Although business-to-business (B2B) sales have traditionally relied on face-to-face interaction, change has been building. This shouldn’t be a surprise: 73% of those involved in B2B research and decision-making today are millennials, a generation well-known for its reliance on technology. What’s more, these buyers have increasingly high expectations: Recent Salesforce research found that 72% of today’s B2B buyers expect a similar experience on a B2B site as they receive on a consumer website.
The pandemic has only accelerated the move online. In fact, Gartner anticipates that by 2025, 80% of all B2B sales will be happening through digital channels. There is even growing consensus across generational lines: An average of 43% of baby boomers, Gen X, and millennials would prefer their sales experience to be rep-free.
As business becomes digital, companies are upgrading to modern cloud-based core software platforms and solutions at an accelerating pace—fueling the continuous move toward SaaS solutions where customer retention, lifetime value, and annual recurring revenue (ARR) take the place of traditional sales metrics as key measures of performance. This means customer touchpoints that occur after an initial sale—for example, during provisioning, installation, onboarding, service, and customer success—are every bit as critical as those that drove the sale in the first place. The expansion and upsell motion also become critical to maximize the lifetime value of the customer.
To engage today’s software buyers and create advantage in an increasingly competitive landscape, software companies need to deliver a seamless experience across the customer lifecycle.
An effective e-commerce channel provides the foundation for doing so. But in our experience, many software companies haven’t yet optimized this channel. In other words, the very organizations whose products are at the center of making businesses digital haven’t fully tapped their own potential to be digital—and they could be losing out on market opportunities.
Gone are the days when a transaction passes from department to department, and the customer waits for the next function in line to respond. Today’s software buyers want the ability to explore use cases and product information, receive pricing and quotes, order products, make payments, acquire products, and onboard users all on their own terms and schedule.
To drive growth and retention, software organizations need to remove as much friction from the buying and expansion process as possible.
A well-designed e-commerce platform can deliver this cohesive and seamless buying experience while also creating growth capacity and the ability to serve customers at a lower cost. This channel can handle low-complexity, high-volume sales, freeing up representatives to focus on more complex sales and high-touch customers. It can facilitate cross-selling or up-selling of add-ons and related services, as well as automated renewal processes.
And for more complex purchases, an e-commerce channel can help deliver a cohesive buying experience by capturing the initial request and then handing it off to a sales representative or pricing engine for special pricing considerations. Once pricing is complete, the customer can be returned to the e-commerce site for completion of the purchase.
In our work, we see the tangible financial impact and market advantage of an optimized e-commerce channel. For example, by redesigning e-commerce processes around customer experience, one legal software company reduced the number of clicks required to add payment methods to existing subscriptions, removed wait times previously required when a subscription expired, and enabled customers to update the quantity of existing subscriptions through self-service. These enhancements reduced manual intervention by 50% and errors by 90%—improvements that contributed to a higher Net Promoter® score.
To remove friction, you’ll need a sound understanding of customers and their expectations, a customer journey that delivers that experience, and the ability to operationalize that journey across all sales channels and selling motions.
Focusing on the following areas can help you get there:
Optimizing an e-commerce channel is likely to be a multi-year process, so it’s important to have a “north star” to keep you on course. In fact, one of the main roadblocks we see is the lack of a well-defined e-commerce strategy that includes a corresponding road map, goals, and metrics.
Before moving forward, step back and think about your customer and channel mix in the next two to three years. Who are the customers that will buy via an e-commerce channel? What type of experience will engage and retain them? What will you need to do to eliminate points of friction and deliver that experience? Leverage existing transactional and usage data to understand opportunities to target specific customers with product and services that naturally lend itself to this motion. Define appropriate customer segments and then develop customer journeys based on the moments that matter to those segments. Finally, collaborate closely with the product teams to design an integrated experience within the product.
In many organizations, seven functional areas—product, marketing, sales (direct & indirect), finance, customer service, fulfillment, and IT—may have a hand in delivering a seamless e-commerce experience. But in our experience, many software companies still tend to work in silos, hindering full transformation by keeping these seven areas from achieving their full potential for cross-functional collaboration.
One key is redesigning business processes from the perspective of the customer and making sure each function and role is working with the same information to support the entire purchasing experience. The alignment of these core functions around that seamless experience will positively impact the four key revenue operations metrics: deal volume, value, velocity, and conversion rates. A steering committee, comprised of representatives from the key functions, can be helpful for maintaining the necessary level of coordination to maximize the revenue potential.
Fancy bells and whistles are no more memorable to a customer than the ability to achieve one’s objective quickly and seamlessly. By decreasing the time between a customer’s purchase and usage of the software, your organization can move faster to build loyalty and set the stage for additional transaction opportunities and ultimately renewal.
When it comes to e-commerce platforms, one size does not fit all. The right choice for your organization will depend on a number of factors, including the size of your organization and customer base, the number of products being sold, the desired customer experience, and the other sales and support systems with which the platform must integrate to deliver the desired experience—for example, product information, pricing, license generation, fulfillment, financial, and other functional systems.
A partner portal is an essential ingredient to boosting sales while continuously delivering the same on-brand experience across all channels. Use the partner portal to boost productivity by automating the onboarding of new partners, providing channel sales and marketing resources while expanding their capabilities with integrated selling and reporting features.
Your approach to building an e-commerce presence should be nimble and responsive. If you wait to introduce the perfect experience, you may miss market opportunities. Instead, view the transition as an ongoing and iterative process. Set the foundation as quickly as possible and then begin testing, learning, and improving—while continuously refining existing features and adding new ones.
You already know that digital organizations deliver better results—because that’s your business. Now it’s time to move the meter when it comes to your own operations, utilizing e-commerce to grow customer lifetime value, annual recurring revenue, and the metrics that matter most.