E-commerce

The future of B2B is powered by AI. Here’s how to get started.
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An industry-defining evolution is underway in B2B. Sales are shifting from relational to online. Today nearly every B2B purchase starts with site search. What makes B2B’s transformation to ecommerce that much more exciting is the simultaneous rise of AI and machine learning-led technology.

As B2B leaders strive to drive more sales to ecommerce, search is emerging as the cornerstone. AI-enabled search enhances the customer journey with improved search query understanding, better relevance, accuracy, and personalization. And because AI-enabled search understands customer intent, it’s miles ahead of the search tools of yesteryear.

B2B decision-makers are eager to capitalize on these opportunities. To gauge their progress, we conducted an in-depth study of 700 B2B organizations to discover how they’re leveraging search and discovery platforms to enhance ecommerce and meet profitability goals. An impressive 86% say they’re ready to adopt AI-enabled search solutions to drive online sales. But are they truly ready for AI?

Digital maturity, specialized skill sets, and infrastructural groundwork help pave the way for AI adoption. Every B2B organization can get there, but you need an AI-ready strategy for your business case in the areas below.

Do a readiness check

Does your organization have the right mindset? Do your employees have the necessary skill sets? What about infrastructure? Some B2B businesses have invested in digital capacity to prepare for today’s innovations. They’re ahead on data management and have a tech stack that’s AI-ready.

A readiness assessment will gauge your digital maturity, indicate gaps, and suggest where you need to invest in innovation.

Get an upgrade

For many B2B organizations, AI demands technology upgrades. You need to invest in and deploy ecommerce platforms that support AI and machine learning (ML) tools. These stack improvements usually go together with adopting cloud solutions, using advanced data analytics, and having strong cybersecurity measures.

Get devoted to data

Data is the lifeblood of AI and ML. To use AI tools effectively and benefit your business, your data needs to be clean, organized, and compliant with privacy legislation. Develop a data strategy that optimizes your data sources for use with AI tools and prioritizes data security.

Think AI

Your employees are the ones who are going to use AI tools. Train them in AI, cultivate an AI-ready workplace, and encourage continuous learning and adaptation. AI will continue to evolve; your organization’s AI culture needs to keep pace.

Buddy up with experts

There’s no shame in admitting it. Not every B2B business has the immediate capacity to get up to speed on AI to the level they expect, and in the timeframe needed, to meet their goals. If this is your situation, consider partnering with a search solution provider like Algolia that can help you take advantage of today’s cutting-edge tools.

Emulate B2C

Customer expectations are rapidly shifting in B2B, but, frankly, it’s old news for the B2C sector. For over a decade, ecommerce mega-platforms have been preparing customers for the AI explosion. The good news for B2B is that those expectations are well defined. Customers want to find products fast. They value personalized, relevant results. They’re accustomed to automated services like chatbots and recommendation engines helping them during the shopping experience.

This shift is a helpful barometer for B2B organizations. Businesses that align their search strategies with these trends are more likely to satisfy customers and drive sales.

Personalize at mind-boggling scale

For B2B sales professionals schooled in the relational sales model, the changes that AI brings could seem like a step back. But there’s a twist. AI permits a new kind of relationality: hyper-personalization at a scale previously unattainable.

In our study, 49% of respondents selected the ability to personalize the customer experience as a top reason for choosing a search solution with AI capabilities. With the scaling power that AI provides, B2B organizations gain an unprecedented capacity to anticipate and deliver to every customer uniquely, with promising implications for ecommerce competitiveness and profitability.

b2b commerce search stats
See more results in the B2B ecommerce site search trends 2024 report.

Embrace automation

AI isn’t just prized for its power to perform analytics. When we asked survey respondents to give their top reasons for choosing an AI-powered search solution, 42% chose the reduction in manual labor and associated costs.

B2B organizations are using AI for inventory management and to streamline and automate customer service. AI can help the back office rationalize operations and build process efficiencies into workflows. It helps your business easily generate more accurate product descriptions, provide up-to-date warehouse availabilities, and accelerate order processing and shipping, all at lower cost.

Prioritize accuracy

Before AI, “search” was “keyword search.” Now AI algorithms can understand complex search queries entered in natural language. When that sophisticated understanding is correlated with user interaction data, B2B commerce search can give your customers the exact products they’re looking for and make relevant recommendations that merge seamlessly with the buying experience.

B2B decision-makers recognize the need to implement these customer journey enhancements. In our survey, 38% selected improving the accuracy of product discovery results as a top criterion for choosing AI search. Another 34% chose improved accuracy of search results overall as a top reason to opt for AI search.

b2b ai search capabilities
See more results in the B2B ecommerce site search trends 2024 report.

Make better decisions with data

AI is not only a customer-facing technology. It can also help you make better business decisions. When you run sophisticated data analytics, you gain deeper insights that you can use to inform product design, marketing strategies, customer incentive packages, inventory decisions, and other areas that enrich your B2B business and drive sales.

Know your customer better

On the face of it, AI is a statistical workhorse that analyzes massive amounts of data. But the value this analysis provides is priceless. In an instant, B2B businesses can access insights about customer behaviors, tastes, or preferences – any parameter that’s useful to leverage to make a lasting personal connection with your buyer.

Whether you have a head start in these areas or are just getting started, know this: the adoption of AI is no longer a futuristic vision but a present-day imperative. Read the full B2B ecommerce site search trends 2024 report to learn more.

About the authorTariq Khan

Tariq Khan

Director of Content Marketing

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