Compleat Software: Consumer purchasing and B2B procurement

Max Kent, Vice President of Global Procurement at Compleat Software discusses the ways in which consumer purchasing in shaping the B2B procurement function

While consumer spending online has boomed in recent years, the way in which businesses purchase from other businesses has lagged behind.

B2B has long cast an envious glance at the innovations seen in B2C buying technology - from virtual assistants and chatbots, to augmented reality and blockchain - but the industry could be about to turn an important corner.

With 9 out of 10 B2B buyers now using mobile to make purchases, and just as many wanting Amazon-style flexibility to choose where they make purchases from, finance departments are under increasing pressure to deliver services that cater to new demands.

Furthermore, with B2B purchasing soon to outgrow B2C, the situation could lead to an increase in maverick spending, with departments lacking any control and visibility into what’s being spent - especially with teams working remotely. 

Businesses need to embrace this new generation of procurement, helped with the adoption of smart technology to gain back control without losing out on convenience.

Differentiating B2C and B2B purchasing

There are some key fundamental differences between these two types of purchasing, although, with the changing landscape of purchasing technology and consumer expectations, the differences may not be as different as you may think.  

There is no question that the buying and selling cycle traditionally baked into the B2B procurement process is elongated, stuffy and over-egged when compared to B2C.  

The first key difference is with relationships. In B2B, relationships last for long periods - however, in B2C, the relationship between buyer and seller lasts for a relatively short duration. 

The second difference surrounds the decision-making process. With B2B, decision making is carefully thought out, often following a set of processes and procedures, whereas, in B2C, the decision-making process is much more emotional and happens in a relatively short time frame. 

The melding of the B2C and B2C buyer persona

These differences help to define buyer personas, the detailed description of someone who represents a target audience. 

Traditionally, B2B involves multiple decision-makers and influencers from different departments, as well as return-on-investment centric considerations, whereas B2C is usually just one person, who has a payment method ready to go and, aside from potentially checking with a partner, they have zero approval layers to go through. 

With the increasing use of online marketplaces, these buyer preferences are starting to meld together, putting pressure on finance departments to make the purchasing process akin to that of B2C.

Embracing consumer practices in B2B procurement 

B2B and B2C buyers have more sway than ever before; with marketplaces being readily available at the swipe of a mobile device, consumers have increased knowledge and confidence in buying and selling systems. 

Both B2B and B2C customers have high expectations of price, availability and delivery and aren’t willing to jump through as many hoops, as perhaps they were. 

With the majority of users being accustomed to B2C e-commerce sites that offer engaging and easy to use design, as well as fast checkout, this is fast becoming an expected experience for users purchasing B2B. 

Those involved with B2B purchasing expect functionality and user experience to match that of B2C sites, and with research showing that over 90% of B2B purchases start with a search, and most interactions already occur through digital channels, people are actively searching for the products and services they want, using platforms and technologies they are familiar with.

With an increased focus on remote working, not to mention some companies employing bring your own device (BYOD) strategies, finance departments must give their users the flexibility and usability of new procurement systems, if they hope to not only deliver the best value for money, but to ensure they maintain both control and visibility of spend, whilst making sure their employee gets the best experience. 

Businesses can gain control whilst providing convenience

With businesses starting to embrace more digitally-focused procurement strategies, this not only creates an opportunity to improve efficiency but also paves the way for procurement teams to play a strategic role in accelerating innovation and business development. 

For example, if businesses embrace artificial intelligence and robotised processes, the automation of traditionally manual tasks such as logging in often to multiple systems, seeking multiple layers of approval and processing multiple bits of e-paperwork will save time, allowing for the employee to undertake business-benefiting strategic activities. 

This lets the employees become more engaged with the process, as it follows, a process they are accustomed to in their everyday lives, and given that recent research from Prosper Insights & Analytics shows that 64% of employees don’t influence company purchasing decisions - finance, and indeed business leaders need to take note of this and continue to adopt B2C practices, which put the end-user first. 

The technology is already out there which simplifies the buying experience, in line with the B2C experience. 

However, there is a danger that if finance teams don’t rapidly adopt these technologies, they not only risk losing control over what is being spent, but they risk alienating an entire workforce who are used to doing something in much slicker and more engaging ways,

All of which will impact the bottom line. 

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