These are the top 5 topics in the B2B purchasing of the future


Author: Viktoria Grimm, Project Manager at ECC KÖLN

B2B commerce is facing a variety of challenges: increasing customer demands, the use of artificial intelligence and the relevance of sustainability are just some of the issues that are putting the sector under pressure. This makes it all the more important for companies to prepare for future trends and challenges in B2B retailing. They can be summarised in these five top topics:

1) Customer experience as a success factor

B2B retailing is characterised by rising customer expectations, which are being carried over from the B2C retail sector and are increasingly converging. Both wholesalers and manufacturers are recognising the importance of the customer experience and a strong customer focus in terms of becoming and remaining part of the “relevant set”. There are many ways to optimise the customer journey and offer added value for purchasers. For example, in the face of increasing channel diversity, the factor of omnichannel excellence has become an important requirement for companies. This is because even in B2B procurement, customers are switching between different channels and expect a seamless shopping experience. Although the automation and digitalisation of the processes required for this still represent major challenges for many B2B companies, there is a consensus on the importance of tackling these issues.

2) Digital services as the key factors

Digitalised and automated processes not only save companies time and money, they also enable, for example, a personalised customer approach and the implementation of digital services that simplify the procurement process and take the shopping experience to a new level. Customer portals are of particular interest here: they are classed as highly relevant for industrial purchasing in particular, and are favoured over procurement systems (ECC KÖLN: Von Katalogen zu Klicks, Teil 1, 2023 / From Catalogues to Clicks, Part 1, 2023). Due to their great relevance, customer portals are already widely used and simplify the entire customer journey. Customer portals can offer important added value through services such as customised product configurations, document downloads and simple returns management. An existing challenge in this context is the relevance of the individual functions and services that a customer portal should offer. These tend to be assessed very differently from the respective point of view of sales and that of procurement. It is therefore crucial for providers to keep an eye on the different target groups and adapt their offers accordingly.

3) Innovation as a competitive advantage

In an era of global competition and constant changes in the market, B2B companies are faced with the challenge of being innovative and creative in order to gain that decisive competitive edge. The majority of B2B companies (83%) are aware of this and see effective innovation management as a key factor for long-term success. In this context, too, the focus is on customer centricity, as a look at the Top 3 trends critical to success in the next five years shows: artificial intelligence, the metaverse and personalisation. Among the new technologies, the use of AI is already widespread in the B2B sector, but the metaverse is also gaining in importance as a factor. The majority of B2B decision-makers surveyed see future potential in this area and believe that the metaverse can offer a new B2B online experience (ECC KÖLN: B2BEST Barometer Vol. 9, 2023).

4) Personnel as the decisive factor

The shortage of skilled labour is clearly noticeable and is reflected in unfilled positions and overtime on the part of existing staff: around 87 per cent of wholesalers and 75 per cent of manufacturers are affected by the shortage of skilled workers (ECC KÖLN: Hire me if you can, 2023). Last but not least, there is a lack of digitally skilled talent. But how can companies meet this challenge? One thing is certain: the optimisation of working conditions – with flexible working models, technical equipment and specific offers for employees – should be high on the agenda of employers wishing to become more attractive to potential applicants. It may also be worth taking a closer look at possible reasons for terminating employees in order to derive measures for the future. And when it comes to attracting new staff, companies shouldn’t be afraid to look for them where a large proportion – especially Gen Z – spends a lot of time: on social media channels like Instagram or Tiktok. Digital processes and fast and complete data availability are essential to ensuring that existing staff, especially in customer service and field sales, can work at their best. 

5) Sustainability takes priority

The subject of sustainability has rapidly gained relevance in recent years. It is not only customers and employees who increasingly expect environmental protection measures and efficient use of resources from companies – political pressure has also increased. This is not just about environmental protection, but also about social responsibility, occupational health and safety and ethically responsible corporate governance (ESG criteria). Around 81 per cent of B2B decision-makers believe that commitment to ESG criteria is important in order to remain competitive in the long term. When it comes to formulating specific goals, the focus is primarily on the environmental aspect. However, although there is great awareness of the relevance of the topic, in practice there is still a lot of room for improvement. In the field of ESG around 65 per cent of the companies surveyed are – according to their own assessment – still at the very beginning (ECC KÖLN: B2BEST Barometer Vol. 10, 2023).

It is clear that a large number of complex topics are currently shaping and influencing B2B commerce. For companies it is therefore important to start thinking about future-relevant topics such as AI, sustainability and the metaverse now, and to incorporate them into their (long-term) strategy. And even if not all measures can be implemented in the shortest possible time, it is important to acquire the relevant knowledge now, to lay important foundations such as clean data and the necessary tools, and to initiate appropriate processes.

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