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Survey Reveals 65% of B2B Executives Believe Online Commerce is Broken

Companies are struggling with volume, quality, and complexity of product data as they try to digitally transform their sales organizations

Zoovu, the leading platform for AI-powered product discovery and ecommerce experiences, announced the results of a B2B ecommerce study with over 400 executives from companies across North America and Europe. The 2024 commissioned research, conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Zoovu, highlights the challenges faced by B2B organizations trying to digitally transform their sales organizations to improve online product discovery, deliver a better customer experience for buyers, and increase operational efficiency.The study finds that B2B buyers now expect B2B experiences to align with the consumer experiences of their personal lives: quick, convenient, and personalized. Sellers know this, but they have, in large part, yet to digitally transform their selling motions, their ecommerce operations are stuck without a meaningful way forward in a status quo that is hurting business.

Among the findings that drive this reality home is that an alarming 65% of surveyed decision-makers report that B2B ecommerce is “broken at their organization.” They cite a lack of an effective product data strategy for making products available and discoverable online as the primary factor behind this sentiment. Specifically:

  • 83% of respondents said their product data was incomplete, inconsistent, inaccurate, unstructured, or outdated.
  • 81% said that an insufficient ecommerce platform amplified the problem of poor-quality data, with the most common shortcomings being a lack of tools, an inability to handle product complexity, scale, and/or collect customer data from online buyers.

The research also shows that because of these challenges, B2B companies are forced to limit the amount of product discovery their buyers can engage with online, with only 44% of respondents saying that their buyers have access to some form of self-discovery to evaluate products online.

The survey also revealed a significant opportunity to accelerate digital transformation within direct and indirect sales environments. Respondents indicated that 83% of their corporate revenue required some degree of human interaction, whether it was traditional customer service/sales, assisted ecommerce where buyers turn to the sales team towards the end of their process, or digitally enabled selling which uses digital tools to enhance traditional analog sales channels.

B2B sales require understanding and working with highly complex products. Given the complexity of many offerings, manufacturers often face a glass ceiling with current product discovery solutions and fail to meet customers where they are. The survey showed that 82% of respondents indicated their organization needs a product discovery solution that works with highly configurable, complex products.

Aside from an inability to easily add more products into their ecommerce environments, B2B executives ranked additional challenges with their existing platforms as customer frustration (35%), lower conversion rates (29%), increased cost of sales (28%), lost revenue (27%), and increased customer churn (25%).

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While B2B companies struggle with these ecommerce challenges, buyer demands are rapidly growing. The survey reported that 73% of B2B buyers expect the same convenient online experience they get from buying consumer products. To address these shortcomings, B2B businesses ranked their ecommerce priorities for 2024. The top initiatives include providing more automated and personalized guidance to online buyers (80%), improving demand generation (75%), and improving the ability to collect and use zero-party data (73%).

Another strategic theme was the use of AI to unblock the challenges of B2B ecommerce. Nearly two-thirds of all respondents expect investing in an AI-driven, automated product discovery platform will drive large or transformational benefits, including:

  • 79% of respondents saying they’re looking to AI to improve the customer experience
  • 74% of those surveyed saying they’re counting on AI to reduce the cost of sales and services
  • 71% of executives say they’re expecting AI to increase revenue

“This research shows how essential it is for B2B businesses to invest in structuring and enriching product data to make their solutions more discoverable, wherever their buyers are,” says James Novak, Zoovu CEO. “Many B2B operations rely heavily on well-trained sales teams to be experts on huge catalogs of complex products, configurations, and bundles. It’s clear that businesses are hungry to find and maximize efficiencies in this process. This requires the consumerization of the B2B sales process, which prioritizes exceptional customer experiences through product discovery at scale. Those that make this a core focus of their business will undoubtedly gain a competitive advantage in the years to come.”

B2B companies that have already started to digitally transform their sales operations have seen the value of giving buyers multiple avenues for engaging with products and sales channels.

“Today’s B2B buyers want to engage directly with vendors, on their own time,” says Ryan Satre, senior manager of global ecommerce strategy at 3M Healthcare. “At 3M, we see this as an opportunity to expand our DTC engagement and provide digital experiences that make it easy to discover and purchase the right products for our buyer’s needs.”

Despite the challenges faced by the industry, B2B ecommerce will continue to grow. In the US market alone, B2B ecommerce sales will grow at an average rate of 10.7% per year and will reach $3 trillion by 2027, according to Forrester Research. At the same time, the share of offline sales growth in total B2B sales will decline from 63% in 2022 to 55% in 2027. The share of electronic data interchange (EDI) transactions will increase slightly from 20% in 2022 to 21% in 2027, while the share of ecommerce sales will rise from 17% in 2022 to 24% in 2027.

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