Digital commerce is the design, and execution, of marketing activities that make it possible for customers and prospects to successfully research, evaluate, and purchase products online. And in the weeks and months leading out of the current global pandemic, it’ll become even more essential to managing out of business disruption and back to business-as-new-usual.
In our 2019-2020 CMO Spend survey, B2B marketers told us digital commerce was 4th on their list of top areas of investment in the event of an economic turndown, with 28% of marketing leaders saying that’s where they’d expect to increase spending.
Top Areas of B2B Marketer Investment Given an Economic Downturn
Source: Gartner 2019-2020 CMO Spend Survey
Q: Presuming an economic downturn which will occur within the next 18-24 months, what are the top areas where you would increase investments in order to keep your marketing strategy on track and which of those will increase the most? Excluding “other” and “I don’t know”
n=180 B2B Marketers
It’s likely that as the COVID-19 crisis stretches on, supporting B2B buyers in researching, evaluating, and making purchases on independent online channels will become even more important – and it’s likely, too, that once the crisis ends, those same B2B buyers will expect to be able to continue to research and purchase online, seamlessly, effectively, and efficiently. B2b buyers are, after all, also consumers, and consumers have long been comfortable with online research and purchase. Sooner or later, most consumer trends and attitudes bleed into the B2B space, although not always as we might expect.
Digital Commerce is All About Confidence
In B2C shopping, for instance, consumers mostly research, evaluate, and make purchases on their own. In the B2B world, purchases and decisions are made by a group. Consumers need only satisfy themselves (and in some cases, their families), while B2B buying groups represent, and are made up of, multiple constituencies: they purchase to meet broader organizational or strategic needs. Each buying group delegate has their own biases and preferences, and additionally, must represent the needs, fears, and wishes of their department.
And when you bring those fears, preferences, biases, and multiple perspectives together, more often than not, you have a recipe for trouble. Especially if you’re asking those buyers to do all or most of their research and decision-making independently, without or with limited support from Sales: i.e., digital commerce.
Marketing has a key role to play in optimizing digital commerce investments to support buyer decision-making. This means:
- Giving buyers a clear starting point to begin their research: a starting point aligned to their bigger business need, or goal, that enables efficient discovery of solution options. This allows buyers to first of all, get off on the right foot with a feeling of confidence, and secondly, helps them “sort through” all the deep information that exists on our website. It gives us a framework for organizing information and products from the customer perspective.
- Extend this framework throughout the website: tell customers where to go and make it easy. Use product grids, navigational hierarchies, guiding language to help customers find and contextualize products, and to make apples-to-apples comparisons. This helps buyers both find your products easily, of course, but also helps them start to understand which specific product will meet their needs (and in many cases, can help them further scope what their needs are)
- Tell customers what to do and how to do it: offering prescriptive guidance about what questions buyers should be asking themselves (and eachother!), about what kinds of tradeoffs exist between product options, about how to implement products into their business so that the product helps them achieve the goal they bought the product for are all tactics that help make buyers more confident that they’re making the right choice
Know Your User
In B2B Marketing, customer confidence is key: buyers often don’t know how to buy your solution, or even how to buy within your category. They don’t know what matters most in using your products to achieve their organizational goals – they may not always see clearly how your products DO support their organizational goals. And once they have bought, they may not be sure how to implement or integrate their purchase such that it’s useful and impactful for them (think of every call your contact center or Sales team has ever received from a customer who says they just “aren’t getting value”). It’s on Marketing, with support from Sales, to think about what a customer needs to have in place, what capabilities they need internally to get value – and your digital commerce efforts can support this as well. We benefit from asking ourselves “what are our customers trying to do? Where and how will achieving that goal be hard? How can we support?”
These are problems Marketing is uniquely poised to solve, by drawing on the breadth of your customer understanding across deal types and sizes, plus buyer personas, values, motivations, segmentation information, journey mapping…
But moreover, they are problems Marketing must resolve if digital commerce is to succeed. We already see long sales cycles, stuck deals, descoped and delayed purchases, even in a world where Sales handholds the buyer through the sale! As buyers transition to independent channels to research and purchase, we can’t let these core questions go unanswered. Ultimately every change in the customer-facing digital experience, and every digital commerce investment we make, should be held up to one lens:
“How does this help customers feel more confident about themselves and their decisions?”
If you’re curious about our research on enabling B2B buyer purchases and decision-making on digital channels, reach out to us! And look out for more new Gartner research on aiding B2b Buyer decision-making in uncertain and ambiguous environments, coming spring 2020.