If you’ve spent any time working with B2B eCommerce, you’ve probably discovered that almost all marketing efforts are focused on generating new sales. Unfortunately, this has meant providing a better, more efficient, and more effective relationship with existing customers gets forgotten.
But this may be a miscalculation. Although account management tools – like customer portals – may not include a direct commerce function that drives sales, they provide a wealth of benefits to customer loyalty, relationships, and long-term sales.
And even if you aren’t a digital commerce-focused brand, you have an opportunity in your commerce platform that goes well beyond selling. Let’s look at the benefits of customer portals and why they’re more helpful than you might think.
First and foremost, online portals are a convenient channel for customer account management. It’s the perfect way to give your customers a “home base” where they can manage any aspect of their relationship with your company:
Track in-transit orders
View order histories
Manage shipping preferences
Print out invoices and receipts
Save preferred payment methods
Update company profile information
In essence, any of the back office, administrative functions that a customer might need can be delivered through a web portal.
This is great for customers who want to take a hands-on approach to their supplier relationships, but the convenience aspect runs deeper than simple data access. Customer portals represent a shift in B2B thought; they demonstrate an increased focus on the post-sale customer relationship rather than the sexier presale functions. This is a key theme you’ll notice throughout each of these benefits. Customer portals are a way for B2B to increase their focus on the customer relationship and, in effect, help make the customer the star of the show. They also line up with changing customer expectations. Your customers pay all their bills online, they subscribe to new services and probably hate having to call customer service for anything. All of this means you have to keep up and digitize your customer relationships.
Customer portals offer a convenient way for your clients to manage their account details, track orders, and view past data points in a single dashboard.
This type of strategy indicates a customer-focus that prioritizes post-sale delight; a key part of long-term customer loyalty.
Above, we touched on how portals act as an informational hub for past purchases and customer data. It’s a great tool to empower customers with the data they need to make better decisions in their own enterprises – but this benefit is applicable to your side of things as well. A customer portal is the perfect place to aggregate data that can be reapplied to your marketing efforts for revenue growth.
This is one of the few ways that customer portals can directly influence sales. (Not that this is their goal – but it’s a nice bonus.) When you have engaged customers managing their own accounts, you have a single source of truth for all pertinent customer information. The portal will be tied to your customer relationship management (CRM) and commerce functions, which helps bring your data sources together in an easy-to-view way.
There’s a ton of value to be had in this information, particularly for clients that have been with your company for a long time. Companies can see details on each customer’s product preferences, past orders, and recurring product needs. This provides insight into emerging opportunities that can be leveraged through your site’s direct commerce functions; look for additional opportunities to sell recurring products, spare parts, or replaceable components that each customer might need.
Don’t forget that with an increasingly on-the-go customer, the information and history they’ll want to access will be done through their mobile phone while at home or walking through their warehouse. Your mobile-friendly customer portals mean that they can reorder on-demand. Again, reducing the friction and complication of placing a reorder.
When you have enough product data to anticipate their needs before they come up, you’ll be in a great position to earn their trust and maintain their business over time.
Customer portals provide a single source of must-have data for both your customers and your own company.
Use this data to your advantage and look for opportunities to supplement your existing customer relationships with new products or services that a customer may appreciate.
These portals help companies apply their customer data with the long-term goals of better anticipating their needs and driving loyalty.
Earlier, we mentioned that customer portals include many of the administrative functions that keep your customer relationships running. And while this is true, a statement like this underestimates the value that a portal can bring to your own internal operations.
We recently had a consultation with a potential client that employed a staff member whose sole job was dedicated to handling checks. He spent his whole day collecting invoices, tying those invoices to checks, and following up with clients to reduce the company’s daily sales outstanding (DSO) metrics.
This is all important work, for sure – so why wouldn’t this company automate these key processes rather than relying on manual efforts? In our view, all of these tasks could be managed through a customer portal. Users can set automated triggers for referencing invoices, cross-checking payments with their invoices, and sending past due notices to late clients – completely eliminating the inefficiencies of these manual workflows.
This is a big benefit to customer portals that don't get enough attention. Though portals don’t enable new direct sales, they help automate key functions that take up your team’s time. And by doing so, they free up your talent to focus their efforts on more productive, revenue-driving tasks rather than clerical work.
On top of that, a portal makes self-service the order of the day. Customers can manage many account management functions on their own without needing to speak to a company representative. In this way, a customer portal can certainly pay dividends in the way it frees up your team to focus on growth. This is a big opportunity that many B2B companies aren’t taking advantage of.
Customer portals offer benefits to a company’s internal operations as much as they offer benefits to the clients themselves.
Portals offer a method to streamline clerical functions in your company, offloading tasks to software systems instead of relying on employee labor.
The administrative efficiency of automation can translate into dollars saved; workers spend less time on administration and more time on revenue-driving tasks.
You may notice a trend with these points – many of them relate to building long-term loyalty with customers. This is the last point we’d like to stress. When customers take the time to engage with a portal, it creates a sense of buy-in that makes it more likely they’ll stick with you for the long haul. Even if there’s no change in vendor/customer interactions, the very process of setting up a customer account is an investment in your company. Most B2B companies don’t trade down with their vendors; any switch to a new vendor will need to come with a comparable level of service. And if your competitors don’t offer the easy and convenient features of a customer portal, you’ll have a key differentiator to keep them on the hook.
And best of all, customer portals are relatively easy to deploy. Even if your site’s commerce aspects are limited, you can still set up a portal and tap into these benefits. To get started, we recommend you contact Slatwall for an assessment of your platform. We’ll walk you through the details of setting up a customer portal that drives benefits for your company – both today, and in the future.