The B2BEST Barometer covers the trend topics in wholesale and B2B sales on a quarterly basis. The survey’s author and IFH KÖLN Managing Director Dr Kai Hudetz summarises the results of two surveys from 2021 and explains how the significance of B2B marketplaces will change, and why the customer experience in many companies has a lot of room for improvement.
Mr Hudetz, a main thesis of the latest B2BEST Barometer states: the digitalisation in B2B retail is indeed advanced, yet both smaller companies as well as wholesalers don’t have the right innovations to improve their sales processes in a cost-efficient way. Where’s the hitch?
In many cases, existing processes will be digitalised more intensively, but in many companies there is a lack of drive for big changes, for example when it comes to sales concepts. Innovations that could change this are feasible, for instance artificial intelligence, especially considering there are many areas of application for this in the extremely data-based wholesale business. Additional topics are augmented reality, which the salesforce can profit from most of all in post-Covid times, as well as 3D printing, which certainly has disruption potential for wholesale.
The majority of retailers continue to see traditional sales channels, such as telephone sales or mail order, as more highly relevant than digital sales channels like marketplaces or e-procurement. Isn’t this surprising?
This didn’t really surprise me, but it always depends on the customer’s structure. If the existing customer base consists mainly of large companies, B2B retailers will not be able to get around electronic ordering processes, as the big names are demanding this more and more. Small businesses, such as tradesmen, are still set up in a rather traditional way, and the basic changes often taken place when the business is passed on to a new generation.
Generally speaking, there are currently 13 different sales channels being used by at least 18 per cent of companies – the sales landscape is therefore extremely heterogeneous at the moment. To secure business in the long term, the goal of retailers must be to connect together these sales channels in a digital omnichannel strategy.
Dr. Kai Hudetz, IFK KÖLN Managing Director
Most retailers and manufacturers recognise the competitive pressure caused by platform-based business models such as Amazon Business. But still they view this development optimistically. For good reason?
Wholesalers view online marketplaces less as a future competitor and more as a new opportunity for sales. However, some seem to be too optimistic: 69 per cent want to switch to becoming a B2B platform themselves. At the same time, the significance of online platforms as a sales channel will increase disproportionately in the coming years. And this despite a certain scepticism in the B2B segment, which is based on the failure of some such platforms in the past.
For some companies, the question arises if they should set up their own online shop or rely on B2B marketplaces. What do you advise?
An own online shop will remain indispensable, particularly in the sense of customer loyalty. It will be more of a “both … and” than an “either … or”. Those who concentrate their sales solely on platforms are entering a situation of dependency that is much too strong.
The second big topic of the B2BEST Barometer for 2021 is the customer experience. Its relevance as a future success factor in the differentiation of competition is indeed recognised, but neither wholesales nor SMEs are optimally set up for this …
When it comes to the customer experience, about a quarter of businesses are not at all working in a data-based way. They are neither measuring the success of their measures nor analysing data from the various sales channels nor have any vision of a goal that they want to achieve. The other three quarters, in other words the majority, may have already realised individual measures or are planning them, but only rarely do these lead to a truly optimal customer experience. And a half-hearted implementation seldom leads to success.
Which efforts in sales, service and marketing present themselves for creating customer experiences?
The three essential measures from my point of view are: collecting as much knowledge about the customer as possible and analysing this data in a structured way, hiring competent employees to perform this, and making the relevance of a good customer experience a top priority within within the company culture.
According to the survey, the payment and the risk check are also two important factors for companies wanting to stand out from the competition …
That’s right. Especially regarding new business via platforms, tried-and-tested payment options such as PayPal or direct debit should be offered. And a credit check should not take more than 24 hours for new customers.