If your partners are taking up too much of your associates’ time, it’s time to take a look at–and solve–the real problem. Your associates are annoyed with repetitive, unnecessary, and dull customer service tasks they know could be better done by a machine. Your buyers are probably also frustrated by the slow-down, encouraging them to look at your competitors (or Amazon) for a quicker way to get the job done.  

A 2019 survey from Gartner found that for most steps in the B2B buying process, in-person and digital channels were neck-in-neck. The trend towards self-service has only increased since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

A 2019 survey from Gartner graphic

This trend moves further and further towards digital channels and self-service. According to a 2022 McKinsey report, the future of B2B selling is a hybrid model:

Today’s B2B customers are very clear about what they want from suppliers: more channels, more convenience, and a more personalized experience. They want the right mix of in-person interactions, remote contact via phone or video, and eCommerce self-service across the purchasing journey. Adjusting to this new dynamic requires B2B organizations to shift from ‘traditional’ and ‘inside’ sales to ‘hybrid’ in order to move with the customer.
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Building for self-service, whether through a specific portal, a section of your website, or an app, means reducing the friction and resourcing for customers to do business with you online. It’s an evolving process, based on understanding your buyers’ pain points, needs, and balancing what can be digitized and what should be kept in-person. 

Digital Self-Service Checklist

How complete are your digital self-service offerings? You can assess this by looking at the list below and asking whether your partners can perform the following tasks independently, online, and without associate intervention:

  • Research, build a cart, and place their order online
  • Find detailed product information (e.g. specs, product and price comparisons, CAD drawings, PDFs)
  • Save a cart, and send a cart for approval
  • Manage billing, shipping, and invoicing
  • Return, refund, or re-order past orders
  • Create users and manage different user groups, access, and purchasing capabilities
  • Build a quote, send it for approval, view submitted quotes, and approve quotes
  • Interact with online chat and chatbots
  • See inventory, availability, and time to ship
  • See order history, quick reorder, and view invoices
  • Create and manage subscriptions and payments
  • Manage returns, refunds, and replacements
  • Buy physical and virtual products
  • Schedule, reschedule, and cancel services

Assessing the Need

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Risks

Partners are doing more business elsewhere, and associate retention is at risk.
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Challenges for Change

Self-service is a broad term for a highly complex, intertwined system of digital interactions that will be both challenging to map and untangle. Since self-service includes systems as complex as commerce, CPQ, billing, and managing subscriptions, defining and building your own self-service structure will require a multi-departmental approach, requiring extensive buy-in, complex organizational dynamics, and competing priorities.
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Opportunities

Optimizing for self-service will require journey mapping to reveal how people are currently trying to work with your company online, uncover roadblocks, and discover chances to make your business as easy and fast to work with as possible. This can uncover new digital revenue, cost-cutting and resource optimization, and new channels for growth.
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Considerations

  • What do self-service and hybrid services look like for your business? What does a win look like?
  • What is your roadmap for building out the self-services that are right for your business?
  • What is the digital experience that will make interacting with your brand as seamless as possible? What design elements reinforce your brand, and guide and train your customers?
  • How will you train your existing users to use the new site, and how will you onboard new and existing customers?
  • How will you train your associates for the next phase of customer service if more solutions are digitized? Where can they focus their activities and prioritize their efforts?
  • What does “white glove” self service look like online? Where will you need to plan for offline touchpoints?
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Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

  • Partners: adoption rate, self-service rate (e.g. what percent of partners use online quoting, subscription management, user management, etc.), engagement rate, retention rate
  • Associates: time on digitizable-tasks, time on key, critical, or at-risk accounts, retention rates, resourcing cost per account
Why Your Cpq Performance is Too Slow and How to Fix It

About the Author

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Sarah Falcon

VP, Marketing Global

Sarah is a nimble and creative marketing leader with 15 years of experience in a mix of agencies, B2B, and B2C enterprises. She brings a background in building and driving impactful marketing practices and processes for growing businesses. Sarah has expertise in brand, content marketing, lead generation, and marketing operations. She’s a co-author of the 2019 book on B2B eCommerce Digital Branch Secrets: eCommerce Playbook for Distributors.

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