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04/06/2019

Is Self-Service a Viable Alternative for Complex B2B Sales?

5 minute read

Self-service portals and apps already make day-to-day business easier for many individual consumers — whether they’re customizing an automobile purchase or checking personal medical information.

Now the same type of technology can also give many business buyers greater control in purchasing for their companies. However, some research indicates that by 2023 the U.S. B2B eCommerce market will hit 1.8 trillion, which would be a significant shift considering that most B2B purchases are traditionally done in person.

Of course, 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 to complex B2B sales such as ordering machines in a manufacturing business.

 

Is Self-Service Technology Available Today?

Short answer: Absolutely! Companies can consider B2B e-commerce solutions, they can expose some of their CPQ (Configure-Price-Quote) functionalities in a customer portal, or simply provide an easy interface to at least request a proposal online.

Some companies do already offer B2B self-service, but only a few make all of their product variants available in such a way. See, the self-service platform works best, especially in its initial phase, for the most standardized products that can seamlessly flow through the order process without much manual input.

By offering minimal alternatives, the company can often dodge the messy aftermath of incorrect orders.

Of course, when clients grow accustomed to ordering familiar standard products through self-service and as more innovative technologies like intelligent pricing and product configurators are further developed to expand the concept, companies may then roll more complex products toward a self-service approach. Another common approach is to initiate the B2B self-service journey by offering spare parts and service contracts for purchase online. An IoT connection to the customers’ equipment can help the online solution to offer the right components and to perform diagnostics on any machine data.

It makes sense to take small steps and not hurry too much – you want to find the balance between increasing sales and not having a too complex system setup to maintain. Learning and deciding which products and services are appropriate for such a platform is the task of each company that chooses to offer B2B self-service. Here are some benefits to consider:

 

Benefits Of Using Self-Service Systems

● It saves time for the company, especially for the sales, order and delivery teams. When a company’s standard products and services are available through self-service, sales representatives and account managers can take more time to nurture their clients. They also can focus on identifying more complex client needs, making their company even more relevant to the client.

● The purchase process is faster and more efficient for the end customer. 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. Speed and efficiency in back-end processes almost always translate into cashflow benefits as well.

● It can simplify company processes, especially and most obviously those of sales and delivery. 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.

● Marketing! Self-service is a feature that can attract customers because it provides information even before the sales process is initiated. Because clients can research possible solutions for their companies, B2B self-service becomes a valuable marketing tool that can support the buyer across the entire customer journey.

 

Is Self-Service The New Standard of B2B Sales?

Although B2B self-service is a growing trend and one that may be beneficial for your own company, we at Fluido don’t believe it’s becoming the new standard. There are several reasons why.

● Self-service can’t replace the need for people. Customer service will always be an essential element of a business. For a company that can successfully implement B2B self-service, its sales representatives and account managers may take on more consultative roles to clients.

● Complex software customizations might be required for building a well-working self-service platform. That software requires configuration and maintenance every time something is changed, which easily takes a lot of time and can even cause bugs. Every company who is planning to build such a tool should consider this in the return of investment (ROI) calculations.

● 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 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.

 

Should Self-Service Be Considered?

As we see it, self-service will change the roles of both buyers and sales representatives. Sales representatives have to become more consultative advisors that have a responsibility to provide the relevant insight to clients. At the same time, online self-service applications for on-the-go ordering free buyers from being tied to physical catalogs.

In other words, the 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.

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

Alexander Franck

Business Consultant, CPQ Practice Lead

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