Unlike a B2C connection, in which a buyer can go from never having heard of a company before to making a purchase within minutes, B2B relationships play a long game. Companies only make purchasing decisions after carefully considering all options, conducting extensive research and getting C-suite leaders to sign off on them. This reality puts more pressure on the vendor to continue answering the potential buyer's questions, provide additional resources and proactively keep the lines of communication open. This element of the B2B buying process likely won't change much, despite the explosion of the startup community. Whether it's viewed as justified prudence or unnecessary red tape, buying decisions have a longer, hurdle-filled course to travel.
What is changing is that everything else around the deliberation process is speeding up. Marketing efforts, lead generation and supply chains have to work better and faster than ever before. Business partners need to prioritize adaptability and flexibility in order to contend with a B2B system in which reaching a decision may take a while, but buyers expect the decision to be acted on swiftly once it is made.
Companies need to reevaluate internal systems and infrastructure in order to find potential efficiency gains. They need to break down silos, enhance inter-supply chain communication and connect back-end processes to front-facing networks. They need to become more responsive. Lightwell B2B managed services can help companies alleviate many of the system components that become barriers as the need for speed increases. From systems management to customer fulfillment, B2B managed services are critical to a successful B2B business model.
The need for better resource management
In today's B2B partnerships, effective resource management is key to a competitive advantage. But it's important that companies avoid becoming saddled with too many responsibilities or oversaturated with more tools than IT personnel can handle effectively. Widening gaps between the potential benefits of technical and business integration and the reality of what many companies can actually do represent a problem with increasing effect on the bottom line.
Integrating commerce, supply chain and transaction processes is one of the chief concerns of the forward-looking B2B model. This change cannot happen overnight. Without some outside assistance, it may not happen at all. Demand to accelerate so quickly can cause significant whiplash in confusion, squandered resources and missed opportunities.
B2B managed services can help enterprises make serious inroads in the integration process. The most important part of speeding up this integration is to avoid bloat through operational efficiency. High-performance technologies and automation can help reduce system errors and cut down on the conditions that can lead to lost productivity. B2B managed services also offer support for document management and communications tools, providing monitoring and testing techniques that ensure optimal deployment and use. With fewer responsibilities on its plate and less margin for error, a company can run a sleeker operation that can quickly scale or respond to developments in B2B relationships.
Optimizing customer fulfillment
Today's B2B relationships hinge on their ability to cater to consumer expectations. There's a gulf forming between businesses that offer a product, but not much else, and those companies that go the extra mile all the time. Many of today's most popular B2B and B2C companies are known as much for service quality and other seemingly intangible factors as they are for their actual product.
The strategies a company uses to build its B2B brand vary depending on industry and objectives, but a sales and marketing strategy with little foundation in back-end operations can end up looking like what it is - a facade. Customer fulfillment comes from meaningful brand differentiation. Truly differentiating the company brand, wrote Business 2 Community contributor John McTigue, is a matter of combining speed and quality. Agile product development and extra-mile customer service are two areas that can build up a company's credibility. Most important is to incorporate customer observations into brand development strategies.
"There's no substitute for understanding how and why your customers choose your brand," McTigue wrote. He added, "Pin down what the tipping points are and how your customers perceive your company, people and the way you do business with them. Set aside your pre-conceived ideas of your brand's strengths and weaknesses and go with what's worked instead."
B2B managed services offer both indirect and direct assistance for companies struggling to differentiate themselves from competitors. Direct aid comes in the form of strategies to manage migration services, handle B2B systems and create a framework for customer service representatives that prioritizes their ability to solve customers' problems. Indirect benefits include the extra time and resources companies can devote to developing brand marketing objectives that are freed up by the B2B managed services provider taking on system and infrastructure management tasks.
Building for lasting scalability
As alluded to above, B2B relationships will always have more of a marathon feel than a sprint. However, a vendor needs to be just as rested and energetic in the 18th mile of the relationship as it was in the first. This is why all operational and management shifts need to made with a consideration for future scalability, and why B2B managed services offer the best potential for positioning companies for success in this regard.
Investing in B2B managed services such as software-as-a-service or infrastructure hosting gives an organization resources that provide ongoing support. Being scalable means eliminating as many sources of recurring expenses and productivity-killing situations as possible. Outsourcing activities such as server procurement, operating system upgrades, IT and automation management to a B2B managed services provider for the same defined cost reduces the number of areas companies need to funnel resources into. It also decreases potential sources of unplanned downtime, improving business continuity and disaster recovery efforts. In turn, organizations can take bigger risks in areas such as lead generation and marketing, knowing that they have a robust support system that mitigates security threats and vulnerabilities.
Ultimately, B2B companies need to infuse the speed and dexterity of a B2C relationship into their B2B approach. Even though it may not be required all the time, it makes a significant difference when the time comes. B2B manages services can support companies through B2B integration and into the future.
If you liked this article, check out others from Lightwell:
- Seamless B2B integration: A journey to the center of the cloud
- B2B integration and the changing role of the CIO
- Like a layer cake: A guide to the levels of B2B managed services
- Why the healthcare sector is in desperate need of B2B integration
Learn more about our managed services for EDI and B2B Managed Services.