B2bWatching customer behavior online, can help salespeople identify the most optimal pricing strategy, ultimately influencing net profit.In business-to-business sales, a customer-salesperson relationship complements online channels, generating greater sales and net profit, according to a study published in the Journal of Marketing Research. The University of Alabama at Birmingham study shows that multichannel activities can enhance customer satisfaction and purchase behavior.

“Salespeople who interact with customers who heavily engage in online activities provide companies with the biggest bang for their buck,” said Andrew Crecelius, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing in the UAB Collat School of Business. “The information from a diverse set of channels allows more insight into customer needs and behaviors, ultimately increasing sales and net profit for the company.”

According to the study, sellers must reconsider the fundamental elements of business-to-business exchange — strategic investments in salespeople and targeted discounts — as e‑-commerce grows. Businesses should encourage their customers to search and purchase online, while using salespeople to complement the information gathered from online behaviors to better serve customers. Online channels should provide easy access to salespeople when needed.

The study evaluated the effects of three key variables on customer-level financial outcomes: online catalog search, online purchasing and customer-salesperson interaction. The authors examine how each piece of communication plays a role in enhancing customer-level sales and net profit, in part by increasing the efficacy of targeted customer discounts.

According to the study, customers engaging in online catalog search obtain 12 percent more customer-specific discounts than those with low online search. Customers who purchase a greater share online obtain 32 percent more customer-specific discounts than those with low online purchasing. Discounts to these customers, in turn, positively affect sales and net profit, showing that sellers can more effectively target discounts.

In combining salesperson interaction with online search, customer satisfaction increases. All the while, salesperson interaction combined with online purchasing increases customer satisfaction and decreases perceived risk.

“Customers receive unique benefits by using a combined online and in-person approach,” Crecelius said. “The seller is able to better understand their customer’s needs and ultimately generate more favorable seller financial outcomes.”

Sellers benefit from a multichannel approach by being able to better target customer-specific discounts, a critical tool in business-to-business sales that helps sustain and increase customer purchasing. With online channel interaction, a seller receives timely data on a customer’s needs based on their search and purchasing history. This increases the seller’s confidence in targeting customer-specific discounts to appropriate products.

by Alicia Rohan