Grow your B2B and B2C sales with the "right" B2B eCommerce Platform
B2B or business-to-business ecommerce refers to products, information, or services being exchanged online between businesses. Examples of B2B ecommerce are a manufacturer buying raw materials from a wholesaler or a retailer buying products from a wholesaler using an online portal. B2B ecommerce differs from B2C ecommerce, also known as D2C ecommerce, which is business-to-consumer online sales, and B2G, which refers to business-to-government online sales. Facts and Factors valued the B2B ecommerce market at $7.35 trillion in 2020 and predicted the market will grow to a value of $18.57 trillion by 2026.
More and more businesses are feeling comfortable buying products online. A recent survey of companies in a wide range of industries found that about half of companies purchase online at least once a week. About half of the companies surveyed do all their purchasing online.
B2B ecommerce is particularly popular with millennials. In a recent B2B Millennial Buyer Survey Report, more than half of the millennial respondents held director-level positions, and 42 percent held managerial positions. These millennial decision-makers value ecommerce and use online sources to make most of their business buying decisions.
B2B ecommerce provides several advantages over traditional commerce to both sellers and buyers. The first is that it allows a seller to conduct business without the need to open a new warehouse in each new location, saving them money on infrastructure and overhead. A seller can pass some or all of these savings along to the customer, creating advantages for the customer.
B2B ecommerce also allows a business to sell to business customers over a more expansive geographic territory and enables customers to comparison shop across a wider area. Customers also generally have the advantage of seeing more products through the online portal than they could if shopping in person. For example, a B2B company that is a retailer buying from a wholesaler may now offer considerably more inventory without needing to stock it.
Businesses that effectively use B2B ecommerce also can easily access data on customer preferences and buying patterns. They can use this data to suggest other products to clients, increasing their sales and the customer’s satisfaction. Businesses can also use the ecommerce data to fine-tune their long-term product and marketing strategies and supply chains. They also can automate processes and agreements, providing a better customer experience.
Many B2B businesses are at a transition point. They are moving from doing business primarily through phone, email, and fax to online business. They still need to develop personal relationships with their customers and maintain that personal touch. Yet they need to offer the same customer service through automation on their website. Sellers must have specific systems, processes, and software systems in place to succeed. These include:
Every B2B customer is unique. They have unique purchasing procedures, designated employee purchase maximums, and budget controls.
A key to being successful in B2B ecommerce is the ability to easily set up customer-specific and user-specific settings that fit with each customer’s procedures. The best B2B ecommerce software allows you to have different roles and permissions per user within the same company. For example, suppose an employee places an order that exceeds their order limit. In that case, an excellent B2B software will automatically kick the purchase up to the next person in the hierarchy for approval before releasing it.
Seller security protocols are also critical in systems that allow for this personalization. Ecommerce vendors can establish protocols that will enable only the salesperson and sales managers responsible for the accounts to make changes in a customer’s or employee’s user profile.
Good B2B ecommerce software also integrates with the existing customer list and syncs data with other software.
Most suppliers negotiate prices with their largest customers so that each customer has its own price list. A sound B2B ecommerce system will allow you to have customized price lists based upon what you have negotiated with each customer. Automating this process saves you considerable money in potential labor costs while also providing an excellent customer experience.
As more businesses turn to online procurement, they will want to request and receive quotes via online portals. The capability to receive and efficiently respond to requests from customers seeking a new supplier or bids for new material or service will ensure you don’t miss out on business. Custom quoting tools can allow for receiving and responding to these requests promptly.
The software also can customize workflow based upon the merchant’s requirements. The customer can view a history of their quote. Once the quote is returned, the customer can easily convert it to a sales order, which once again gains efficiencies for the merchant. The sales representative also can suggest additional products to increase the AOV and make recommendations for out-of-stock products ahead of time.
B2B ecommerce software can increase sales and reduce costs through automation and personalization. Automation that can update and sync your order-taking software with billing and warehouse systems will help businesses avoid promising quick delivery on items out of stock; it will also alert companies quickly to shortages. B2B ecommerce software with automation features also will eliminate mistakes from manual rekeying.
Personalization means creating a unique experience for each customer every time. It is an essential tool for increasing customer engagement and satisfaction, as well as sales. Research shows that the conversion rate is 70 percent when online shoppers deal with a personalized recommendation. A sound B2B ecommerce system will keep accurate data and automatically suggest new services or products for the customer based on their previous purchasing profile. It also will keep a list of the products a customer typically orders to save time in re-ordering. For example, if a seller has 100,000 products, but the customer only orders 50, the software will list those 50.
Gartner cautions that B2B vendors who gain the most from the use of personalization don’t overdo the concept and offer personalization that the customer views as helpful. For example, B2B sellers should ensure the personalization offered is appropriate for the buyer’s role in the company. Personalization appropriate to an accounting manager would be different from that appropriate for a CEO.
B2B customers aren’t just moving to omnichannel; they are already there, says McKinsey. Eight in ten B2B leaders say that omnichannel commerce is at least as attractive as traditional methods. Customers also are willing to buy big-ticket items through digital channels; 20 percent of all buyers would spend $500,000 in a digital transaction, and 11 percent will spend $1 million or more in a digital transaction.
With omnichannel as the new norm, vendors want to be hybrid sellers, which means they interact with customers via phone, email, video, apps, and occasional in-person visits. Likewise, customers want and expect to be able to buy products and services on their laptops, tablets, or mobile phones on-demand and with ease. They also may buy through other channels such as Facebook and Instagram, marketplaces such as Amazon, and the data feed for Google shopping. Another popular option is buying a product online and picking it up in the retail store. Real-time data on inventory levels makes the selection of pickup instead of delivery a reality.
To capture the omnichannel growth, B2B sellers will need to overcome certain omnichannel challenges, McKinsey says. These are channel conflicts, and one channel merely cannibalizes sales from another. Managing multiple channels from one ecommerce platform is particularly important in overcoming these challenges.
The best B2B sellers have great flexibility in displaying and describing their products. Title, price, attributes, and images are essential, but you’ll also want to control other aspects of your product, providing detailed product information and lists of features. Adding product data can help for SEO and can allow customers to download PDF files with specs and detailed product attributes. The best B2B ecommerce software easily allows for repricing and has a powerful rule engine to create specific promotions on the right products for the right customers. Segmenting the customer to their buying preferences will increase their chances of ordering.
As more businesses purchase online, B2B buyers’ expectations are rising and becoming closer to those of B2C consumers. More customers are researching purchases online. Having the right content is critical to engaging new customers. B2B sellers also need opportunities to create content on their websites, such as blogs and video content, that help build trust in the brand and drive sales.
A good search function can make the difference between a great ecommerce site and a mediocre one, especially for a company that sells multiple products. Buyers want to find their product quickly. More than 60 percent of customers report they’ve left an ecommerce site because they couldn’t find their product quickly.
A B2B ecommerce platform with a powerful search engine with multiple layers is critical. Power search engine functionality also allows visitors to search for products in multiple ways. Sellers will want to customize and define all the ways buyers might search for particular products, allowing for multiple search terms for the same product.
A significant advantage of B2B ecommerce is the ability to reach new international markets without having to build brick-and-mortar stores and hire large staff in each market. To master the challenges of globalization, however, B2B ecommerce software must meet certain conditions. The software must contain:
- Language packages
- Interconnected international technology resources that can function as a unit
- Multilingual administration
- Pricing based on each country or region
- Freely configurable country or regional shops
- Multi-currency capability
- A configurable tax calculation
Multi-store management is the ability to launch and manage multiple stores from the same B2B ecommerce platform. Launching multiple stores allows a seller to enter new regional or niche markets while continuing to engage former ones. For example, a manufacturer already active in the automotive parts industry might launch another store for machinery parts. As another example, a business might have separate stores for each national market. Finally, a company that does both B2B and B2C or B2G sales can have separate stores for each sale type.
Multi-store markets also have considerable challenges, however. These include data management, different brand messaging, integration with other systems, and lack of resources. A solid B2B ecommerce platform will allow a company to meet the challenges, either through built-in functionality or customization.
B2B ecommerce software must integrate seamlessly with other relevant software the business owns, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), accounting, and warehouse management systems. Without seamless integration, inventory information will not sync in real-time. Companies will need to assign staff to rekey data or download data from one system to another to track inventory. Customers will not receive appropriate information about whether an item is in stock and when delivery will occur, resulting in disappointments and unhappy customers. With proper integration, the order system always knows whether an item is available in the warehouse and can even send a message to have the item pulled from the shelves and packaged for transport to the customer.
Although integration with current systems is integral to successful B2B e-commerce, many SaaS platforms lack the flexibility required for customization. However, using an open-source platform allows the B2B ecommerce platform to be customized as necessary to handle complex and critically essential integrations. An open API structure also provides for guaranteed integration.
B2B customers require a variety of payment options and methods. Many will want to issue electronic purchase orders for later billing or to add an item to an already existing account. Others will use credit cards or ACH payment options. Wire transfer is a popular payment choice for international purchasers, particularly for large items. Digital payment platforms, such as Google or PayPal, are sometimes preferred, especially for small businesses. Different platforms and payment options are relevant for different international markets, as well.
To succeed, ecommerce vendors need to be able to accept various payment methods and options with ease. B2B ecommerce software should allow for all these payment methods and for further customization based upon customer preferences.
The right B2B ecommerce platform helps the salespeople by allowing them to create orders on behalf of the buyers. It also allows them to modify and troubleshoot existing orders. It can enable them to make appropriate product recommendations based on the customer’s purchase history and provide individualized incentives to increase the order value. Salespeople also can view what is in their customers’ carts. Good B2B ecommerce software also will allow display customization so that special or promotional merchandise can be displayed favorably.
While all these features are essential, B2B sellers must play a long-term game to succeed. The field sales staff is still crucial, and to retain them long-term, you must continue to ensure sales team success. Sales staff will still be critical even as businesses buy more digitally because of their relationships with clients.
A good B2B ecommerce platform works with your sales team rather than against it. This is a simple premise in theory, but it can be tricky to establish. For example, you want to use all the software’s technology to boost sales, but you also want to provide incentives to keep your sales staff happy. One key is to pay incentives whenever a sales rep influences an online sale. To do this, you’ll need B2B software that you can customize to your own sales process to accurately provide these incentives.
B2B ecommerce software also helps sales reps to develop long-term relations. Sales reps can customize the system to send personalized follow-up emails automatically after each sale. Round-the-clock customer service via chatbots, chats, and other technology also improves relationships. B2B ecommerce software that interacts with the company’s CRM system can enable reps to easily invite customers to webinars to other events based on their buying interests and make creating and maintaining a loyalty program easier.
Data drives business decisions. The better the data, the better decisions a business can make. Real-time data and alerts can allow sales, customer service, or warehouse teams to act quickly to ensure an excellent customer experience. It can enable teams to collaborate efficiently.
Good data can also help the company understand its performance at a quick glance and easily make period-to-period comparisons. It also can help companies make appropriate long and short-term decisions about product offerings and promotions.
Finally, the best B2B ecommerce platforms allow for customizing reports to show the metrics you need and modify them as conditions change. They can indicate which potential customers downloaded reports or other information from the website or clicked through an ad. They also can aid in developing an ideal customer profile and in increasing conversion rates.
B2B ecommerce businesses have tremendous growth potential, far beyond that of brick-and-mortar stores. As businesses increase their website traffic, order volume, number of customers, and product offerings, they need their B2B ecommerce platform to scale accordingly. Customer service also becomes more challenging to manage as you grow. Your ecommerce software will need to provide multiple ways for you to interact with customers and be able to handle the additional customer service volume without crashing. Having to switch ecommerce platforms because the one you chose can’t grow with the business can be disruptive. Selecting a hosting environment that can be scaled to meet future demands is essential from the beginning. An open-source system allows for unlimited scalability with no limitations.
Partner Network and Extensions
You need several types of partner networks and extensions for a smooth and successful B2B ecommerce experience. The first is solutions partners. A good solutions partner network prevents you from being locked into one development agency and facilitates you moving quickly should business conditions require.
The second type is technology partners or other technology systems that integrate with your B2B ecommerce system. These might include systems that allow you to display reviews at key purchase decision points and deliver personalized recommendations.
Hosting partners are specialized hosting companies that have servers configured to work with the B2B ecommerce platform to increase speed, performance, and security. These partners help with scalability.
Extensions and apps written by other developers can quickly add functionality to your website. For example, an extension to protect your shop from vulnerabilities or an app to optimize your search engine rankings.
Amazon is the largest e-commerce retailer in the United States, and its app is the most popular. Net sales in 2020 were about $386 billion, and its brand is valued at $684 billion. However, 52 percent of B2B customers prefer to buy directly from the manufacturer, which means manufacturers can effectively compete against Amazon if they have the right ecommerce software. For example, the right ecommerce software can help you offer enticing discounts and products users can’t find on Amazon. It can allow you to enter different price tiers for each business customer based upon your agreements with them.
Technology also can provide data that helps you determine why customers abandon their carts and then help you develop a solution. For example, customers may abandon the cart because the checkout process is too long. Yet, technology can speed up the checkout process. Customers may also abandon their cart because they have a question about the product; chatbots or online chats may solve this issue.
The right B2B software also can improve the customer experience. Customers return to online sites if they have a good customer experience, but they’ll leave the site if they have a bad experience, even if your products are good.
A regional approach can allow you to compete against local competitors. B2B ecommerce technology will enable you to establish a different shop for each region.
Acquire New Customers Through New Channels
A B2B ecommerce website can be a powerful way to attract new customers if you maximize it fully. The right B2B platform will integrate with all the acquisition channels to enable an efficient marketing campaign. Some of the most popular ways to acquire new B2B customers are:
Content marketing is a critical factor in B2B customer acquisition and retention. Useful blog posts, trade show information, white papers, podcasts, and e-books build trust and brand awareness. It is a powerful sales tool for millennial decision-makers. User reviews (61 percent) are particularly popular, although interactive content (30 percent) and blogs (14 percent) also are popular with millennials, according to the Millennial B2B report.
B2B marketers can use trade shows to speed up the sales cycle and reduce sales costs. In a recent B2B Content Marketing Report, 75 percent of those surveyed said in-person events such as trade shows are effective. Trade shows allow for face-to-face interactions and relationship building. The key is to carefully select those you attend and exhibit in and develop a strategy for each you attend, says the AMA.
Email marketing can be effective if you develop a good strategy for generating leads and effectively personalizing your emails. Asking a particular question, such as whether they want to receive a particular industry report, may be one way to qualify leads.
Direct mail effectively gains new customers, averaging a 4.4 percent response rate, according to the Direct Marketing Association. Personalization, such as using portraits or cartoons of the recipient, can increase response rates. Developing other ways to entice them to open the piece, such as using a dimensional mailer or clever invitation, also increase direct mail effectiveness.
Forming partnerships with businesses that have customers similar to your targets can be an excellent way to attract new customers. A key to effective partnerships is to ensure that both you and your partner benefit equally from the relationship.
Webinars are especially effective at positioning you and your company as authorities in your industry, according to Medium. Webinars also can provide an opportunity for you to connect with and inform your target audience and serve as a source of leads. Almost half of the millennials prefer webinars for receiving information on potential products and services. Webinars that provide easy-to-consume informational content receive the best marks from these millennials.
Traditional media still attracts a significant audience and is still effective in building brand awareness and generating leads. Putting trusted media into your media mix can elevate the brand. Radio can be less cluttered than the Web and can integrate well with digital media by giving people a discount code, an article on the B2B News Network says. Print media can
allow you to reach customers who continue to read widely but who still are open to ecommerce.
Seventy-six percent of buyers are willing to have sales conversations over social media, and 62 percent of B2B customers respond favorably to salespeople who connect by sharing insights relevant to them on social media, according to HubSpot. An article on CMS Wire suggests that B2B marketers should take a two-pronged approach: Facebook/Instagram and LinkedIn. Facebook and Instagram provide a flexible platform for targeting potential customers based on industry, job title, and seniority. LinkedIn provides the most in-depth targeting for B2B and allows for targeting by company, seniority, title, and organization size.
Word-of-mouth is always great advertising, and many businesses rely on ad-hoc referrals. However, having a process for referrals can dramatically increase their effectiveness. Successful referral programs have several elements. The first is to choose moments when the customer is happiest to ask for the referral. The second is to ensure your current customers know who your target customer is so that they can make an appropriate introduction. Providing current customers with the necessary resources to make a good referral is another essential element.
Similar to referrals are positive reviews. Millennials, in particular, consult reviews when making purchasing B2B decisions. Asking customers for positive reviews when they are happy with your product or service can generate these reviews.
Even in a digital world, field marketing is essential. Field marketers engage with customers face-to-face, promoting the brand and developing relationships. They also can offer unique experiences such as VIP dinners and conferences that are memorable, increase engagement, and ultimately sales. B2B software can provide tools that enable field marketing to be more successful by giving customer-specific data and by integrating with CRM software.
Reduce Operating Costs
An excellent B2B ecommerce platform can help reduce operating costs in several ways. The first is that it can reduce the number of sales reps, allow for reallocation of sales reps to other positions, or allow one sales rep to cover a more expansive geographic territory or product line. B2B ecommerce software also empowers the customer by providing the information they need to put together the order themselves, which means your staff can save hours. Better data can help you predict sales more effectively, so you have fewer or no overstocks. You also may be able to save on warehouse space by managing inventory better.
An ecommerce platform also can enable you to save money because the order is correct the first time. The customer places their own order, which avoids mistakes that can creep in when orders are given over the phone and rekeyed into a computer system. Each order requires fewer transactions, which leaves fewer possibilities for error and saves money.
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A B2B ecommerce platform can optimize the efficiency of your sales cycle in at least two critical ways. The first is by effectively collecting and assembling customer feedback and metrics. Data can help you increase repeat purchases and segment leads in your pipeline based on potential profitability. It also can help you better target your advertising.
The platform also optimizes sales cycle efficiency by integrating other major systems in your company. At a minimum, your ecommerce software should integrate with your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system applications, CRM software, marketing technology, and Product Information Management (PIM) software, according to EY.
A full-service digital commerce agency can help you ensure your software provides the data you need to improve sales efficiency and help with any integration issues. The agency can help you define or redefine your company’s goals and roadmap. It can recommend leading open-source technologies and customize them for your target market, providing the best user experience possible to drive conversions. It can design a system that is genuinely secure and scalable. Finally, it can optimize performance and personalization, which, in turn, will encourage customers to return to your website again and again.
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