Personalization in B2B is more complex than in B2C, and potentially even more rewarding.
It is more complex because there are more people involved, and the relevant information is broader. The potential rewards are greater than B2C because the relationships tend to last longer and involve more revenue.
Relationships are deeper because they are expensive to establish and maintain. In the past two decades, reducing the number of supplier relationships has become a common process, and a key tactic for reducing costs. Each of the relationships is thus more valuable, and there is inherent stickiness. Replacing a supplier is expensive. Having deeper relationships with fewer suppliers, buying more things from an existing supplier, is cost-effective even if an item has a lower price elsewhere.
But whereas the personalized retail experience involves lots of, “other people like you liked/viewed/bought this,” the personalized business person’s experience is more complicated.
I have heard hundreds of customers describe what they want from their suppliers: “Give me one web page that has everything about our relationship.” What my company has bought, and what warrantees apply, and what service contracts exist, and what the serial numbers are, and who I should call for field service, or training, or billing. What is on order, who ordered it, when is it coming. What have we contracted to buy, at what prices, in what quantity, in what timeframe. Its the relationship-at-a-glance page.
This relationship-at-a-glance page is simple in concept, but difficult to implement. In fact, based on the facial expressions of the suppliers hearing this request from their customers, it is nigh impossible. Here are some of the challenges:
*Identifying what products your company has bought and still owns. The supplier may have multiple order systems dues to acquisitions and geographic boundaries — and so may the customer. Such records can be incomplete and inaccurate, a problem that can be handled (awkwardly and slowly) by personnel, but only confused and escalated by the supplier’s computer systems.
*Identifying relevant warrantees and service contracts. Including those in process of renewal. Warranteeing the inaccurate and incomplete list of products produced by the supplier’s computer systems.
*Identifying the appropriate employees and partners who support all the aspects of the relationship.
*Identifying who you are, and which information should be available to you.
*Providing access, via a single log-in, across multiple systems and applications in order to deliver the information and services a user needs.
*Providing a system for someone at your company to manage user permissions to your company’s relationship data. Does an engineer get to see all the orders, or just the orders related to her work?
*Managing password resets. Providing support for understanding the relationship-at-a-glance page, and using the supplier’s myriad applications.
Addressing these challenges is expensive. It is a long journey, with huge efforts on the supplier’s part producing small improvements for the customer. The situation is so overwhelming that many suppliers respond by kicking the can down the road: we can’t fix it this year, maybe we’ll have the money/time/skills/motivation/focus next year. I’m sympathetic.
But customers are not so sympathetic. They need the relationship-at-a-glance page to do their jobs efficiently. Every company has stripped its workforce to the bare bones during this century, and this means that neither the customer nor the supplier has the people resources to build spreadsheets of historic data and painstakingly investigate the validity of each entry.
On the plus side, the relationship-at-a-glance page provides strong motivation for customers to log in and identify themselves, thus enabling marketers to deliver relevant messages and collect more customer information. Will these marketing benefits produce enough revenue to offset the costs of implementing the relationship-at-a-glance page? In some cases, undoubtedly. But I don’t think suppliers really have a choice. The personalized relationship-at-a-glance page is the new baseline for supplier relationships.