Keeping pace with changing customer needs can be extremely challenging. Today’s customers are more connected and networked than ever before. They’re also more knowledgeable and better informed and want the flexibility to make purchases in ways that best fit their needs. And whether that’s through a website, online catalog or custom storefront, they expect a seamless and simple experience that’s both personal and contextualized.
According to Building the B2B Omni-Channel Commerce of the Future, a Forrester Consulting thought leadership paper commissioned by Accenture and hybris, an SAP company, “Expectations for work-related purchases have been driven for several years by the simplicity and efficiency of online consumer sites.”
Simply put, corporate buyers want to be able to come to the office on Monday and purchase things with the same ease that they did over the weekend when they used their smartphones or iPads to research, order and pay for products with a few swipes of their fingers.
As many selling organizations are finding, business networks provide an ideal platform to accommodate these new purchasing behaviors.
The Writing on the Wall
Few industries have experienced more change in the way customers buy in recent years than the traditional catalog business. Physical catalogs are now being augmented with more dynamic online offerings. National Business Furniture (NBF), a leading provider of office furniture and equipment to large and small businesses, government institutions, healthcare facilities and educational organizations, saw this change coming, and knew it would need to digitize its business to keep pace.
The company started off simple enough. “We just wanted to make it easier for our customers to do business with us,” said Brady Seiberlich, IT eProcurement Manager, NBF. “So we built an online storefront where they could quickly find and compare products from different vendors and place orders in line with their purchasing policies.”
NBF built its storefront on the Ariba® Network, where more than 1.7 million companies transact over $700 billion in commerce on an annual basis. “Being connected to a network that large gave us instant visibility and credibility with some of the world’s largest buyers,” Seiberlich said.
Setting up shop online also gave the company a significant advantage over its paper-based competitors. “Our Ariba storefront allows us to create a product offering that’s much more targeted than what we could do with our catalogs,” Seiberlich said. “We can add a product today and it shows up online tomorrow.”
NBF can also exchange purchase orders and invoices electronically on the network, which Seiberlich says has led to greater operating efficiencies. “We can quickly and easily flip and acknowledge orders and invoice customers as soon as they ship in a completely automated way,” he notes. “And this has not only eliminated errors, but led to faster payments.”
A Better Way
But networks aren’t just about leveraging technology to do things faster. Their real power lies in their ability to enable new insights and processes that are only possible in
a networked environment to do things better.
“As the pace of business continues to accelerate and markets become increasingly global and competitive, companies are embracing business networks not just as a way to automate tasks, but as a platform for innovation,” said Andrew Bartolini, Chief Research Officer for research and advisory firm Ardent Partners.
With the right network, selling organizations can access cloud-based applications to capture and analyze a customer’s complete buying history and prioritize communications to drive satisfaction and sales.
This might mean mining transaction data to detect buying patterns and develop custom sales promotions that target a customer’s specific needs. For instance, a vendor may notice that a buyer hasn’t purchased conference phones in over five years and push out a special offer for the latest models—or promote newer telepresence systems to
Or in the case of NBF, examining buying patterns to help its customers more effectively leverage their purchasing power. “We were seeing a lot of rogue purchases from branches of larger companies,” Seiberlich said. “We knew we could help them with this if we could get them connected to us on the Ariba Network where all of their purchases can be managed in one place.”
A Winning Strategy
Tackling maverick spend might seem like an odd thing for a selling organization to do. But in helping its customers drive a standard, more compliant process for purchasing that delivers savings and efficiencies, NBF has increased their satisfaction. And this has led to more corporate-level deals and a substantial increase in sales. “We continue to see double-digit growth from year-to-year and more consistent spending from our customers on Ariba,” Seiberlich said.
Such results aren’t unique to NBF. According to a survey of sales and marketing executives conducted by Selling Power, companies that embrace new ways of connecting with customers achieve greater levels of productivity and profits. Eighty-five percent of the sellers surveyed as part of the measure, for instance, use business networks to showcase their capabilities to potential buyers. And their revenue was 36 percent higher in new accounts and 40 percent higher in existing ones as a result.
“We joined the Ariba Network to become proactive rather than reactive in our market¬ing approach and showcase our entire spectrum of products and services across more accounts,” says Barry Eisenberg, Business Contract Manager, B&H Photo, Video, & Pro Audio. And it has worked out well for the company thus far. “Replacing one customer’s CIF catalog with an online catalog has helped us to increase sales by 300 percent in three years with that customer while saving them hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
As with any new way of doing things, there will always be detractors. Back in the day, critics said the automobile was a neat toy for hobbyists, but it would never replace the horse. When the first computers arrived on the scene, industry watchers predicted ‘there is a world market for maybe five’ of them.
But business networks are here to stay. And selling organizations that join them can quickly unleash their power to drive growth, profitability and differentiation across their businesses.