Voice isn't ready to take off in B2B payments

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Voice technology is on the verge of revolutionizing e-commerce. One in six U.S. adults owns a voice-controlled device, and experts predict that voice shopping will generate $40 billion in sales across the U.S. and U.K. by 2022.

As consumers become more comfortable with conversational commerce, it won’t be long before the technology hits the booming B2B e-commerce space. Forrester predicts the B2B e-commerce market will double the B2C market by 2020. In an industry ripe for digital innovation, the evolution of voice will likely mirror that of desktop and mobile ordering. Both channels achieved popularity in the consumer world before influencing B2B buying habits.

But despite the potential for conversational commerce in B2B, technologies like Amazon Alexa and Google Home are only equipped to enable transactions for simple business products like paper or staples. For voice to truly thrive in business and enterprise settings, the technology must handle complicated transactions, such as an order for multiple sets of tables and chairs with customized dimensions.
To gain traction in B2B, voice-enabled technologies will require a powerful back-end configuration engine that can quickly customize and price complex products. That’s where configure, price, quote (CPQ) technology can make all the difference.

The appeal of voice commerce technology lies with its ability to remove friction from the buying process. This is already apparent in the B2C world. Using only voice, a consumer could order a missing piece for a bed frame on an Amazon Alexa device, while the consumer's hands are busy assembling the product.

The opportunity to reduce purchase friction is even greater in B2B, given the complex nature of the typical business transaction. For example, a buyer in need of new office cubicles might struggle to research and make her purchase online due to the enormous number of parts that need to be configured. And the buyer likely lacks the time or patience to complete all of the fields required to receive an accurate price quote. There’s a reason why these types of transactions usually involve a face-to-face meeting or a phone call.

Going forward, voice technology capable of understanding sophisticated human dialogue could ease buyer frustrations. In theory, it could serve as a great middle step for buyers who are not yet ready to talk to a sales representative, but find it difficult and tedious to pinpoint price quotes for products with multiple configurations through standard e-commerce experiences.

But before voice reaches this degree of sophistication, the technology could be used in a more practical way for standard reordering. Suppose a customer ordered customized office chairs in the past. The customer could quickly and easily reorder several more of those exact chairs using a voice-controlled device, without speaking to a sales representative or completing forms online. She can even place the order while working on other tasks.

There are countless opportunities to improve the B2B buying experience using voice technology. But to get there, voice-controlled devices will require a more sophisticated back-end solution to process the enormous amount of data necessary to support the average B2B transaction.

Anyone who has used an Amazon Alexa or other voice-controlled device knows that the technology still struggles to understand advanced human conversations. It’s common for the technology to frustrate end users attempting to request even simple tasks like playing a song or ordering Starbucks.

To understand the typical B2B order and facilitate that experience, the technology will need to get a lot smarter. And that means more than just embracing sophisticated natural language processing features. A standard B2B order involves multiple configurations, which would require the technology to calculate tailored price quotes in real time and understand the nuances of business rules unique to the customer. That’s more than even the most advanced B2B e-commerce sites can handle today.

CPQ software offers the missing component voice technology needs to make the leap into B2B commerce. CPQ systems house product catalogs, transaction history, customer history and price books in a central system, which enables the system to generate accurate price quotes for configured products in real time. With CPQ technology, many B2B companies have significantly improved their e-commerce experiences and boosted the revenue they drive through digital channels.

The beauty of CPQ systems is that they enable businesses to deliver fast and accurate price quotes across all channels. CPQ technology brings data housed across siloed channels into a single system to support transactions across all owned or partner e-commerce sites. While most CPQ systems do not yet integrate with voice technology, the most advanced systems are set up to work with nearly all channels, and voice technology is certainly not out of the question.

While voice-activated technology brings enormous opportunities to the B2B space, the technology has a long way to go before it can understand and enable typical B2B transactions. The missing piece? CPQ software. For voice to reach its true potential, it will require integration with a software that can calculate real-time price quotes for complex B2B orders.

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