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5 Trends that are Flipping B2B Distribution Channel

The new generation of B2B buyers prefers to do business differently. As a distributor, you have to cater to their fast-evolving expectations or risk losing your customers.

These buyers demand a customer-centric experience from their vendors. They want to be the ones dictating the terms of engagement -- from how they find a product and make a purchase, to how they receive customer support and manage their accounts.

This new set of expectations is flipping how distributors design their wholesale and distribution channels -- instead of mapping them to your internal business model, you need to put the customer's experience front and center.

Here are five trends that are driving this critical change:

1. Online Research and Real-Time eCommerce

Most B2B buyers conduct 12 searches online before they decide to engage with a particular brand. Meanwhile, 73% of global traffic to B2B websites originate from search engines. 

In addition, 57% of the buying process is done prior to engaging with sales representatives. Buyers are likely to have already made up their minds while interacting with your brand online.

To effectively capture potential customers at the early stage of their purchasing journey -- when they're most open to ideas and options -- you need to show up in the right place at the right time with the right message:

  • Beef up your SEO so you get found on Google. This involves not only optimizing your website for keywords but also publishing thought leadership articles that signal your relevance.
  • Design a lead capture mechanism and lead nurturing sequence to build awareness about your products or services and move your prospects along the customer journey.

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  • Use retargeting strategies to stay relevant and top of mind by showing up in front of your target audience on the right online channels with content mapped to their buying stages.
  • Deliver a personalized experience on your website by showing the most relevant products.
  • Leverage Big Data, artificial intelligence, and predictive analytics to turn insight into action in real-time (e.g., offer product recommendations based on search terms, aggregated data, past preferences, and browsing behaviors.)

2. Account-Based Marketing (ABM) and Personalized Marketing

ABM is a form of strategic marketing in which an individual prospect or customer account is treated as a market of one.

Using ABM for B2B DistributionImage source

This approach puts the customer account in the center of your marketing strategy, emphasizing the company's unique structure and the roles of individual decision makers as you devise targeted marketing communication for each stakeholder.

Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, tailor your distribution channels and messaging to meet the preference of each account.

To make ABM work for your business, it's important to do your homework. Also, focus your efforts on building trust and relationships instead of cold-calling or hard-selling:

  • Research your target accounts and identify individual stakeholders involved in the decision-making process.
  • Create content that aims at building trust and relationships with each stakeholder.
  • Choose channels through which to promote your content and interact with your prospects based on their roles and preferences.
  • Implement segmentation and personalization automation to move prospects along the customer journey with relevant communications.

3. Self-Service and Omnichannel Customer Support

The new generation of B2B buyers demands self-service options as they interact with wholesalers and make their purchasing decisions.

75% of customers want the ability to solve product/service issues on their own while 90% expect a seller to offer a self-service customer support portal. Many of them would rather find another vendor than having to pick up the phone.

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This means you need a robust eCommerce platform to handle the often complex B2B transactions without requiring your customers to contact a sales rep if they prefer not to.

For instance, your online system should be able to process orders that involve product configurations, account-specific pricing, and role-based access or approved spending limit.

Your customers should be able to manage their accounts and update their orders on the online customer portal, as well as find answers to commonly-asked questions on your FAQ page, knowledge base, or support community.

However, self-service doesn't mean leaving your customers on their own. 

Buyers expect to receive support through multiple channels -- e.g., website, email, live chat, phone, SMS, or social media -- promptly when they get in touch.

Companies that provide consistent customer service across multiple channels are found to retain 89% of their customers, compared to the 33% retention rate of those that don't offer constant support.

No matter how you deliver your customer care, the goal has changed from having your customers get in touch in ways that are easy for your company to being available through channels most convenient for your customers.

4. "Instant Gratification" and "Amazon Experience"

Your B2B customers also interact with B2C brands as consumers. 

They're accustomed to the "Amazon experience" -- product pages complete with detailed description and demo videos, everything can be found within a few keystrokes, purchases made with just one (or a few) click, and orders delivered within only a couple of days (often with free shipping.)

Your online experience needs to address these customer expectations while keeping in mind the difference between B2B and B2C marketing so you don't blindly follow B2C trends and sacrifice critical B2B features, such as role-based account access or extended credit.

5. Social Selling and Influence Marketing

In 2016, 39% of marketers reported significant ROI generated from social media marketing, a sizable increase from only 9% in 2015.

Social media as a marketing platform offers access to a wealth of demographic and behavioral data, which gives you the opportunities to target your messaging in a way that had never been possible before.

Social channels also allow you to get in touch with tough-to-access people and expand your pipeline with referrals. LinkedIn,  with its ability to search by role, title, or company, has proven to be an extremely valuable channel for B2B marketers.

Besides, social media has given rise to influence marketing. Unlike the "bigger is better" approach to B2C influencer marketing, B2B marketers should focus on "micro-influencers," who typically have fewer mainstream followers but tend to be an authority on one specific topic.

Partnering with influencer helps put you in front of your target market in a way that augments your reputation and builds trust.



These trends all point to leveraging data and using technologies to deliver a consistent customer-centric user experience at all touch points. 

No matter who your customers are and what you're selling, you need to deliver the most helpful content and display the most relevant product in a timely manner if you want to stand out in today's crowded marketplace.

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