How is the B2B buying process evolving?

By Michiel Schipperus, CEO at Sana Commerce

The way B2B buyers conduct business has changed significantly over the last five years. Advances in ERP technology and supply chain management software have enabled manufacturers to underpin process innovation with real-time insights, driving improvements in supplier management and buying efficiencies.

But according to our research of 560 B2B buyers worldwide, technology isn’t the only factor changing buying processes and preferences; internal transformation and external environmental factors are having an impact too. But how is this changing B2B buying behaviours, and crucially, how can we keep up?

Of all the factors impacting the role of the B2B buyer, our survey identified that automation, both of purchases and payments, is playing a key role. Not only has automation made the purchase process more seamless for buyers, but it’s also freed up more of their time, allowing them to allocate resource in the business more strategically.

This has certainly been realised in the manufacturing industry. According to over a third of respondents we surveyed from manufacturing organisations, automating purchases is the activity currently having the biggest impact on the role of the B2B buyer. A third were also in agreement that it would continue to be the highest-ranking factor changing B2B buying over the next five years. However, this is perhaps not surprising. Our research identified that 44% of buyers in manufacturing organisations experience order errors at least once a fortnight, highlighting a need for simplified buying processes and purchase and payment automation capabilities.

Across a variety of industries, there are now more generations of buyers working together than ever before, bringing together different ways of working. Perhaps unsurprisingly, our research uncovered that millennial B2B buyers’ preferences differ somewhat to those of older generations, with product returns, product demonstrations and the ability to manage returns online ranked as the most important factors when making purchase decisions. Meanwhile, almost half of those aged between 45-54 believe that price comparison is the top influencing factor when making a purchase decision, closely followed by payment terms and delivery terms. With varying preferences across different generations of B2B buyers, it’s vital that suppliers ensure they’re catering for customers of all ages and job titles to encourage orders.

Michiel Schipperus, CEO Sana Commerce

Regardless of demographic or purchase preferences, we found that all manufacturing buyers measure KPIs in a similar way. Increasing the efficiency of the purchase process was ranked as the main performance measure for 43%, followed by cost savings (37%) and internal client satisfaction (37%). As these indicators are unlikely to change much moving forward, B2B webstores need to deliver against these measures; making price comparisons easy and introducing fast one or two-step buying processes to maximise conversions and repeat orders.

With B2B buying decisions becoming increasingly complex, input is often required from individuals in a number of different roles throughout the organisation to ensure they’re happy to proceed with the product, price and chosen vendor. When generating a buying need, our research found it’s the CEO and management team that are usually involved in identifying the issue and the product or service required to reach a resolution. For the collation of information and evaluation of alternatives, however, research and development teams are often drafted in. Additionally, purchasing and procurement and product and operations teams are also becoming involved during the process. With so many different roles involved in the decision, it’s difficult to know who to target. In order to appeal to the wide-ranging and ever-changing B2B buyer, e-commerce companies need to be able to tailor their offering to suit every stage of the buying cycle, regardless of who’s driving the process.  

Appealing to the ever-changing B2B buyer can seem complex, especially with numerous different job roles, generations and organisational changes influencing processes. However, in order to remain competitive in your crowded market, understanding these challenges and adapting processes accordingly is key. Unlike B2C, B2B buying processes can be lengthy and complex, with many additional factors coming into play. Organisations need to make the buying process as simple, convenient and seamless as possible for their customers, enabling them to drive efficiencies, reduce order errors and meet KPIs. Using a comprehensive web store, you can provide a flexible offering and personalise your customer experience to match individual buyer preferences where possible.

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