January 21, 2014, 1:54 PM

Personalized web content will be crucial for B2B sales, analyst says

Personalizing content on a B2B e-commerce site isn’t the same as on a retail site, and sellers who get it right will sell a lot more products than those who don’t, Gartner analyst Gene Alvarez says. Instead of trying to sell more stuff, sellers need to think about how to make their customers’ jobs easier, he says.

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Gene Alvarez

Now’s the time for B2B e-commerce sites to start getting personal with customers, if they haven’t already, says Gene Alvarez, vice president and e-commerce technology analyst at research and advisory firm Gartner Inc.

By 2018, 70% of business-to-business e-commerce sites will offer personalized features for customers, Alvarez says, citing research he and other Gartner analysts compiled in a recent study.

What’s more, he adds, within a few years from now B2B e-commerce organizations that have deployed effective personalization technology and strategies will leap far ahead of B2B competitors who haven’t done the same. By 2018, Gartner predicts, B2B companies with effective personalization on their e-commerce sites will outsell by 30% competitors without the same level of personalization.

Sign Up for B@Becnews for FREEEffective personalized content that drives up sales and builds steady relationships on B2B sites, however, will take a different approach from familiar personalization techniques on retail e-commerce sites, Alvarez adds. A retail site may offer common cross-selling and upselling pitches such as “Other shoppers have also bought this” or buy-one-get-one-free “BOGO” deals tied to a shopper’s past shopping interests.

But personalized content on a B2B site should focus more on assisting a busy B2B shopper in doing her job better and faster, Alvarez says. “Help the buyer be effective in her job,” he says.

For example, he notes that an online customer purchasing computer network servers for her I.T. department might find it useful to see suggestions for server racks and cabinets that would complement her current and past purchases of network servers. “A B2B e-commerce seller should help the customer get all of what she needs, helping her be more effective in her job,” Alvarez says.

Personalizing content will become even more important as more companies migrate to doing more of their buying and selling through e-commerce, he adds.

Forrester Research Inc. estimates that B2B e-commerce sales in the United States totaled $559 billion last year. Forrester Senior Analyst Andy Hoar, who wrote the research article, said that $559 billion was a conservative estimate at the time and that "the market is growing rapidly."

Others agree that the figure is likely to go much higher very soon. “I’d say the market is close to $800 billion to almost $1 trillion,” Alvarez says. He adds that much of that growth is coming from companies that are migrating from paper catalogs to conduct their buying and selling on web sites.

Further adding to the momentum is the attention two of the most successful consumer-facing online companies—Amazon.com Inc. and Google Inc.—are paying to B2B e-commerce. Amazon has launched a B2B marketplace called Amazon Supply and Google is testing a site called Google Shopping for Suppliers. Alvarez says those shopper-friendly B2B e-commerce sites turn up the pressure on companies to enable their customers to buy easily online.  “I believe every CEO is no longer saying, ‘Can I make money on the web?’; they’re now asking ‘What’s the best way to get our products selling on the web?’”

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