Photograph: Okko Huisman, CEO CloudSuite
It is not by chance that the building project of fruit and vegetable wholesalers Van Gelder coincides with the launch of its new online environment. Whereas the customer journey used to be the domain of the account manager, marketing should take central place now, says Arie van Pelt, marketer at the company.
Van Gelder, number two in its sector for now, has ambitions to take the top spot. To achieve this, all ‘touchpoint’ experiences have to be second to none. Both online and the new building are a center of experience – the one reinforcing the other. “On entering, you have to see the stories of the growers, taste them, smell them.”
For Van Gelder and many other businesses, the value chain is changing. Traditionally, the chain ran from producer to wholesaler, reseller and then on to the end customer. What we are seeing now is that the links are looped increasingly around the consumer, and that it is he who decides where he buys – from the market place, wholesaler or retailer that best suits his needs at any given moment. So suppliers with an eye to the future have to be active on a range of channels and offer their services there.
By no means all businesses are reconciled to this change: many B2B companies, for example, are rather rigid in their thinking. Product information is scarce; prices are kept well out of sight. In this respect, Van Gelder was no different: at one point, it even ran two discrete websites. Not only is this expensive, users found it impossible and there was next to no synergy between the channels. The new commerce platform has changed the situation completely; the different channels talk to each other, reinforce each other. “It has become a dynamic place for lead generation, sales and service.”
Van Gelder has achieved this by making the webshop more than just an online catalogue. The platform now serves the hospitality industry, catering companies and care organizations every step of the way. Depending on the quantity of data collected, Van Gelder will run a range of home pages: one with information for new leads, for instance, another might carry inspiring seasonal information or new product offerings. The platform has to be a space where all content is aligned to encourage repeat visits. “Online and offline.”
If everyone is grouped flexibly around the end customer, all touchpoints should tell the same story, and back each other up with content and integration. Whether that be on its own channels, as with Van Gelder – or outside. Michel Rasing of Channable brought home this point. The feed marketing company helps a growing number of parties connect with the market place, offering them a simple space to market their content and optimize their offering for each channel.
Martin van Dam of GROUP7 also underlined the importance of coordination and integration. His research reveals that more and more wholesalers are investing to make the ordering process as smooth as possible for the user. A payment solution integrated with every stage of the customer journey on no matter what channel is the bare minimum – a point also made by Jasper Scheffer of Klarna, the payment solutions provider. But it does not end there, Van Dam added. As he sees it, a platform also has to offer insight and be a spur to action. “You have to keep inspiring and advising a customer while offering him the kind of top-notch service that leads to more orders. B2B in particular has not fully grasped this.”
Van Dam used to work for the wholesaler Bidfood (formerly Deli XL) where he was involved with the implementation of a new online platform. The platform was developed in a piecemeal fashion, he explained. The smallest possible building blocks were produced in short learning cycles, ever focused on the sticking points that needed resolving. Bidfood is now a very agile company with marketing and sales working hand in hand on its ordering and inspiration platform, blurring the traditional separation between the two.
Again: offline supports online. And the other way around. The fusion has proved a resounding success: as much as 94 per cent of Bidfood orders are placed on the new platform. Customers keep returning and sales can turn its attention towards offering personal advice.
What are the implications of all this for CloudSuite, the developers of a commerce platform? To respond to the growing importance of content and the need to offer an experience, we have recently invested heavily in updating our CMS module, and added improvements in searches and filtering. Renate van der Vaart, Customer Experience Specialist at OnModus, emphasized yet again that the most successful companies are data-driven and focused on personalizing content. Because B2B users tend to log in often, this is becoming relatively easy. And so the mechanisms on our platform for recommendations and product placement are becoming ever smarter.
In the next phase, companies will have to get to grips with Artificial Intelligence. As is already happening in B2C, self-taught systems in other parts of the value chain are generating recommendations, forecasts, automation and the most complex analyses based on a visitor’s context. All this with the goal to further optimize the customer experience.
One of our next steps is to invite third parties to develop the necessary extensions to expand our platform, and give users the benefit of AI and machine learning. Both for us as builders of a commerce platform as for our users, it will become increasingly important to look for and achieve integration. Nothing stands alone. It’s not or/or but and/and.