Self-service in complex B2B sales

Successful B2B self-service portals can significantly improve your company’s internal efficiency, while the offered convenience can increase your customer satisfaction. This gives your company a competitive edge.

As a consumer, many of us are already accustomed to using self-service portals and apps — whether we’re checking personal medical information or customising a car purchase. Now the same type of technology can also give many business buyers greater control in purchasing for their companies.

Moreover, research by Forrester indicates that by 2023 B2B eCommerce market will hit 1.8 trillion in the U.S. This would be a significant shift considering that most B2B purchases are still traditionally done in person.

Like in any significant industry movement, there are both benefits and challenges to be considered. In this case, the primary consideration is whether B2B self-service is a feasible approach also to complex B2B sales such as ordering machines for a manufacturing business.

Benefits of using self-service systems

When executed well, self-service saves time for the company, especially for the sales, order and delivery teams. If the more simple products can flow through the process more or less automatically, for example, the order handlers can use their time and expertise on the complex cases. Speed and efficiency in back-end processes almost always translate into cashflow benefits as well.

When a company’s standard products and services are available through self-service, sales representatives and account managers can focus on nurturing their client relationships. They can also focus on identifying more complex customer needs, making their company even more relevant to the client.

There are clear benefits for the customer as well. Self-service attracts customers because it provides information even before the sales process is initiated. Furthermore, the purchase process is faster and more efficient. Because of less back-and-forth communication between the client and sales representative, the client can order and receive the goods faster, which again increases customer satisfaction.

From simple to more complex self-service

When considering self-service, deciding which products and services you’d like to offer on the self-service platform are paramount.

Only a few B2B companies make all of their product variants available in self-service straight away. Self-service platforms work best, especially in their initial phase, for the most standardised products that can seamlessly flow through the order process without much manual input. By offering minimal alternatives, the company can often dodge any incorrect orders.

Another consideration is how you offer the self-service. The least you can do is to provide an easy interface to request a proposal online. If you want to take it one step further, consider B2B e-commerce solutions or a customer portal, where your company can expose some of its CPQ (Configure-Price-Quote) functionalities to your customers, allowing them to customise the products they want to purchase.

Another common approach is to initiate the B2B self-service journey by offering spare parts and service contracts online. An IoT connection to the customers’ equipment can help the online tool offer the right components and perform diagnostics on any machine data.

One important consideration is that the risk of misunderstandings increases if companies are unable to translate the functional needs of their clients into physical products or services. It has to be totally clear for the customers what they actually are buying, i.e. we are coming back to the point about the better fit for simple products. Before a successful B2B self-service can be implemented, it is essential for any company to understand its customers’ requirements. Otherwise, rather than saving time, it could cost the company time with customer claims and correcting ordering mistakes.

When your customers get accustomed to ordering familiar products through self-service and as more innovative technologies, like intelligent pricing and product configurators, are further developed, you can eventually roll more complex products into the self-service channel.

It’s important to take small steps and not hurry too much – the key is to find the balance between increasing sales and having a simple enough system set up to maintain.

Can self-service replace the need for people?

Although B2B self-service is a growing trend, it won’t replace the need for people. Personal sales and customer service will always be an essential elements of a business. However, self-service will change the roles of both buyers and sales representatives – Sales representatives have to become more consultative advisors with the responsibility to provide relevant insight to the clients. At the same time, online self-service applications for on-the-go ordering can free the buyers from being tied to physical catalogues.

In other words, future clients will be in control of such tasks as buying products and services, creating contracts, calculating prices and checking delivery times, and it happens when the client feels the need to do so – and then it can happen fast!

By using self-service to sell more simple products, your sales reps will have more time to sell the more complex products and provide value to the customers. Even though a complex product can be even more complex from the customer’s point of view and therefore hard for him or her to fully configure and order online, the latest technologies can still significantly enhance at least the first steps of the purchase journey.

Should your company do it, then? A successfully implemented B2B self-service portal can substantially improve customer satisfaction and increase your internal efficiency. The offered convenience helps in keeping customers and maintains an edge over the competitors.

Alexander Franck

CPQ Practice Lead

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