Opinion: How millennials and Gen Z are framing the b-to-b experience
B-to-b brands are entering a period of rapid transition driven by the imperative to keep pace with b-to-c-side expectations, particularly among younger consumers with growing spending power. For many companies, this means implementing e-commerce capabilities that align with consumer-led technology adoption and the subsequent evolution of customer needs and expectations.
Many industry observers might surmise that the winners of the b-to-b e-commerce transition will be those with the biggest budgets to spend on new infrastructure, but that’s not likely to be the case. The real winners will be the ones that take the time to learn from their b-to-c counterparts, understand their millennial and Gen Z audiences—where they are, how they want to buy and what’s most likely to motivate their purchases—and build their e-commerce experiences around these existing realities.
Fortunately, the b-to-c space offers some useful lessons for those brands making the leap.
Start with your audience
B-to-b e-commerce offerings should be built around existing audience experiences, including those happening in the b-to-c world, rather than expecting audience experiences to take shape around new b-to-b offerings. B-to-b organizations need to think about the customers they serve now and want to serve later and ask themselves how they can become as ubiquitous and valuable to those customers as possible. All planning today should be done with millennial and Gen Z buyer expectations in mind, as those audiences become an increasingly large portion of the buyer target.
Rather than approaching e-commerce as a one-off platform or fragmented solution, b-to-b brands must think of the entire customer journey—where customers begin their journeys and how they want to progress through the sales funnel—and ensure they are relevant at every step of that journey. For some, that might mean incorporating their products into various existing marketplaces frequented by younger buyers. For others, it might mean building their own platforms that appeal to these millennial and Gen Z buyers. It might be a combination of both. In any case, the key to relevance and sustainability is to let the customer guide a brand’s e-commerce strategy.
Consider b-to-c inspiration and lessons
Amazon has set the bar high for customer experiences on the b-to-c side, particularly among millennial and Gen Z buyers, and brands must do what they can to fulfill those expectations. Other marketplaces might be a part of that expectation fulfillment, but brands must be careful to protect their own interests and maintain close contact with their customers. Go into all relationships with eyes wide open—and be sure success is never reliant on a single external partner whose interests and allegiances can shift quickly.
Takeaway consideration: How can the highly personalized, streamlined and self-serve experiences that disrupted the consumer experience be applied to business buyers?
A test-and-learn process can minimize risk
The implementation of new e-commerce platforms can be a large undertaking that requires refinement over time. It’s often best to test and learn with a single product line or vertical before migrating your entire catalog to a new system. While testing, pay particular attention to how your new system affects the customer’s experience with your brand.
Takeaway consideration: Can you map and measure the moments that matter, or the critical engagements where a minor adjustment in experience design can deliver the largest incremental change across all your audiences?
No one-size-fits-all solution exists
As we’ve seen on the b-to-c side, the right e-commerce experience has everything to do with a brand’s target audience and the experience they want. For a b-to-b brand, marketplaces might make sense. But if current industry marketplaces aren’t being frequented by millennial and Gen Z buyers, a brand might want to build its own e-commerce platform with those buyers in mind. But whatever the strategy, getting this transition right is about more than where a company’s products are being sold online. It’s about designing around customer habits and ensuring the resulting b-to-b e-commerce experience aligns with all other messaging and customer touchpoints.
Takeaway consideration: How complete is your 360-degree view of the customer? Does it extend beyond purchase and usage touchpoints specific to your product or service to understand their habits and how they engage with brands in other categories that are competing for their attention?
The b-to-b transformation to e-commerce requires real commitment—and a focus on the millennial and Gen Z buyers who will shape all purchase decisions in the future. Brands mustn’t let themselves get distracted by focusing on the mechanics and minutia of different marketplaces and online platforms. What’s most important to success is an understanding of the forces and motivators that affect your audience—today and in the coming years—and will ensure relevance. Start there, and the rest will follow.