by Ray Grady

How intelligence is transforming B2B commerce

Sep 06, 2018
Digital TransformationMarketsRetail Industry

Change is once again coming to commerce and it’s being powered by intelligence. Through the strategic use of advanced intelligence technologies, B2B businesses can now supercharge commerce experiences, making them more powerful and meaningful than ever.

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Credit: Thinkstock

Consumer brands have paved the way in setting digital expectations in the B2B sector. By developing straightforward buyer journeys and streamlined paths to purchase, B2C companies pioneered strategies that put customers in the driver’s seat.

We now feel like we are in the second generation of B2C expectations that are once again paving the way for transformation in B2B commerce. This time it involves the use of intelligence. From AI-powered voice assistants like Amazon Alexa to intelligent chatbots and mobile apps like those provided by Sephora and Starbucks, consumer brands are capturing insights from machine data and customer interactions, using them to create better customer experiences.

The increased use of intelligence is a natural fit for B2B commerce, an environment rich with opportunities for data-based insights captured from many types of data driven customer interactions. But the real transformation will occur in the way B2B brands use that intelligence to share knowledge and deliver more personalized and efficient buying experiences to customers.

Intelligence turns interactions into better commerce experiences

Historically, B2B businesses have relied on in-person meetings or phone contact to manage the requirements of complex products and longer buying cycles – issues that direct to consumer brands don’t have to worry about. But these interactions create massive amounts of data that can be used to generate insights about the buying process as well as the needs and preferences of individual customers.

The use of intelligence also makes it possible for B2B brands to more effectively share knowledge and insights about the buying process. Although personal interactions still matter, AI can uncover insights that previously required decades of customer-facing experience to accumulate. By mining information gained through phone calls, meetings or other interactions, AI enables the company to distribute key insights across the organization. In essence, AI multiplies the impact of organizations’ highest performing sales reps and streamlines the process of bringing new sales reps up to speed.

Combined with advancements in AI technology, data captured from customer interactions and external variables (e.g., weather, time of year, etc.) enables B2B companies to create commerce experiences grounded in real-world insights. For example, the use of algorithms can be used to develop triggers that present customers with a different order mix during a heat wave than the one they receive during a heavy wind or snow event.

Although use cases vary, the common thread is that intelligence becomes a catalyst for new smarter interactions that generate value for customers and new revenue opportunities for companies.

The future is already here

Businesses on the leading edge of commerce are already using intelligence in exciting ways. A large engine manufacturer recently used intelligence to develop an Amazon-like buying experience for a data-rich technology product. By connecting to a global database that updates service histories from similar equipment, customers and service technicians can diagnose problems more quickly and accurately, improving the efficiency routine and emergency service.

For example, the manufacturer’s customers no longer have to rely exclusively on their fleet managers’ personal experience and expertise to optimize service windows and parts ordering. Instead, the manufacturer leverages big data and AI to inform interactions and improve operational efficiency.

Ultimately, packaging and selling ‘service guidance’ as a service allows the engine manufacturer to extend the brand value. Doing it through a self-service, leading commerce experience adds to the promise of the new offering: deeper and more valuable brand interaction, while meeting business expectation to better engage and add new revenue opportunities.

Practical advice for CIOs

Engine manufacturers aren’t the only B2B companies that can transform their commerce experiences through intelligence. Across a range of industries, forward-thinking brands are making significant progress in the use of AI in commerce and we are rapidly approaching the day when the sophisticated use of intelligence becomes standard operating practice.

Going forward, CIOs will be tasked with improving the use of intelligence in their organizations. To ensure the success of these new technologies, there are several things CIOs should keep in mind as they attempt to convert AI into measurable business outcomes:

  • Stay agile. Agility is a determining factor in the success of intelligence solutions. More than ever before, CIOs are under pressure to demonstrate results in weeks, not months. Flexible systems featuring easy integrations shorten implementation cycles and streamline the CIO’s ability to use the technology in ways that benefit the business.
  • Leverage partnerships. In many ways, intelligence is still a nascent technology. To avoid costly mistakes, CIOs need to collaborate with vendors and other partners on the implementation and optimization of AI-based solutions. In addition to providing advice about best practices for these technologies, trusted partners can help CIOs apply learnings captured from other firms and industries.
  • Iterate based on customer feedback. The true gauge of success for intelligence technologies will be whether or not they satisfy the urgent and evolving expectations of today’s customers. Consequently, it’s critical for CIOs to constantly gather customer feedback and use data-driven insights to adapt the way the organization uses intelligence.

Change is once again coming to commerce and it’s being powered by intelligence. Through the strategic use of advanced intelligence technologies, B2B businesses can now supercharge commerce experiences, making them more powerful and meaningful than ever.