More than a hundred years ago, Sears, Roebuck & Company shook up the retail industry with its innovative catalog system. By mailing catalogs to consumers and shipping products from a centralized warehouse, Sears quickly built a loyal customer base.
But Sears didn’t sit on its laurels. The company then executed another industry-changing move by opening the first retail department stores in suburbs across the nation.
Today’s B2B industry is experiencing a similar seismic shift. Digital commerce is redefining customer relationships in B2B by creating ever-more-engaging, informative, always-on buying experiences.
The digital commerce experience we know today emerged from the first generation of digital technology, where business documents were exchanged electronically in a standard format with enterprise customers through electronic data interchange (EDI) systems. Now, top-performing B2B brands are moving beyond in-person-only interactions and static, back-end EDI systems available only to their largest customers. These businesses are empowering customers of all sizes by embracing dynamic SaaS offerings that change the game yet again.
The shift from static to dynamic business models
The transition from static to dynamic business models is driving the changing landscape of B2B commerce. Traditional B2B business models took a product-centric, one-size-fits-few approach to communications, order taking and logistics because customers had limited expectations for more personalized, engaging experiences. Even when some companies expanded beyond large-customer EDI a decade ago, their only option was a static ERP-based commerce solution. The ability to digitally interact with brands and place online orders was a big step up from call center and face-to-face interactions, and it was enough for most buyers.
But as we all know, personalized digital offerings in the consumer sector have inflated the expectations of B2B buyers. Tailored offerings, personalized promotions and discounts, more relevant product recommendations and add-ons, and a more intuitive user experience have become must-have features for B2B buyers.
Facing rising demand for better commerce experiences from buyers, savvy B2B companies are moving to more dynamic business models. The problem is that the rigid EDI and ERP systems of the past can’t accommodate the dynamic, customer-centric experiences customers demand and expect.
That’s where cloud-based commerce enters the story.
SaaS enables B2B businesses to benefit from dynamic business models
The rise of cloud-based, SaaS technology has reduced the barrier to entry and enabled B2B businesses to offer dynamic digital commerce to all its customers. In the same way Sears transformed its business model to achieve better customer satisfaction and connect with a wider audience, SaaS gives buyers a more engaging commerce experience and expands B2B companies’ reach, allowing them to acquire and retain hard-to-reach customers.
SaaS technology provides the infrastructure and out-of-the box functionality for quick implementation, but it’s data and automation that are the key ingredients behind the effectiveness of the cloud for B2B commerce. When commerce is connected to the CRM system, the organization captures a holistic view of the customer via the centralization of data from sales, marketing, service and other touch points. The accessibility of this information creates opportunities for more informed customer interactions and the kinds of personalized buying experiences that permeate the B2C universe.
It’s also important to note that cloud-based commerce solutions are much more flexible than the technologies used in the static business model. In most instances, B2B businesses can rapidly adapt based on customer feedback or market conditions, with minimal investment.
As a result, SaaS makes it possible for B2B organizations to forge meaningful connections with previously inaccessible customers. Self-service applications enable even the smallest mom-and-pop shops to place orders without the assistance of a sales representative. For B2B businesses, cloud-based solutions reduce the resource requirements for providing individual service to customers and make low-volume orders for small customers much more profitable.
Cloud commerce technology is the key to future growth
Early adopters of SaaS technology for digital commerce are seeing results. In a recent survey of B2B decision makers, CloudCraze (my employer) found that companies that have invested in digital commerce solutions have achieved significant growth as well as improvements in customer acquisition, retention and sales efficiency.
On the whole, B2B businesses also believe that digital commerce and the use of SaaS solutions is the key for future growth. Our survey showed that 89 percent of B2B brands connect their future growth with the success of digital commerce. Similarly, 88 percent of businesses expect to offer products that will sold primarily online in the next five years.
Digital commerce is a must for any brand operating in today’s B2B marketplace. But SaaS technology is the new prerequisite for growth. By enabling B2B companies to transition to dynamic business models, cloud commerce solutions make it possible for forward-thinking brands to create more engaging customer experiences. Businesses that can model the 20th century Sears’ drive to innovate will continue to maintain a share of the market no matter what direction technology turns next.