Over the past year, we’ve seen the vast majority of B2B sellers move their interaction to digital platforms, and customers followed. In fact, according to McKinsey, an average of 75% of B2B decision-makers prefer digital communication or self-service over in-person interactions.
What’s more, Amazon predicts that in 2021, global B2B sales will cross the $9 trillion mark - that is almost a 15% growth over the past few years.
So why are many B2B businesses still struggling to capture these opportunities and embrace B2B eCommerce? One of the main challenges lies in defining the unique characteristics of B2B eCommerce solutions and identifying the role digital channels play in their organization’s structure.
This post describes the unique characteristics of B2B eCommerce and some common misconceptions that can confuse and drive B2B companies off track in their digital transformation strategies.
What is B2B eCommerce?
Unlike an online transaction between a business and a customer, an e-commerce B2B transaction is a transaction between two companies. These include sales among manufacturers, distributors, resellers, or retailers, and sometimes end-consumers.
However, there are some general similarities in what B2C and B2B customers want.
For example, businesses selling to other companies online must take their digital marketing and customer experience seriously. Meaning they must offer B2B buyers blog content, whitepapers, reviews, and case studies to help them decide between solutions. But since a business’s needs are more defined than a regular consumer’s, they need to find that information quickly. Websites must be SEO-friendly, intuitive to use, load quickly, and work great on mobile.
While B2B and B2C selling aim to sell more products, B2B buyers won’t compromise their extensive list of requirements. They will also demand the efficiency and productivity of everyone involved in the purchase process.
Businesses that engage in B2B eCommerce can also operate in other selling models. For example, a single manufacturer can sell B2B, B2B2B, B2B2C, D2C, or via a marketplace. Since these are not mutually exclusive, it’s possible to maintain selling relationships in one area without affecting the other.
These are just some of the many unique qualities of B2B eCommerce.
Unique Characteristics of B2B eCommerce
Let’s look in detail at some of the things that make the complex and highly diverse B2B eCommerce world different.
Customer onboarding process
Unlike in B2C eCommerce, onboarding a customer isn’t just about getting contact information and payment preferences. B2B businesses deal with vastly different customers, and the onboarding process must take company information, creditworthiness, payment and invoicing requirements which should then be added to the invoicing software. Business customers can also have additional payment terms and deal with vastly different order approval processes. Streamlining the onboarding process is essential since it sets the purchase experience tone and increases repeat purchases.
Longer relationships and buying cycles
Business customers purchase not to fill an immediate want or need but to help their businesses succeed. Since they are company representatives, they are interested in building long-term relationships and partnerships. Furthermore, the decision-making process in a B2B purchase can involve numerous stakeholders, so B2B eCommerce transactions must make the process easy for all of them. Otherwise, buyers will readily shift wallet share to a competitor that does.
Extensive self-service options
B2B sellers must streamline complex B2B buying processes to retain customers and get them to purchase more. As mentioned earlier, B2B buyers appreciate intuitive interfaces, accurate pricing, and an easy ordering process. Other requirements, such as requesting quotes, negotiating prices, or reordering items, will make the purchase process more comfortable and get customers to purchase again.
Personalized products and ordering
Since no B2B buyer is alike, digital channels must offer buyers personalized product catalogues, pricing, and payment options, complete with their purchase histories. This information doesn’t only help the buyer - sellers understand how shoppers purchase and use it to improve their relationship with vendors, suppliers, and other supply chain participants.
Automating back-office processes
Business sellers rely on many complex processes to get their products to their customers. They manage supply chains and various relationships with suppliers, vendors, and resellers. Numerous systems such as warehouses, fulfilment and shipment tracking systems must work together in unison. Thus, a powerful and flexible workflow automation engine is a crucial element of B2B eCommerce. It’s the only way businesses can speed up time-consuming tasks, streamline operations, and improve customer experience.
Personalized, dynamic pricing
Today’s information is more accessible than ever, and pricing is no exception. As competition heats up, many third-party aggregators, comparison services, and review sites make it easier for B2B buyers to make decisions. Thus, B2Bs must accommodate buyer demands for convenient and transparent pricing. Various products can require different dynamic pricing calculations, and even B2B buyers within the same company may need to see different prices for these products.
Unique payment and invoicing structures
While B2C consumers usually rely on a few payment forms, such as credit card, Google or Apple pay, in B2B, the situation is different. Orders can be made in a line of credit, wire transfers, or by invoice. Furthermore, businesses can rely on additional payment terms within a single account, accept prepayment for products or services, or pay after delivery.
The Time Is Now for B2B eCommerce
Even after the pandemic subsides, the move to online selling will continue well into the future. Over the past year, many B2B businesses have either moved entirely online or transitioned from fully in-person to offer online sales.
Traditionally, B2B sellers believed that an eCommerce experience could not replicate their unique and personal selling process. However, B2B eCommerce is a quickly growing portion of overall B2B sales in the UK and worldwide.
Businesses are flocking online to purchase, and leading sellers use B2B eCommerce solutions to improve operational efficiency, personalization and apply it at scale.
That’s why now it’s more important than ever to take your B2B eCommerce strategy with B2B requirements in mind. A purpose-built B2B eCommerce software enables you to build and maintain a digital presence and better meet customers’ needs now and in the future.