Stand out from the crowd — 5 strategies to personalize B2B ecommerce

Even though ecommerce trends change and evolve constantly, personalization is here to stay. When we shop online, we expect to see relevant product recommendations, receive loyalty discounts from our favorite stores, and get relevant content sent to our inbox. B2B businesses, however, frequently overlook the importance of personalization when selling to their customers.

According to research carried out by Forrester, B2B ecommerce is projected to grow at 10.7% annually over the next five years, compared to less than 1% for offline sales. But simply uploading a description of your products together with generic price points is not enough to meet buyer expectations. B2B buyers expect personalization when they purchase from suppliers just as they do from retail and consumer brands, and they reward companies that focus on meaningful engagement, enablement, and relevant experiences at every touchpoint. As a result, companies that deliver personalization successfully are improving their market share by at least 10% annually.

This article explores five B2B ecommerce personalization strategies that will transform your buyers’ journey and empower you to convert more leads into long-term, loyal customers.

What is effective B2B personalization?

It’s inaccurate to associate personalization exclusively with B2C brands because B2B marketers need to take an even more granular approach to customer segmentation and understand customer intent with precision. According to a report by Gartner, interaction with sales reps takes up, on average, only 5% of the buyer’s journey. Top performers in this space understand the importance of bringing relevant and consistent experiences to the other 95% of the buying journey. Getting this wrong causes friction and erodes trust, especially if the customer is making a large purchase.

Effective B2B ecommerce personalization starts with segmentation — the process of dividing customers into groups based on common characteristics. There are several ways to segment B2B customers, including but not limited to:

The importance of each segmentation approach will vary throughout the buying cycle. The Forrester research shows that personalization targeted to specific needs (such as showing industry-specific products) is best deployed in the discovery stage, while personalization based on organization (such as customized pricing) increases in impact closer to purchase and post-sale.

Effective B2B ecommerce personalization differs in intent from B2C personalization. While B2C brands aim to encourage spontaneous purchases, most business purchases will involve several layers of research, approvals, and negotiation. For this reason, B2B merchants should focus their personalization efforts on streamlining the procurement process, educating customers, and shortening the time to decide.

Strategies for effective B2B ecommerce personalization

Regardless of your industry or target customer, getting started with personalized B2B ecommerce doesn’t have to be complicated. Below, you can find five strategies and approaches that you can start implementing today.

After working with dozens of brands across multiple industries, I have seen these strategies consistently drive progress in better customer retention, stronger conversions, and higher average order value. An additional benefit comes from saving time and resources when manual processes are automated at scale, freeing up sales reps to focus on the most high-impact interactions.

  1. Implement personalized catalogs and price books.
  2. Personalize product search and discovery.
  3. Introduce personalized product recommendations.
  4. Implement omnichannel campaign orchestration.
  5. Leverage customer data activation.

Strategy 1 — Implement personalized catalogs and price books

After a new B2B customer creates a company account, they should have access to a tailored catalog, with products and price points that differ from the base catalog all customers see when they first visit your website. It’s common practice to create industry-specific catalogs, however you may find that other attributes, such as organization size, work best for your business.

Customer-specific catalogs — also known as price books — will exclude any irrelevant products and allow for unique customer pricing and discounts. You can, for example, create personalized catalogs for your top accounts with more complex requirements and tailored pricing structures including quantity based pricing and specific pricing per product category or SKU.

SalonCentric is a subsidiary of L’Oréal with over 90 locally owned retail State|RDA stores across the Midwest United States. They distribute salon professional products to beauty professionals. At the start of their digital transformation, they aimed to help their B2B customers work and buy more efficiently while easing the process of site creation and administration.

(SalonCentric, a subsidiary of L’Oréal, is one of the thousands of merchants using Adobe Commerce as their B2B ecommerce platform of choice.)

Using Adobe Commerce Shared Catalogs (Price Book) feature, they were able to implement support for 100+ unique pricing structures and store-specific inventories. All websites have a unified look and feel — but local franchise store operators can customize and manage the site to best fit their needs. As a result, individual State|RDA stores have been eager to make use of the new B2B platform. More than 55 stores have already signed up, with many more scheduled to migrate to the platform by the end of the year.

(Each local State|RDA store has a unique product catalog to best serve customers in a specific region.)

When you start implementing personalized catalogs, it’s important to note that some of your buyers will have complex, multi-layered structures, such as houses of brands. To better support these business structures, a future release of Adobe Commerce will include tools to onboard and assist parent or holding companies will multiple business entities, allowing for catalog differentiation between child accounts.

Strategy 2 — Personalize product search and discovery

A robust search strategy is one of the key pillars of ecommerce success. According to a study by Wakefield, 75% of shoppers will switch to an alternative site if it takes too long to find products. With such large product catalogs, when implementing B2B ecommerce personalization, search should be one of your main priorities.

It’s important to understand the purpose behind site search personalization before you put a strategy in place. As opposed to only converting customers, it’s a key method to quickly understand buyers’ intent and serve relevant, targeted results in real time. For B2B companies, implementing search personalization successfully is a proven way to shorten time to purchase, but an incomplete strategy endangers customer trust.

As well as delivering results and suggestions in real time as the customer types their query, the best search functionality will also use AI to sort the products depending on many ranking factors. This can include, for example, the customer’s past on-site behavior or the most popular products that match their search intent.

Search query data can also help your organization understand how your customers search for products, what words they choose to find certain categories, and what products they are looking for that you don’t carry yet. All this data can be used to improve product line development and merchandising.

But how does B2B search personalization differ from B2C? The main difference is that personalized catalogs and price books must also be considered. When a customer starts typing in the search bar, they should only see products and prices that they are entitled to. Adobe Commerce Live Search, powered by Adobe Sensei, is an enterprise search solution that fully supports personalized B2B ecommerce by honoring category permissions and customer group-specific pricing.

(With Adobe Commerce Live Search, as the customer types in their query, the results in the drop-down box will automatically update to include their negotiated prices and catalog permissions.)

(The pricing displayed in the Live Search drop-down will match the group-specific pricing that’s unique to their customer group.)

Strategy 3 — Introduce personalized product recommendations

Given that 66% of B2B customers expect the same (or better) level of personalization in their professional lives as when shopping in their personal lives, implementing product recommendations can be a critical strategy for meeting those expectations.

As mentioned above, B2B merchants need to focus on building long-term trust and value. The products displayed in recommendation blocks therefore need to clearly demonstrate how additional investment with your brand will have a positive return for your buyer. For example, when they’re browsing a big-ticket item, you can display a “frequently purchased together” recommendations block with accessories that can shorten the installation process and help them reduce overall costs.

Product recommendations can use various ranking algorithms, including behavior-based, popularity-based, item-based, and individual shopper-based recommendations. Below are several examples of how you can apply these strategies to a B2B scenario:

Just as with personalized search, product recommendations need to factor in customer-specific catalogs and pricing. When done correctly, product recommendations can lead to exponential success.

(Marshall Wolf Automation saw a 20% increase in average order value after implementing personalized Product Recommendations.)

For example, Marshall Wolf Automation — a 35-year-old industrial automation distributor — saw the potential of product recommendations, despite this functionality being overlooked in the B2B space. Tyler Jensen, director of technology and operations at Marshall Wolf Automation, believed that product recommendations would enable customers to purchase exactly what they need and automate time-consuming tasks.

(Implementing Product Recommendations improved user experience with minimal upfront investment of time and resources.)

Marshall Wolf Automation opted for Adobe Commerce Product Recommendations, powered by Adobe Sensei, as its solution. After implementing this feature, the automation company increased average order value by 20% and boosted engagement across the site. Furthermore, Jensen reported that getting started with Product Recommendations involved virtually no additional cost and took the guesswork out of creating personalized experiences.

Strategy 4 — Implement omnichannel campaign orchestration

Your website is only one touchpoint in the customer journey. The most successful companies know how to deliver a consistent and personalized experience across multiple channels, such as email and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. All channels should build on and supplement your B2B ecommerce personalization efforts to achieve the best results.

Providing your customers with a seamless omnichannel journey from discovery to purchase can be achieved with a marketing automation tool, such as Adobe Marketo Engage. This is particularly important for driving large purchases where traditional sales teams need to work in tandem with automated lead nurturing efforts.

An example of a personalized B2B ecommerce journey may look something like this:

  1. The prospective customer is targeted or retargeted using a content block or pop-up promoting a guide.
  2. Your marketing team sends a nurturing campaign.
  3. The lead is qualified and passed on to sales, who onboard the customer.
  4. The customer going inactive for a few weeks triggers a reactivation campaign.
  5. While browsing a big-ticket item, the customer adds several accessories to their cart based on a product recommendations block.
  6. During the final quoting and negotiation process, the customer receives SMS and email reminders to complete their purchase.
  7. Following the purchase, the customer receives an installation guide.
  8. Following delivery, an invitation to leave a review is sent a few weeks later.

Automating omnichannel B2B ecommerce personalization not only frees up sales reps’ time for only the most meaningful interactions with top accounts, but also builds trust with buyers through thought leadership that delivers the right information to the right stakeholder.

Learn more: B2B vs. B2C Marketing — Understanding the Differences

Strategy 5 — Leverage customer data activation

As with B2C, effective B2B ecommerce personalization is based on a strong data foundation. This is what allows you to build a complete customer profile and activate personalization experiences across web, email, display, social and ecommerce channels, from the home page of your site to SMS messages and push notifications.

Recognizing its power, B2B marketers are projected to spend $3.91 billion on data solutions by 2024. But despite this ongoing investment, data silos and the absence of a single source of truth are still major roadblocks. A disconnect between marketing and behavioral data and back-end transaction data (such as order status and customer history) likewise continues to be an issue. As a result, 74% of companies do not have an actionable 360-degree view of customer data.

Bringing behavioral and transactional data into the picture is critical to delivering sophisticated experiences to B2B buyers. A rich B2B customer profile includes attributes such as company, role, and length of time as a customer, as well as real-time information on their engagement with your company. This can include, for example, content they download, what products they view without adding to their cart, and which products they’ve purchased multiple times.

Adobe Real-Time Customer Data Platform not only unifies customer data into a single source of truth, but integrates natively with other Adobe Experience Cloud applications such as Adobe Commerce. Data from Adobe Commerce can therefore be used to enrich customer segments created in Real-Time CDP for seamless activation via personalized offers, tailored content, and more. Furthermore, in a future release of Commerce, businesses will be able to map and synchronize account and individual user data into Real-Time CDP to create distinct buying groups for advanced B2B ecommerce personalization.

Power growth and customer loyalty with B2B personalization

There is a lot to think about when it comes to building a personalized customer journey for B2B buyers. The strategies outlined above, however, should give you an excellent starting point and understanding of what customers are looking for, and the tools you can use to implement the various strategies.

Getting started is much easier with a full-stack ecommerce solution that carries B2B ecommerce capabilities out of the box. Adobe Commerce delivers powerful B2B tools such as customer-specific price books, product recommendations, site search, advanced quoting support, and more. Through native integration with the Experience Cloud product suite and Adobe Experience Platform, you can also begin implementing advanced customer segmentation and omnichannel personalization.

If you want to learn more about Adobe Commerce for B2B, contact us to request a demo.

Maria Gureeva is a solution account manager for Adobe Commerce. Since joining Adobe in early 2022, she's been helping customers across the UK and Ireland, the Middle East, and South Africa to achieve ecommerce success through best-in-class digital experiences. She is particularly interested in personalization, AI, and trends in consumer preferences.