As digital shoppers use their smartphones and laptops to spend their way to record levels of online sales, consumer preference for digital shopping is rapidly spilling over into the B2B market.
In the United States, business-to-business eCommerce is expected to notch $1.8 trillion, or 17% of all B2B sales, by 2023. This growth is driven largely by the generation born in the last two decades of the 20th century. Millennials are shifting into decision-making and leadership roles in the workplace and accounted for half of the B2B buyers in 2015.
Accustomed to incorporating technology into all aspects of their lives, this generation prefers to independently research B2B purchases online instead of taking a meeting with a sales rep. Millennials average 12 online searches before deciding to buy a particular brand and often have opinions formed before speaking to an account person.
Ecommerce is fundamentally changing the B2B business model, making it critical for companies to deliver the kind of digital experience a new generation of buyers expects. Let’s look at how integrating an eCommerce platform into your B2B strategies enables you to find customers, boost sales, and create an operational framework for future growth.
Reach More Customers
With the number of online shoppers expected to exceed 2.1 billion worldwide by 2021, businesses need to be present in the digital space where decisions are being made.
According to Google, 63% of shopping occasions start online. In particular, Millennials rely on search engines, vendor websites, and social media when researching B2B products and services. Unlike consumer purchases, which can sometimes be impulsive, B2B sales are carefully considered decisions. One-third of companies evaluate between four and seven websites before making a purchase.
Ecommerce platforms open the doors of your business to a global B2B audience. A digital storefront that’s SEO-friendly and compatible with different devices and browsers puts your offerings in front of purchasers in the discovery phase of the buying journey when they’re searching for a particular product.
Once a well-designed eCommerce site begins attracting new prospects’ attention, it can start doing the work of converting customers by delivering the information they need to make decisions. Detailed product descriptions, images, case studies, and videos present valuable details that can help drive customers to purchase.
In addition to reaching more B2B decision-makers and enabling them to shop the way they want, an eCommerce storefront ensures the most current product and pricing information is available in real-time to customers and staff. We’ll see how this provides the foundation of an infrastructure to scale your operations as needed.
Direct Access to Customers
Giving buyers an easy, convenient way to buy your products strengthens your relationships with retailers, vendors, and other supply chain partners. If your eCommerce platform is optimized for search engines, you can also expand your purchasing audience. Many B2B vendors are taking advantage of eCommerce to sell directly to consumers.
Adding a B2C sales model to your operations lets you diversify your client base and also:
- Build relationships directly with the end-users of your product.
- Ensure products are sold at your MSRP.
- Boost profit margins.
- Receive feedback directly from consumers to inform your product development.
Agile eCommerce platforms also make it easy to target different audiences. You can link multiple sales channels to your centralized product inventory and streamline operations.
Upgraded Sales Process
Once customers have explored your digital store to learn about your products and have made the decision to buy, your eCommerce platform easily facilitates the purchase. It also creates a valuable framework that accommodates continued future ordering.
More than half of B2B decision-makers feel that customers prefer eCommerce platforms so they can conveniently serve themselves. Almost 40% feel that automated ordering systems result in more recurring orders.
Customers can use a digital storefront to easily view:
- Current product information.
- Delivery times.
It’s also possible to provide custom pricing for repeat clients. Automotive parts dealer Jeep People, for example, replaced a time-consuming manual discounting system with a robust eCommerce platform. Dealers or wholesalers can log in and place orders on their own and receive automatically tailored pricing. The company tripled revenue within a year.
Use of Customer Analytics
As transactions begin to flow through your digital storefront, you can start to collect something that’s just as important as revenue: data.
Effective B2B eCommerce platforms deliver valuable insight that can refine your sales approach at all stages of the purchasing journey, and ultimately, leverage future sales. Think about how Amazon drives additional purchases using tailored recommendations. Customers used to this type of personalization expect the same customized experience in B2B transactions. They only want relevant messages delivered.
Here are ways analytics can be used to anticipate and respond to buyer needs:
- Analyze individual preferences and behaviors to better serve customers. This information can create relevant talking points before reaching out to clients or creating sales emails.
- Segment audiences based on behaviors to generate automated marketing campaigns for a group. For example, you may want to target a new product line to customers who have previously purchased a certain item.
Analytics also help you to identify order trends and evaluate the effectiveness of marketing strategies.
Once you’ve analyzed data, you can leverage insight about customer preferences and behaviors. Analytics can help you:
- Learn about what products buyers are searching for.
- Track abandoned carts and uncover why orders aren’t placed.
- Target customers who spend time on the site but don’t purchase.
- Identify your highest-spending accounts and cultivate VIP relationships.
- Offer a special promotion to entice customers with a low average order value to spend more.
- Pinpoint customers who haven’t been active to re-engage them.
- Customize marketing campaigns based on repeat and new customers.
Implement Ordering Workflows
While an online store connects you to a wider customer base and facilitates purchasing from a client perspective, it also streamlines your internal workflow to improve productivity and efficiency.
Good eCommerce platforms offer a wide array of technical capabilities and can integrate with other systems to build a workflow suited to your business’s needs.
A centralized, digital product catalog, for example, ensures inventory and pricing information is always up-to-date, reducing the chance of overselling. Ecommerce stores can also use automation to handle all aspects of the ordering process.
Online stores can be set up digitally:
- Accept orders
- Manage invoices, contracts, and documents
- Process payments
- Update customers regarding order receipt, fulfillment, and shipping
- Print shipping labels
A smooth internal ordering workflow means orders are quickly fulfilled and without error, improving customer satisfaction and retention. This streamlined system also makes it easier to manage increased volume and scale your operations in the future.
With Forrester projecting an impressive 10% compound annual growth rate for B2B eCommerce between 2018 and 2023, there’s one fact that’s impossible to ignore. Sophisticated digital behaviors are changing how B2B buyers do business, and a new generation of decision-makers are already online researching and making purchases for their organizations.
B2B vendors who want to capitalize on the potential for eCommerce growth and boost their sales must make it possible for customers to shop the way they prefer — digitally.
Ecommerce platforms can raise the visibility of B2B vendors and:
- Engage buyers at the earliest stage of their purchasing journey when they’re searching online for product information.
- Enable you to sell direct-to-consumers and grow your client base.
- Centralize product information and make it easier for customers to purchase.
- Use valuable data to understand customer behavior and anticipate their needs.
- Streamline and automate internal workflow to remove the chance of error and increase customer satisfaction.
Consider adding an eCommerce platform to your sales strategies to meet your customers’ needs and offer scalability for future growth. Vendors who don’t adapt to this new model of B2B sales risk losing business to competitors who are already leveraging the opportunities offered by eCommerce.