SMEs have long been the masters of a personalised approach to business, but with larger organisations making the most of e-commerce to personalise the customer journey, smaller businesses must keep up or risk losing out on their home turf. Andrew Ardron, CEO, ProspectSoft, offers tips for smaller businesses to get a handle of their online presence and use it to enhance personalisation.
Business-to-business (B2B) customer expectations have long mirrored the business-to-consumer (B2C) customer journey, with SMEs traditionally looked to for the most personalised of B2B shopper experiences. With the rise of e-commerce however, personalisation has become increasingly synonymous with a great online experience and one most successfully offered by larger, B2C organisations.
Now is the time for B2B SMEs to embrace the movement or risk losing out to larger corporations who are already maximising the use of technology and data, to put the customer back at the heart of their operations. SMEs are, after all, the experts when it comes to providing a personalised customer experience and technology doesn’t have to hinder their continued success, unless they let it.
Historically, many SMEs have relied on the friendly local corner shop owner approach – whereby they know every customer by name and go over and above to provide outstanding customer service. Take, for example, a local store that orders an obscure product for ‘Mr Jones’ on a fortnightly basis. That one single customer, Mr Jones, who has been a loyal customer for a decade, while grateful for the efforts gone to by his local store, no longer has to wait two weeks for his order. He has instant access to e-tail giants like Amazon, where next day delivery and easy re-ordering is the norm. The rise in e-commerce means that these singular efforts made by businesses are no longer enough of a differentiator to retain customer loyalty.
Despite this, some B2B SMEs are still focused on providing personalisation where it isn’t necessarily needed the most. Many businesses have held on to the old-fashioned shop front as a key differentiator between themselves and larger organisations, placing a strong emphasis on a face-to-face service with a dedicated account manager, no matter the query. While some have found success with this approach in the short term, many are now finding their customers, much like in the B2C world, are looking for greater 24/7 accessibility, speed and efficiency, all of which can be better received through an online store.
Advancements in technology and the meteoric rise and success of e-commerce have paved the way for automation of transactional tasks to be applied with ease. Thus, creating a new style of personalisation where automation, data and algorithms are king and human interaction is valued, but targeted and largely received upon request.
So, why have many B2B SMEs been reluctant to adopt the technology to date? Aside from digitisation, at first, appearing counterintuitive to a personalised service, the implementation of the technology required to automate certain parts of the customer journey has, historically been seen as a large investment, subsequently reserved for larger corporations. Some smaller businesses have tentatively begun the journey to omnichannel by introducing an online store, but many organisations aren’t aware of the true value of integrating their online presence with integral back office systems.
But, the tide is changing and many SMEs operating within the B2B space are seeing the benefits of integrating their existing systems and utilising the Cloud to create fully integrated and scalable CRM, e-commerce and accounts solutions that optimise the data input to create a personalised customer journey. If integration is done well then the e-commerce experience can be more personalised. Data can be pulled from the CRM system allowing customers to see previous orders they’ve made, whether that’s online, face-to-face or over the phone, and they’ll also be able to access their existing payment terms and other important account information – making the whole interaction and navigation through the site seamless.
The benefits of employing this approach extend throughout the entire business debunking any concerns that a business might lose touch with its existing customer base. There are a higher percentage of transactions that a customer can do online and therefore the time and expertise of teams throughout the business can be spent on more valuable activity. Account managers and sales teams can engage in activities that cannot be automated – the things that SMEs pride themselves on, understanding and proactively responding to its customers’ business objectives.
And, in turn getting the customers to place orders they don’t yet know they want to place through upselling or cross-selling. Teams can be managed and deployed more effectively if they have time to focus on say, a new marketing drive to bring in new business or a more complex customer service query. Experienced resources are invaluable to smaller businesses and if an organisation can free up their employees’ time so that well-trained staff don’t become tied up carrying out administrative tasks and taking re-orders, they have more time to spend adding real value to the business.
The B2B SME
B2B SMEs have historically had the upper hand when it comes to providing a service that is personalised. However, advancements in technology and systems today are allowing larger corporations to a similar, if not better, experience online. The majority of customers across the consumer and business landscape are used to – and, perhaps more importantly, enjoy – being able to purchase goods and services via e-commerce platforms.
Customers are happy to endure a self-serve experience as long as they can access all of the information they need to carry out simple, transactional tasks. It’s important that smaller businesses don’t shy away from the golden opportunity to optimise and automate their online offerings, ensuring that they can continue to focus on replicating that personalised experience in other areas of the business.
An omnichannel approach to B2B operations is both achievable and affordable. If an organisation makes an investment into a cloud-based e-commerce solution that can integrate with back office ERP accounts and CRM systems, there’s the opportunity to open up functionality that goes beyond an online store-front and competes with the experiences that some larger organisations are offering.
Take for example a field sales representative that sells a new product to a customer during a face-to-face meeting, if the customer is happy with the product and wishes to reorder, a fully integrated e-commerce solution will streamline that repurchase. It will show the customer their last order, the quantity and any special discounts that were applied by the salesman, without the need for an account manager or sales rep to revisit the customer site.
In today’s market, that’s the kind of personalisation expected by a customer and the seamless customer experience that should make an e-commerce site a great sales tool, well-organised PA and customer service stage all rolled into one.
Exemplary customer service has always been and will continue to be a key differentiator for SMEs. Some of the shop-fronts may need updating, but if smaller businesses get a handle of their online presence and use it to enhance personalisation, they will certainly retain their charm and the loyalty of existing and prospective customers alike.
By Andrew Ardron