What Business Buyers Can Learn From Amazon – Or Not

Susan Galer

Business buyers are bringing their consumer shopping expectations into the workplace, demanding the same levels of choice, convenience, and personalized support. Or not. These were two of the seemingly contradictory conclusions I drew after listening to several procurement experts at a roundtable during the SAP Ariba Live event who discussed how consumerization is changing B2B procurement. Led by Johann Wrede, global vice president of strategic marketing at SAP Hybris, the roundtable was called “Buyers and Suppliers Debate Disruption, Consumerization, and Other Trends.”

Give buyers and sellers what they want

The ingredients of a delightful B2B shopping experience depend on what you’re selling. “In the oil and gas industry, many contracts are still face-to-face and written on paper.  When you’re drilling for an oil well, it’s not as simple as buying something on Amazon,” said Adan Solis, global e-commerce manager at Halliburton. “Variability grows exponentially with the complexity of drilling and completing a well.”

Halliburton has moved its invoices and purchase orders to an online process. “We’re educating internal people and customers, who now feel more comfortable with e-commerce,” said Solis.

In contrast, Simeon Chiger, director of e-procurement and last-mile services at MSC, said 100% of his company’s business shoppers are using e-commerce platforms. “B2B buyers are taking their individual personal experiences, and expecting the same data availability, ease of finding times, and ability to quickly click and transact. They want to find what they’re looking for in as few clicks as possible,” said Chiger.

Data scientists constantly review pages where people leave the MSC site, making service changes to improve the customer experience and display the information they’re looking for quickly.

How Monsanto makes compliance attractive

Many people in the room raised their hands when Wrede asked if there were B2B buyers who started searching for products online. Gloria Esparza, global e-procurement enablement lead at Monsanto, whose company uses a business network platform to source suppliers, acknowledged that Google is the competition.

“We have to make it attractive for our stakeholders to shop. We have to create that easy, simple environment so they remain inside compliance,” she said. “We’re building a creative, innovative, exciting shopping destination within the construct of our supplier relationships.”

A partnership emerges

Wrede saw business networks as a symbiotic relationship between buyers and sellers. “It’s not just about flowing transactions back and forth. It’s about two communities of people who are working for a common goal regardless of whether they sit in one corporation or another,” he said.

Indeed, Esparza said Monsanto encourages its suppliers to share best practices, with stars helping strugglers build their networks. “At the end of the day, we’re all doing the same digital transformation, and we’re helping each other get there.”

Intelligent procurement

Just like in the consumer universe, knowledge is currency when you’re buying products and services for the business. Similar to consumer shopping sites, business buyers want recommendations to quickly find the products they need and make better decisions. Sellers have to speed up transactions and eliminate errors. Three years into a company-wide digital transformation, Esparza said that Monsanto is talking about “how we can infuse our processes with technologies like robotics, automation, and blockchain.”

Chigar, whose company sells 2 million products online, thinks intelligence can solve data accuracy on orders – a major network challenge. “We’re focused most on intelligence and machine learning so we can make systems smarter when information comes in. This gives buyers and sellers an opportunity to focus on things that are a lot more strategic. After all, bringing buyers and sellers into a marketplace was about making it easy and seamless for buyers and sellers to transact business and save money.”

Businesses can learn some things from consumer online shopping sites but clearly not everything.

Digital is threatening the human and physical interactions that have offset customers’ innately irrational behaviors. We need new ways to prime customers to buy.

This blog was originally posted on Medium: SAP Innovation Spotlight

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