We strongly believe here at Logik.io that the best ideas are both born and expressed through collaboration. Recently, we were able to sit down with some of our favorite folks from Argano to talk about the omni-channel sales experience, overarching digital strategy, and what it means for CPQ and commerce logic options to evolve within an ever dynamic market. Amardeep Bhatia, Salesforce Practice Head and Oscar Gonzalez, Global Commerce Director, shared their insights with Logik’s own VP of Product, Fazal Gupta, and Head of Marketing, Blake Grubbs in a panel format, and we want to take a deep dive into their main points of discussion. We’ll be providing answers to some main questions that should be driving your transformation roadmap through the worlds of eCommerce and CPQ.

If you’re interested in checking out the source material directly, and hearing from the four in their own words, you can register here for the on-demand webinar, “Omni-Channel Everywhere: How to Evolve Your Sales Strategy with Commerce & CPQ Digital Transformation.” 

Omni-Channel Reality

As the central focus of the panel itself, it’s important to understand exactly what “omni-channel” means in current context. Omni-channel references the different methods by which a purchase or manufacturing order can be made – through a self-serve website, a direct interaction with a sales representative, a hybrid guided selling experience, etc. – and the consistency in customer experience across those channels. 

Grubbs noted in his introduction for Bhatia, Gonzalez and Gupta that “buyers are willing more and more to shift to this omni-channel way of buying, and actually prefer it.” 

The reasons for this shift in preference are myriad, and to be expanded upon below, but many are a result of global circumstances influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. McKinsey & Co. share that a whopping 94% of B2B decision makers view today’s B2B omni-channel reality — in which customers buy face-to-face, remotely, and online in fair measure— as being just as effective, or more so, than before COVID-19. 

Bhatia, Gonzalez, Gupta and Grubbs use this evidence of massive market shift to outline what to consider when evolving a business to thrive in an omni-channel environment.

Changing B2B Buyer Preferences

Changes in buyer expectations and preferences have propelled the development of omni-channel offerings across the board. 

Bhatia began by setting up a history of B2B buyer preferences over the course of the past few years, which was then expanded upon by Gupta. 

As Bhatia said, “[omni-channel] was always happening as part of the digital evolution we live in, but it has really caught pace and come to a wider relevance during the pandemic.” 

It makes sense for this point to stand so true, as remote, online options were the only viable option for so much of that time frame. Even once more traditional, person-based channels became a viable plausibility later down the line, preferences for omni-channel experiences stayed consistent, if not in a state of growth. 

A unanimous point of agreement between the four was that buyers not just expect, but tacitly demand options from companies to earn their business. 

Bhatia continued, “Buyers are starting to get spoiled with choice, so simply having a great product is not enough anymore. Right now…you need to differentiate, and that differentiation happens with your digital presence.”

If buyers aren’t satisfied with the choices provided for a selling experience, there will absolutely be a competitor waiting in the wings to offer a more enticing alternative. Losing a client base for lack of options is neither acceptable for management, nor sustainable for profit. 

Gupta added that the boom in asynchronous communication and digital interaction for newly remote workers exposed them to previously unexplored ways to leverage systems, especially when it comes to a frictionless experience. The paradigm shift drove home a need for innovation, as digital options had to work for all sorts of scenarios – why would the resulting evolution of sales experiences be any different? 

Simply put by Gupta, “as things started to settle down to ‘normal,’ the new normal changed…and it probably got accelerated by 3 to 4 years.” 

The emphasis on market acceleration transitioned into the ways in which businesses who keep up with the development of eCommerce and CPQ software maintain competitive advantage in the market.

Competitive Advantages of Omni-channel Selling

When posed with the question of if there are advantages to a true omni-channel experience, Gonzalez was able to give a definitive yes, supported by some interesting perspective. 

“We have seen that our clients that have the most advanced roadmaps to incorporate all the new features that are coming up, that are flexible and quick to change, see the most return of their investment,” he shared. 

There is historical precedent that shows favor toward companies that adapt early to shifting market dynamics like the boom of digital sales options, harking back to the late 1990s and early 2000s. 

Gupta looked back on this era of technological development, saying that “it was more costly to run an eCommerce site [then], but in 5 years the costs became so low that traditional businesses could not even compete.”

Development and growth happens incredibly quickly when it comes to digital transformation, and getting in at the right time can mean exponentially more success down the line.

He continued, “in 2 years from now, or 3 years from now…people whose cost curve is much lower because they started investing thoughtfully in online channels today will have a strong advantage.”  

Establishing a strong digital presence as soon as possible also helps capture early-stage buyers, who have a high likelihood of reordering or expanding contracts with an existing vendor, rather than bouncing from business to business. Interestingly, a data point from McKinsey notes that a mere 10% of OEMs have digital self-service tools capable of supporting reorders, meaning there is a massive untapped market of buyers to capture.

The Role of CPQ & Commerce Technology

Making an omni-channel experience happen sounds great in theory, but does take a level of dedication to see the practical application through. 

With so much focus thus far on buyer personas, and the preferences that come along with those personas, we now bring another perspective for consideration: that of the system administrator. 

Gupta steered the conversation toward back-end maintenance, saying “when you think about an omni-channel scenario, the complexity factor is higher, so thinking about how your administrator experience is going to be done…becomes more critical.” 

While the complexity factors of CPQ software are a valid point of concern, they are not the buyer’s burden to shoulder. Regardless of how much engineering has to occur on the system platform to maintain performance, consumers should have a consistently easy experience with as few touchpoints as possible. An equally complex self-service platform or winding website design will end up driving discerning buyers toward smoother, more streamlined alternatives. 

Grubbs raised survey results in which 77% of B2B buyers ranked their most recent purchase as very complex or difficult, putting a spotlight on the discrepancy between buyer wants and market offerings. Being able to pivot toward creating less complex and difficult purchasing experiences through CPQ and eCommerce allows for a direct pipeline to the market majority, who are eager to be satisfied. 

Industries to Note

Omni-channel experiences are quickly becoming ubiquitous across the sales field, albeit in varying levels of success and integration. With so many consumers in so many markets looking for fresh new digital experiences, it’s logical to wonder if there are any industries in particular that should be prioritizing this development.

In an interesting turn, Gupta hypothesized that business focus should stem less from attempts at targeting specific markets, but rather – a specific demographic.

“I’ll let you know I’m a millennial, and one of the things I was reading recently is that 44% of millennials, they actually prefer buying in B2B settings without having to talk to a sales rep,” he said. “The generation which is becoming the buyer now having this kind of psyche…as a millennial myself, I can say that’s probably true.”

Digital self-service portals that accommodate that 44% directly are actively found across industries, with notable use cases in customer support, reorders, and mobile formatting. 

These trends tie to the growing wave of “consumerization,” in which buyers across B2B, B2C and direct sales channels all expect for their experiences to match the modern consumer expectations. 

Technical Challenges

Balancing system integrations, updates, regularly required maintenance, unexpected hiccups and consistent technological advancement can lead to certain technical challenges along the path to a full omni-channel experience. 

Bhatia and Gupta shared a focus on data syndication and synchronization between the channels within an overall experience. If a customer’s data can’t be shared between platforms, the customers don’t feel brand consistency from point to point, or customer preferences are lost between channels, the core concept of omni-channel is lost. 

But, if done correctly, technical integration allows for what they call the “connected customer,” from whom a holistic data set can be extracted and analyzed to gain insight into the overall experience.

Gupta reiterated that long-standing trains of thought “kind of get limited there. What happens is, as you start thinking about servicing these new channels in the way customers are expecting you to, you need to think about more innovative things.” 

Innovation is brought home by implementation, Gonzalez reminds us, saying “one of the most challenging parts is to make sure that you have the right team, with the right experience that can help implement the solution.” 

What to Avoid

Fostering a buyer-friendly environment across all potential channels is clearly the end goal for competitive businesses today. But, not every effort toward the finish line has to happen all at once. In fact, taking the time to strategize, triage and stagger implementations can provide immediate success with a clear, sustainable path forward. 

“It’s very important to identify data and the features that are going to be most impactful, then build your roadmap accordingly,” Bhatia advised. 

Gonzalez agreed, saying that “a sensible roadmap that tackles one problem at a time…ha[s] a bigger success than if you just want to get everything and make it all work at once.” 

And, as individually crafted roll-outs occur, the value of transparent communication between teams cannot be overstated. Without internal buy-in on buyer offerings and technical developments, the entire process can stall out. 

Bhatia continued, “Keep your people well informed of the change that’s coming up and make them participate in it in a good way. They need to understand how it’s going to change their lives for the better, and the lives of their customers for the better.” 

After all – that’s what the omni-channel experience is all about. Improving the experiences, and in turn, lives, of customers by meeting them wherever they may be at.