How do you personalize experiences in a changing B2B world? That’s the question that propelled our VIP Roundtable during last week’s B2B Online Virtual Event.

Some of the top minds in manufacturing and distribution gathered to discuss the challenges of reaching today’s B2B buyers. Who is the actual customer? And what’s required to keep pace with their evolving preferences?

Our quorum of manufacturers and distributors shared their insights, and the following key takeaways emerged.

1) There is an ‘expectation’ misconception.

Some in the B2B space hold onto the belief that business buyers have lower expectations than consumers. But that’s not really the case – at least not anymore.

While some B2B buyers still rely on person to person selling and manual processes, the shift to B2C expectations is very real. One recent study found that 77% of B2B millennial buyers are key influencers or primary decision-makers for their enterprise. They, along with B2B buyers of all ages, bring B2C experiences and expectations to how they work, and how they want to work.

2) B2B buyers want product experiences.

Detailed online product information is table stakes. B2B buyers already expect this – and they have their sights set on a greater prize: digital product experiences.

This shift means buyers want the product content tailored to their role and preferences. From discovery, research, relevant recommendations, visual assets that bring the product to life, and even the opportunity to purchase – B2B buyers want it all.

Although there is some movement in this direction, the truth is that most B2B manufacturers and distributors are still not doing this well. Even though many are behind on the trend, there is plenty of opportunity to surpass competitors and win market share.

3) Whether B2C or B2B, we sell to real people.

Everyone talks about the differences between B2C and B2B, but that discussion is losing relevance. The fact is. that whether you’re in B2C or B2B, we all sell to REAL PEOPLE.

Businesses don’t buy things – people do. You may think you are selling to a business, but there’s a person at the end of that transaction. Someone with expectations, emotions, and preferences – just like they have in their consumer life.

At Pivotree, we like to call this B2P selling

That’s why human context is critical. It’s not a question of whether experiences should be personalized in B2B. The real question becomes – how do you provide these contextualized experiences to such a complex network of people? The answer is data.

4) The customer behind the “buyer.”

If the answer is data, what does that look like in practice?

Firstly,  we need to understand the customer, which may not be as obvious as we think.  In many cases you may know the purchasing agent, but do you know the person using the product who is driving the demand (the architect, engineer, technician, designer, etc.)?

Customer data is essential to operating within this lens. You need to capture and analyze data about who uses your product – their demographics, life events, behaviors, beliefs, etc.

5) Having the best price may not be enough to compete and win

Gathering customer data can seem overwhelming for B2B companies who are a few steps removed from the end-user. How can you connect with these people to better understand their needs?

In the digital era, having the lowest prices may not always be a winning strategy, especially when it comes to understanding and engaging with your customers. B2B companies have historically focused on supply chain transactions  (i.e. agree on price, cut a PO, ship the product. While that’s still an essential aspect of doing business, the evolving B2B space requires a shift in focus to becoming a value partner.

6) Create value in your digital space.

To get to know your customer, you need to create value outside of a transaction. Thankfully, the digital technology makes this possible. Companies no longer need to wait for a customer to fill out a product registration card. They can find ways to engage with them directly by creating compelling “things of value” in the digital space.

‘Things of value’ can refer to anything that will help you connect with the customer (even if you aren’t selling to them). Perhaps it’s a community forum, free online courses, digital content, or social media interaction.

For example, a leading CPG manufacturer in the dairy space wanted to create more consumer engagement, but didn’t necessarily want to open a direct selling channel. In order to connect their brand to their consumers in a meaningful way, they started a cheese of the month club. This gave consumers a compelling reason to come to their site and engage. A good digital experience doesn’t necessarily have to end in a direct sales transaction

How can B2Bs stay one step ahead?

There’s a lot of disruption in B2B. Supply chain is changing and in some places may be eliminated altogether. How can enterprises keep their hands on the wheel while staying one step ahead?

First, be aware of what’s coming. Pivotree knows that B2B leaders are busy running their day-to-day business. That’s why we look further out to understand what’s coming next, and help our clients adapt when the time is right.

Second, be ready to implement. You need the data foundation in place now, so you’re prepared to deal with what’s in front of you today and evolve to meet future needs.

Remember, at the end of the day, it’s not about B2B vs. B2C. It’s about selling to people (B2P)– and establishing the personalization that will draw and connect people to your brand.

Thank you again to everyone who joined Pivotree’s VIP Roundtable. Want to keep the conversation going?  Download our ‘Building a Business Case for Manufacturing eCommerce‘ guide to get started.