information such as installation guides, MSDS, and warranty information. The key is to ensure each content type is easy to surface and access. And because customer roles, if not the customer themselves, and needs remain constant, brands can continue to produce and deliver relevant content throughout the customer relationship.

Simplifying reordering as much as possible is among the most important elements in enabling less engagement per interaction. For any number of reasons, auto-ship replenishment (aka subscriptions) does not lend itself to many B2B use cases. Given detailed bill-to, ship-to, sold-to data and static product needs over time however, one-click reordering should be a part of every digital commerce experience. This can be supplemented with product-specific merchandising to promote related consumable and MRO products which can be added under the same order to increase cart size and CLTV. For other customer roles, surfacing in-flight order status and open invoices can reduce the time per interaction and customer service inquiries.     

More B2B Engagement

As a business streamlines each visit to its digital channels, the focus shifts to encouraging more frequent customer engagement. The transactional nature of many B2B customer relationships does not encourage frivolous website visits, so there must be a clear value exchange to drive desired behavior.  Customer data can be the bridge to deliver that value.

In B2B commerce, guest checkout is a rarity. Most business is conducted by users who are logged in and identifiable. Across each transaction, every datapoint can be collected and analyzed. This data can then be used to market, or re-market, to customers.

In B2C commerce, once an individual provides their email address, the brand has that information for life. On the B2B side employee / list turnover is inevitable. However, it’s less important whether the purchasing agent or site manager at a given customer has changed. Their job function and business needs remain unchanged. Subsequently, role-based personalization and the related marketing mix can continue as is or be expanded upon.

A tightly integrated Marketing Automation and Customer Data Platform (CDP) can enable a business to accomplish role-based personalization. With a full view of each customer across all online and offline channels made possible by the CDP, a business can present personalized experiences regardless of how a customer chooses to interact with the brand. A branch manager can see a customer’s online behavior just as easily as a digital marketer can know which customers prefer to collect their orders at a company warehouse.

On the digital front, abandoned cart emails can be restructured to capture supplemental conversions. The post-purchase series can be tailored to maximize product usage and educate about value-added services. Site search data can be mapped to content that can be pushed to the customer. Lastly, customer service inquires can trigger a sales rep follow up. These touch points can increase customer engagement, keeping a business top-of-mind with their customers and with each additional interaction, there is an opportunity for a related transaction.

In B2B commerce, a business must provide value both to the company they’re doing business with and the end user. Encouraging more frequent, meaningful interactions while making each interaction more efficient is a recipe to demonstrate that value and improve the overall customer experience.