Photo credit: Fosforix via Photopin (cc)
Photo credit: Fosforix via Photopin (cc)

B2B companies that sell products directly to their customers say they’re increasingly feeling pressure to make their sales and service portals more user-friendly.

And it’s all’s fault.

Consumer e-commerce and customer service websites (like Amazon, eBay and others) are so easy to use that those higher expectations are bleeding into the B2B market, which traditionally has offered customers a cluttered, dated and confusing user experience.

Researchers at Germany-based e-commerce software company Intershop polled 400 B2B companies (many of them in the automotive, high-tech manufacturing, retail, pharmaceutical and telecom sectors) and found half were having trouble making their customer experience more user-friendly.

Intershop estimates 92 percent of those surveyed are currently selling products online, while the remaining 8 percent have future plans to do so. Nearly a quarter say they expect to see e-commerce sales increase by 40 percent or more in the coming years.

Asked to rank the features that B2B buyers are looking for online, researchers ranked intuitive search and navigation at the top (77 percent of respondents), followed by online order approval (75 percent), self-service account management (74 percent), category and product pages (73 percent) and real-time e-commerce analytics and monitoring (72 percent).

B2B e-commerce and customer service is inherently more complicated than B2C sales and service. An auto shop ordering 100 tires online through a distributor is not the same as buying a toaster on Amazon.

Still, there are significant benefits to improving the B2B customer experience. Some 43 percent of respondents said bringing the sales process online would likely result in more return customers and higher brand loyalty.

“Where there is complexity, there is also opportunity,” said Jochen Moll of Intershop. “Organizations that can develop their B2B commerce channels now and offer a consumer-like approach will be well placed to capture market share. They will need to understand how to manage the complexities around their new channels, but the effort will pay off.”

Two in five respondents also said the challenges of managing multiple business models, including B2B, B2C, B2B2C and B2X, multiple commerce touch points and multiple data domains poses difficulties, while 40 percent struggle to deliver flexible, high-quality customer service.

“B2C has become the test ground for B2B companies to understand how e-commerce technologies can support their sales strategies,” Moll said. “After all, every B2B customer is also a B2C customer, so if you want to understand the future of B2B, that is where to look.”