There's a simple equation dominating B2B commerce today, according to Liz Herbert, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. Speaking at Dreamforce 2018 in San Francisco, Herbert outlined how the pace of change plus rising customer expectations plus the low barriers to entry for new competitors adds up to pressure on existing businesses to adapt and evolve. And that leads them to SaaS, or software as a service.
SaaS means the delivery of software services on a subscription basis over the internet from a central host, as opposed to selling a software package to be installed and run locally. SaaS has become even more important in the era of digital business processes, said Herbert, because it increases the potential for agility and makes it easier to move quickly when necessary—the software is continually updated by the providing company, meaning the business isn't tied to an expensive package they may have installed years ago. Agility has made SaaS a growing choice of deployment model across numerous categories of business, said Herbert.
The ease of deployment can lead to problems, however. “Too many are making big mistakes," said Herbert. “Too many solutions lead to fragmented organizations, and that can derail omnichannel efforts." Any SaaS solution must be integrated into the enterprise, she warned, or it will fail as part of an omnichannel strategy.
That integration doesn't just apply to digital channels, she went on. B2B commerce requires an integration of SasS and other digital solutions with physical operations such as sales calls. Forrester conducted a 2018 survey
(commissioned by Salesforce) of 315 marketers about their approach to omnichannel B2B commerce; 87 percent of them said they include direct sales among their efforts.
Too many solutions lead to fragmented organizations, and that can derail omnichannel efforts.
—Liz Herbert, vice president and principal analyst, Forrester Research
The decision-makers surveyed are still very early in their omnichannel process, too.
61 percent said they are in the “planning" or “implementing but not executing" stages, while only 36 percent are “optimizing" or “executing" an omnichannel strategy. Nevertheless, 83 percent think their sales via e-commerce will increase over the next three years.
When asked what they considered critical features of an omnichannel marketing solution, those surveyed gave top priority to its integration with other CRMs; integration with ERP and back-office systems ran a close second. For the reasons mentioned earlier, 69 percent said they considered SaaS as the ideal deployment of an omnichannel solution.
Implementing such a solution does pose challenges. The top two issues the marketers cited were generic issues with technology implementation of any sort. The number three and four problems were specific to ominichannel efforts. Number three was the change in company culture such an approach can require, and the difficulty with driving adoption by internal stakeholders. Number four had to do with omnichannel processes and making sure efforts are aligned across channels.
Herbert closed with three recommendations for businesses implementing or considering B2B omnichannel efforts:
- Focus on the entire customer journey.
- Create a strategy that spans all customers.
- Adopt SaaS for agility and ease of use.