B2B consumers are well-versed in digital. Many work remote, and almost 90% of B2B sales have moved to a virtual model. With that shift, the importance of digital channels for B2B organizations has grown significantly.

When it comes to digital commerce, B2B consumers have increasingly high expectations. They are accustomed to intuitive, self-guided experiences at every stage of the buyer’s journey—and they know they have other options if you don’t deliver.

To create an ecommerce website that performs, you have to understand the needs, wants, and expectations of your specific customer segments. And this can’t be figured out around a board room table. Your ecommerce strategy needs actual customer data.

How to collect customer data

Most businesses have long-held assumptions about who their customers are, as well as their buying habits, communication preferences, and decision-making processes. Now more than ever, it’s time to put those assumptions to the test and identify additional opportunities. Are new customer segments emerging? Are your audiences diversifying? You won’t know until you collect customer data.  

Start with qualitative research 

Customer segmentation research provides a framework for unearthing your institutional “knowledge” and pressure testing it with real customer feedback. Using qualitative methods, such as stakeholder interviews or focus groups, you can identify the long-held beliefs of your organization. You can compare them, contrast them, find themes, and identify conflicting ideas.

Nothing uncovers alignment (or misalignment) within an organization better than having conversations with your stakeholders. Before you begin any ecommerce initiative, speak to decision makers and key contributors from each department. This can include team members from the C-suite, IT, marketing, product, customer services, finance, human resources, and more.

The goal is to uncover what they believe is important to your organization, your customers, and your ecommerce website. These insights are critical for developing a baseline for where you are today and where you need to go with the project.

Often, internal beliefs in one area of the business conflict with those in other areas. And while conflict can be healthy for internal debate, it can be detrimental to your go-to-market strategy. It’s important to bring any misalignment to light and address it head-on.

Assumptions are also frequently outdated, exaggerated, or untrue. For this reason, it’s important to use your collective internal belief statements as hypotheses for your customer research. Find out where you align with your customers and change the narrative when you don’t.

Listen to the voice of your customer

You can find ample data online about your industry, but your customers are unique. They buy your products for a reason—and you need to know why.

It’s one thing to read what others have published about broader audiences in your category. It’s much more effective to survey your actual customers and learn what makes them tick. Why do they buy from you? What do they expect? What are they not getting that they wish they were?

For example, OEMs sometimes lack a full understanding of their end customer because they lack visibility into dealer interactions.

Illustration showing an example OEM (original equipment manufacturer) value chain. Sometimes, OEMs sell to dealers. Other times, they sell direct to end consumers. Ancillary players in the game include parts suppliers, component suppliers, distributors, part retailers & wholesalers, and independent service providers.

If this sounds like you, conduct customer segmentation research to inform your ecommerce strategies and tactics. Segmentation research uncovers your customers’ needs and preferences at each step of the value chain.

The goal with this type of customer research is to identify your most profitable opportunities.

  • Which customers are most valuable to your business?
  • How can you serve them better?
  • How can you get them to spend more with you?
  • Who are your promoters? How can you leverage their positive experience?
  • Who are your detractors? What can you do to improve their experience?
  • How can you grow your other customer segments?

When you understand your customers at this level, you can create digital experiences that improve your overall  brand impression and positively impact your bottom line.

Apply customer data to your ecommerce strategy

Often, businesses invest in research but struggle to turn their insights into action. Don’t let the momentum fade after collecting all that data. If research is that critical first step; application is the second.

Customer segmentation data should be used to create referenceable documentation that everyone on your team can access. Use these documents to plan your ecommerce website and all your marketing moving forward.

Ecommerce personas

Personas get a bad rap. Often, they’re created with broad brush strokes, based primarily on assumption, and colored with flowery, irrelevant stories. This type of persona isn’t helpful because it isn’t rooted in reality.

Personas should be accurate representations of your customer segments. No made-up stories. No heuristics. Rather, snapshots in time—backed by data—that represent your actual customers.

They should summarize how different customer groups want to engage with your brand and what they expect. There are no hard or fast rules about what type of data personas should include—demographic, psychographic, attitudinal, behavioral. If the data is useful and representative of a customer segment, include it.

Diagram showing an example persona introduction slide—a Fleet Supervisor. It outlines his job title and company description, as well as what he’s responsible for.

Diagram showing an example persona slide. It summarizes a Fleet Supervisor’s priorities, motivators, barriers, and how to reach him. It shows his estimated annual budget, average price he pays for equipment, his most common purchases, and his must-haves. It also shows details of his relationship with the company, i.e., how long he’s been a customer, his Net Promoter Score, and his fleet size.

Ecommerce journey maps

If personas are a snapshot in time, buyer journeys are the panoramic view. Ecommerce journey maps tell the lifecycle story of each persona. They illustrate preference across the conversion funnel, from awareness to consideration, to purchase, and beyond.

With journey maps, you can see at a glance when each group of customers wants to engage with your brand, what questions they have, and what information they need at every phase.

Because these maps are backed by data, you can use these insights to inform the architecture and functionality of your ecommerce website.

  • Why are customers visiting your site? At what stage in the conversion funnel?
  • What information do they expect to find?
  • What do they want to accomplish on your site?
  • How do they prefer to contact you?

Whether the differences across your customer segments are subtle or significant, they’re critical in planning for ecommerce. Journey maps can help your business identify the specific needs of each customer type and highlight what you should do to optimize their experience with your brand.

Diagram showing an example customer journey map. This diagram shows the process a Fleet Supervisor goes through from the time he identifies a need for a new piece of equipment, through research, configuration, negotiation, purchase, delivery, and ownership. The journey follows the persona’s need through end of life of the machine.

Ecommerce user stories and user flows

Ecommerce user stories are the next step in making your customer data actionable. They outline specific customer needs and map them to website requirements. User stories are typically expressed in a simple format:

As a [persona], I want to _____ so that I can _____.

Based on the buyer journey example above, we know that Fleet Supervisor Steve visits our OEM website in the “configuration” phase. The user story for this insight might read:

For each persona, you should have several user stories. This helps you map out each reason a customer segment might visit your site.

As a fleet supervisor, I need to configure a quote online so I can reorder machinery and be prepared for my forecasted work.

When creating user stories, it can be tempting to capture what a persona wants without capturing why they want it. Don’t skimp on the value statement; it helps remind the entire team why you’re creating each feature. Then, when it’s time to QA your site before launch, user stories can be applied once more to ensure every persona need is addressed.

Customer segmentation research allows you create an ecommerce website that answers the needs and wants of your target audience. Know what that means? More effective digital performance.

This article outlines a handful of standard examples, but there are many more. To truly create an ecommerce experience that achieves KPIs and business goals, use customer data to identify your best opportunities. Then use that data to influence your site architecture, content strategy, design approach, user experience, go-to-market strategy, and your approach to analytics tracking.

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