Omnichannel Commerce: A Big Deal for B2B

In recent blogs, I’ve repeated a phrase: omnichannel commerce. It’s not often used, but I didn’t invent it. I use it because it creates a clear distinction between what omnichannel is today—primarily a retail architecture—and what omnichannel will be when it matures: an architecture used in every category of business. (Fact check me on this: enter “omnichannel” in Google and you’ll see that almost every result is about retail.)

Retail has definitely led the omnichannel charge. B2C companies across the board have integrated all their channels into one—almost invisibly. Customers don’t know that when they order a certain size and color, they’re talking directly to the warehouse. Or when they place a special order, they’re talking directly to Manufacturing. Or when they set or change their delivery window, they’re talking directly to a third party carrier. They don’t know, and they don’t care. They just know that they handle it all from a single place—and that place is wherever they happen to be, using whatever device they’re on.

The same will be true for B2B. After all, B2B has customers too. They have manufacturers and warehouses. They also have suppliers, partners, sales forces, systems engineering, training and support organizations—those are all channels.

Connecting all those into an omnichannel architecture will accelerate the sales cycle, plus cut the cost of sales, plus empower and satisfy customers.

That adds up to competitive advantage for the omnichannel business.

We’re already seeing the most innovative B2B companies create their omnichannel architecture. Today, it’s an innovation. Tomorrow, it will be a condition of entry. And it will be a requirement not just for the “easy” sales for companies with product catalogs, commodity pricing and short selling cycles. It’s going to be a business imperative—and it will deliver the highest value—to the difficult deals: those with long cycles involving many people and spanning months before they’re done.

Here are some of the benefits of integrating your B2B operations through an omnichannel architecture:

• Your sales team can configure, price, place and confirm an order on the spot. That’s going to shorten the cycle, accelerate decision making, and offer the omnichannel seller a competitive edge.
• Sales engineers can specify requirements within the omnichannel, and the customer can see those requirements instantly.
• Those requirements may involve other companies that have to install or upgrade environments, software or equipment. They’re part of the omnichannel too, and their costs and schedules are also as quickly available.
• Customers can change an order without involving your sales team. Omnichannel connections to the warehouse, the manufacturing plant, and the financial organization can let customers see the impact that increasing (or decreasing) their order has instantly.
• Customers can change their delivery window, location or other requirements from anywhere at any time.
• Support staff now always has the “whole picture” of that customer, reducing frustration and increasing first-call-resolution rates.

This is hardly the whole picture of omnichannel commerce, however. But it’s a place to get started. Look at your own metrics: the cost to build, store, ship and sell. Ask yourself: where within your own cycle will an omnichannel accelerate deals, decrease the cost of sale, and increase customer satisfaction?