Why organisations servicing business customers should be looking beyond fellow B2B companies for inspiration

While the principles of good sales may stay constant the means by which customers make purchases is changing, driven by the frantic pace of change enabled by digital technology. Leading consumer brands have in some cases failed spectacularly to keep up with that change, causing their demise, but it is not just retail giants that need to up their game.
There can be a temptation in the B2B world to assume changes and improvements in the B2C user experience don’t apply to industrial or procurement customers, but Econsultancy Senior Research Analyst Sean Donnelly thinks this is wrong.
“In many ways, what we expect when we’re online as a consumer – when we’re buying something from Amazon or wherever – we now expect from B2B sellers too,” Donnelly explains. “People’s B2B experiences and expectations are increasingly shaped by their experiences as a consumer.
“Think how easy it is to do a transaction with a good online seller,” he adds. “It is designed to be easy and intuitive, so if you’re a B2B buyer and you’re faced with an old or outdated interface that’s hard to use, that’s going to be a turn-off. People don’t want to have to take time to learn how to use an interface anymore.”
"People’s B2B experiences and expectations are increasingly being shaped by their experiences as a consumer"Sean Donnelly, Senior Research Analyst, Econsultancy
Focusing on the user
This principle of providing a good user experience regardless of the audience is something that RS has embraced as it has undergone a digital transformation in recent years. “We tend not to see customers as B2B and B2C – they are an individual and regardless of the product, they tend to have the same high expectations of customer service and the user experience,” says Vishal Chhatralia, Vice President of Digital Marketing at RS.
Chhatralia explains that RS takes both a structured and unstructured approach to benchmarking its digital offering compared to the best in class – be it in the B2B or B2C world. “Our unstructured approach can range from attending conferences and talking informally to companies in other industries about what they do, through to hiring talent from other sectors who can bring a different perspective to our business. 
“Our structured approach is a rigorous benchmarking programme that we run once a quarter against the organisations that we want to compare ourselves to, and these are not necessarily direct competitors,” he adds. “Why would you, as a B2B company, constrain yourself to only benchmarking your business against traditional competitors? You need to look at who are the best at customer experience and learn from that.”
"Customers are an individual and regardless of the product, they tend to have the same high expectations of customer service and the user experience"Vishal Chhatralia, Global Vice President of Digital Marketing, RS
Consumer inspiration
In practice, RS has made numerous improvements to its site, many of which have been inspired by the consumer industry. “Anexample is the guest checkout function,” says Chhatralia. “This allows people to make an order without having to be registered with RS, which is a common feature on retail websites, but much less common on B2B.
“B2B organisations have to take a customer-centric approach to digital and look at any innovations they can to make user experience better for their customers. It’s the only way they will continue to be relevant in future.”