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The best B2B commerce personalization tactics backed by data

by Joe Hanson

B2B e-commerce has hit the mainstream, with 74% of B2B businesses expecting their websites to generate more than 50% of sales in 2023, according to data from our “2023 B2B Commerce Growth Strategies Survey.” And, as e-commerce adoption continues to grow, B2B merchants are no longer just looking to launch new ways to sell — they now must meet the customer expectation of personalized, hyper-tailored experiences from product discovery to fulfillment.

This means B2B personalization has moved from basic to comprehensive. B2B companies are no longer undervaluing the data they’re capturing on their e-commerce sites. In fact, they’re putting it to work.

With this data, they’re tuning in to buyer behaviors on e-commerce websites to provide marketing and sales with insights about their customers’ interests and needs. Whether the buyer has logged in recently, searched for a product, or viewed a category, that data can be used to sharpen strategies and personalize the B2B e-commerce experience by:

  • Automating triggered messages to buyers before and after making a purchase

  • Analyzing what buyers are looking for and the search terms they use

  • Showing customers what similar buyers are purchasing

  • Identifying categories where sales are rising or falling, anticipating customer preferences and needs much faster than market research

How and why B2B personalization differs from B2C

A B2B purchaser is very different from a B2C shopper. B2B sellers need to segment registered users, not just by their company or industry but by their role within the buying organization.

“You need to take the user out of the mix and focus on the corporate entity and the role of the user.”

Lisa Berry, Senior Business Systems Analyst, Gorilla Group

For example, customers for packaging manufacturer Sealed Air have to be logged in to see prices that their company has negotiated. Sellers also limit the items they show customers to those on their company’s approved list or choose to highlight products that customers with similar profiles have purchased.

Personalization by the buyer’s industry is also an important tactic. For example, a manufacturer of motors will want to show different products and content to a lawnmower maker rather than to a company that produces warehouse conveyor belt systems.

Personalization goes beyond the on-site experience (site content and merchandising) to include marketing campaigns, communications, and other channels.

“We can use the data from the e-commerce site to personalize the rest of the journey. Instead of seeing the site as a self-contained silo, it can be part of a multichannel buying journey that provides a consistent and tailored experience for buyers.”

Ed Kennedy, Digital Strategist for Manufacturers and Distributors, Adobe

You can’t do personalization without effective data management

E-commerce generates mountains of data on every visitor — including behavioral, transactional, financial, operational, and third-party data — which serves as the foundation for personalization. To put it simply, you can’t do personalization well without effective management of data.

So while most companies are collecting behavioral and transactional data from their e-commerce sites, fewer companies are combining their commerce data with information housed in back-end systems, like inventory, order status, price changes, and customer or account order history, to power even deeper personalization. That’s holding them back from the advanced, hyper-tailored personalization their customers are expecting more and more.

However, activating e-commerce data from across these different sources is challenging. The data is often constrained by countless silos and fragmentation, making it impossible to share information across software applications and use it to piece together complete views of the buyer.

From our “2023 B2B Commerce Growth Strategies Survey,” you can see that B2B organizations are using their data today — 72% are collecting behavioral and transactional data across their e-commerce storefronts, and 68% are using that data to drive personalization across their website in some capacity. Yet fewer B2B organizations are using that data to drive personalization on other systems like marketing, merchandising, and email.

“In general, companies underestimate the value of the customer data on their e-commerce sites. B2B e-commerce websites are a treasure trove of data for marketing, sales, and operations that most businesses aren’t fully utilizing. Digital signals from different users in different markets or segments can help improve marketing analysis, automate triggered messages to capture sales, and notify salespeople of customers who are ready to buy.”

Ed Kennedy, Digital Strategist for Manufacturers and Distributors, Adobe

The most proven personalization tactics B2B commerce companies are investing in today

Our “2023 B2B Commerce Growth Strategies Survey” showed that 63% of B2B e-commerce companies are investing in improving their user experience by adding new personalization features, but 40% of small companies say personalization will be a major challenge for them.

We asked B2B companies which personalization tactics are most effective.

Personalized site search is the highest performer

Fifty-eight percent of B2B merchants are seeing strong outcomes using personalized search results. Investing in search is particularly important because 40% of visitors use on-site search as a primary way to find what they are looking for when landing on a commerce site. Beyond ensuring textually relevant search results, the most advanced search solutions even use artificial intelligence to re-rank results so that they are personalized based on customer on-the-site behaviors.

Personalized payment and shipping options were second

Fifty-six percent of B2B merchants are seeing strong outcomes using personalized payment and shipping options.

Adding personalized payment and fulfillment options based on the company is key to removing friction in the buying journey and increasing the e-commerce conversion rate. That could mean adding options to pay on account, pay with a credit card, use instant credit, or add a new payment option customers are asking for.

Or it could be letting them split an order for delivery to different warehouses or on different dates. As a B2B merchant expands to new markets, this could also include customizing their site with locally appropriate payments, fulfillment, and order management capabilities.

Personalized product recommendations rounded out the top three

Forty-eight percent of B2B merchants are seeing strong outcomes using personalized product recommendations.

Product recommendations are a proven tactic for increasing not only conversion rates but also average order value. An important distinction from B2C is that B2B storefronts often require more complex logic, which dictates both product visibility and pricing for specific customers or customer groups.

For example, if you are a chemical distributor that has hidden certain categories from your health and beauty manufacturer customer segment, then a buyer in that segment would not be shown recommendations for products in those categories.

Also, when you define a shared catalog for specific customer groups and companies, those shoppers will see recommendations only for products they can access. All recommended products will also reflect correct customer-specific pricing. The language used to recommend should also change. Instead of “Users also bought this,” buyers would see something like “Users in your company also bought this.”

Larger firms are leading in personalization

Large companies with more resources to pour into e-commerce are finding more success with personalization, but smaller companies are hoping to catch up in 2023. Smaller companies are responding by putting some personalization features on their to-do lists for 2023. That includes personalized payment and shipping options (15.8% of smaller firms plan to invest versus 3.6% of larger ones) and personalized product category pages (15.8% versus 1.2%).

What’s next for B2B personalization?

B2B merchants must continue to adapt personalization to the B2B context. Unlike in B2C, it’s not a buyer’s personal preferences that matter in B2B but what they need to do their job efficiently. They must tailor content and options to the buyer’s role and to the kind of company they work for.

To see the full survey results as well as perspectives from B2B commerce experts, download the “2023 B2B Commerce Growth Strategies Survey.”

Joe Hanson has been a B2B marketer and storyteller for over a decade. He is a senior content strategist at Adobe focused on all things digital commerce—from industry trends to the latest Adobe Commerce innovations.


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