From the rise of mobile millennials among B2B buyers, to the opportunities of APIs and the demand for more comprehensive purchasing services online,B2B e-commerce this year will become more important to individuals as well as entire companies.
2016 is here, and business as we know it is about to change.
Manufacturers, distributors and other companies that derive most of their revenues through B2B channels are rapidly following their B2C cohorts, going digital and moving complex operations to the cloud.
Cloud technology, platforms, APIs and the rise of large, integrated ecosystems are creating huge opportunities for businesses to connect their systems and for developers to build modern e-commerce solutions for their business, which move beyond the restrictions of the dinosaur, in-house and on-premise systems of yesterday.
Here’s a look at what I would deem the three most pervasive trends that will impact B2B e-commerce in 2016:
1) The Rise of the Mobile Millennial
This is more the blending of two trends than one—but they go hand in hand, and they’ve really come of age at the same time. In 2016, you’ll find your customer or buyer is increasingly younger, online and mobile. The millennial generation already represents the biggest portion of your customer base, with The Economist reporting that millennials occupy 34% of business positions in 2015, compared with 29% for baby boomers. 2016 will see further gains for this important and growing market segment.
It may seem as if B2C marketers are the only ones who need to focus on millennials. That simply isn’t the case. Almost half, or 46%, of all B2B personnel researching products and services online are millennials, and 42% of all B2B buyers use a mobile device at some point during their purchasing process (source: Think With Google). The digital-first generation requires a seamless omnichannel experience, with 87% of them using between two and three technical devices daily. Responsiveness is important for the design but also for the functionality. Consider mobile the first screen for all of your marketing activities including your website, your landing pages, your checkout process, approval rules and product search.
Forrester’s April 2015 B2B eCommerce Forecast showed that 74% of buyers already research at least half of their work purchases online. 2016 will show that trend continue to increase. Smart marketers everywhere will begin to make mobile millennials the primary persona around which they optimize their marketing efforts. This will be a make or break initiative for businesses.
2) APIs will continue to create new business speed, agility and ecosystems
For businesses and developers alike, APIs, or application programming interfaces that enable software applications to exchange data, are changing the way companies buy and sell online. They’ll continue to do so in a big way in 2016. Before the dawn of the API economy, businesses had to wait to be able to integrate with other businesses until a partnership was established. Now, integrations are easier and more streamlined, and time-to-market is exponentially faster.
APIs represent a new form of simplicity, which enables them to offer organizations a new level of speed. Instead of heavy integrations, extensive planning of processes and working every detail out with your vendor, developers are able to access only the data that they need. This simplicity creates an accelerated speed-to-market that the business world hasn’t experienced before. APIs give you the power to modify, edit, and customize applications as you go in an uncomplicated manner. The ability to create an application “on the fly” is vital in a constantly evolving business world that has customers at the center of everything they do.
3) Strategic “Self-Service” will become the new “Full-Service” or “Best-Service”
Businesses will strategically commit to becoming easier to do business with, not only for their customers, but for the cost reduction potential it affords. As Andrew C. Oliver said in his 2016 Predictions published on technology research site InfoWorld, “The old IT mantra, ‘say no first until someone makes us,’ doesn’t work anymore. [In 2016,] the best companies will build cultures of performance and doing the right thing—and will make data and the processes around it self-service for all their employees.” In other words, online self-service is important to let a seller’s employees access data they need, like current inventory availability, to better do their jobs and help customers.
Not only will this transformation result in the happiest customers, it will also result in happy stakeholders. Forrester reported that B2B companies can reduce client service costs by as much as 90% by moving to a self-serve e-commerce environment. Strategic self-service will help to streamline processes, create efficiencies and, again, improve the B2B customer and buyer experiences.
As Adam Roozen, CEO of Echidna Inc., an e-commerce technology and digital marketing agency, says, “Traditionally, B2B companies have had one content repository for sales agents and a different tool/site for B2B customers to purchase. In the next few years, those two things will converge into a single B2B website—essentially, a one-stop shop for all constituents (including sales and distribution agents, and customers, and customer service agents).”
2016 is no doubt the year of the B2B customer, but perhaps it’s an even bigger one for the individual—all of the people who make up the fabric of the workplace from management, to I.T., finance, marketing, operations and distribution. Driven by mobile empowerment and API connectivity, among other things, all of our lives will continue to be revolutionized by technology.
The benefactor? Your business. The future for business and e-commerce is bright. More business than ever will be done online, pushing costs of managing orders to new lows, and customer satisfaction to new highs.