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Mar 12, 2018
by Greg Howe, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Sales, Zilliant

This article first appeared on Business 2 Community.

 

Amazon Business has been creeping in on the B2B industry for years now and the emotions have run the gamut: Denial, fear, elation, trepidation. B2B company leaders have been through it all. With each move Amazon Business makes, B2B companies try to assess the impact on their business, and develop reactionary strategies. According to Modern Distribution Management (MDM), Amazon Business is out to capture the “long tail” or “tail spend” of the B2B distribution industry. Per a recent article:

 

“Because Amazon is many things – a software development company, a logistics powerhouse, a retailer and a world-class user of data and artificial intelligence – the distribution industry may need to enroll companies with those capabilities in its efforts to compete in the long term,” and more urgently, “The time to act is now.”

 

I could not agree more, so I will re-iterate: the time to act is now. Proactively, aggressively even, make bold moves and steal a page from Amazon Business’ own playbook. Partner with the very best and play the game better than Amazon does. And, why shouldn’t you be able to?

 

Most B2B companies have been in business for much longer than Amazon. The key advantage here is that you know your own customers better than anyone, and you’re sitting on a much richer dataset than Amazon could hope to have – your existing transactional, customer, and product datasets.

 

Practical applications exist today that continuously analyze this data and deliver customized, actionable guidance to your sales team, delivering a customer-specific buying experience. Three specific examples being: standing up AI-driven sales channels, giving sales ops the best tools possible and taking pricing to the next level. Let’s jump in.

 

No. 1: Stand Up AI-Driven Sales Channels

 

One of the biggest challenges in providing customers a rich, relevant experience is the sheer complexity inherent in B2B organizations. It’s not uncommon for a B2B company to have tens of thousands of products, thousands of customers and hundreds of sales reps to manage it all. Throw in new sales channels such as eCommerce, or shifting sales from field sales to inside sales, all while delivering a customer experience that is rich, relevant and consistent across all channels can be impossible.

 

For years, decades even, companies have utilized business intelligence and armies of analysts to ensure all sales channels – in person, on the phone, online, or otherwise – are equipped with the relevant information to maximize customer relationships at each touchpoint. It’s served them well, but to remain competitive today, key information such as what products to sell, which product categories have purchase declines, and what price to charge for each unique transaction must be readily available at a moment’s notice.

 

No. 2: Give Sales Ops the Best Tools Possible

 

An additional challenge to delivering a world-class buying experience I commonly see is around the technology available to a sales organization. Sales operations have been instrumental in standing up CRM tech, which is excellent for documenting account info and filling the top of the funnel.

 

But, what about when you’ve earned that new business? How will you not only retain that customer but grow the relationship so that they purchase more products with you? The balance sheet of a typical B2B company will show a large amount of company revenue is derived from existing customers. CRM data, while useful, may not hold the rich transactional knowledge that’s found in ERP data, for example, past purchasing patterns and historical price sensitivity trends.

 

Instead of riding the current CRM trend, empower sales ops to add a layer of AI-driven intelligence to your tech stack that’s informed by the rich organizational data and infuse it through existing technologies: CRM, ERP, homegrown order systems, eCommerce, mobile and more.

 

No. 3: Take Pricing to the Next Level

 

Finally, another area that is ripe for improvement to boost competitiveness is pricing. For the same reasons above – complexity and a fragmented tech stack – many B2B companies waste too much time with internal price negotiations and working through a slew of price exception requests.

 

To hold the line on market share erosion, company leaders could benefit immensely from a smarter approach to pricing. When predictive models and artificial intelligence is applied to existing data, transaction-specific pricing can be delivered that already takes into account all of the important factors that determine the final price paid: region, product hierarchy, competitive factors, existing price agreements, customer spend, and much more. When you start negotiations with a price that’s fine-tuned to customer needs for each unique transaction, you’re more likely to gain near-immediate price acceptance from customers and waste less precious time when a customer is dissatisfied with the quoted price.

 

The Time to Act is Now

 

In summary, as Amazon Business continues to chip away at the rich B2B market, now is the time to cast aside fear and find companies well-versed in data and advanced analytics to bolster smarter sales channels, infuse intelligence into your tech stack, and take pricing to the next level. Download our Global AI B2B Benchmark Report, now featuring distribution and manufacturing breakouts, to learn where the B2B industry consistently fails to capture hidden pockets of profit and revenue on an annual basis.

 

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