The importance of e-commerce in the B2B landscape is growing exponentially. In the past, digital commerce used to be an afterthought for wholesalers but it is now the dominant sales channel for B2B vendors. In fact, research from Forrester found that 54% of these businesses deem their website to be critically important in creating a better customer experience and increasing turnover.
However, many B2B organisations are still finding it challenging to achieve ROI from their e-commerce investments and this is fuelled by the fact that many C-Suite members in B2B businesses still have not bought into a modern digital e-commerce strategy. Instead they prefer to utilise traditional sales methods, such as catalogues and call centres. This is compounded by research from World Business Review (WBR), which revealed that 26% of businesses surveyed are still having trouble convincing senior staff to take a customer-centric approach to e-commerce.
The result is stunted online growth, with many B2B vendors still using their online platforms to merely provide information on product and stockists, while only 34% actually allow customers to make complete purchases online. On the other hand, many B2B businesses that have invested in an e-commerce platform are yet to find the right strategy: 52% of wholesalers struggle to find a solution that integrates with their existing systems and 39% are still seeking one that is flexible enough to support the needs of their different customer types, according to Forrester.
In this increasingly competitive marketplace it is important that B2B businesses are investing in perfecting their online offering. This has become even more essential due to the impact that B2C sales channels has had on B2B customers buying expectations – B2B customers are growing to be increasingly demanding and are expecting a sleek and seamless commerce experience when browsing and purchasing online.
A huge 38% B2B buyers will visit at least four websites before making a purchase and 50% would search for a week or more before choosing a suitable provider. This means that every online interaction needs to be as compelling as possible in order to win the sale. So, how can B2B’s create a compelling online journey to successfully engage buyers and win market share?
Customers across B2C and B2B increasingly prefer to engage with suppliers on their own terms – at any time of the day, anywhere. Consequently, an increasing number of B2B retailers are offering self-service capabilities in order to deliver a more personalised experience and increase customer satisfaction. For example, pharmacy and healthcare product retailer Uniphar Group implemented a sophisticated ‘My Account’ dashboard with reordering and online return features, allowing customers to self-serve and facilitate the purchasing process, resulting in a 30% increase in order volume.
However, according to Forrester, many B2B’s still adopt a very traditional commercial approach with 36% of B2B vendors still relying on field sales agents and 38% focusing on telephone sales. Driving change in mentality is never easy and shifting away from this business model will be a challenge, but organisations can start with small steps, such as incentivising sales representatives for self-service orders, to encourage the transition.
An individual’s experience as a B2C consumer inevitably drives their expectations in a B2B buyer scenario, and it is because of this that B2B organisations need to aim to deliver B2C-worthy experiences to appeal to the consumer in every buyer. This needs to start at a design level. Websites should display product in an appealing and sophisticated way, in highly visual pages – features like 360° product view, for example, are becoming increasingly popular.
However, while imitating the best of B2C, businesses shouldn’t neglect the customisability that a B2B e-commerce solution requires. Flexibility is a crucial component of a B2B digital commerce strategy. In fact, research conducted by Forrester shows that 27% of B2B sales leaders look for an e-commerce solution that has the flexibility to be uniquely customised in order to accommodate the diverse needs of B2B buyers. For example, a B2B e-commerce platform should serve a variety of purchasing models – yet, surprisingly, WBR research shows that only 23% of B2B websites allow multiple paying methods.
Uniphar Group is an example of a B2B business that has mastered this balance – when replacing its legacy ordering app with a modern and intuitive platform, Uniphar Group ensured it could still service its pharmacy and hospital clients with customised pricing, availability and lead times on a per-customer basis. B2B specific features such as these cannot be ignored, however the general principles from B2C omnichannel strategies can still be applied to these B2B specific requirements.
B2B’s still have a way to go before they truly realise the potential and ROI of having an online presence, and a strong e-commerce strategy could give these suppliers a real competitive edge. The future of sales is digital, therefore it’s crucial for B2B vendors to follow in B2C retailers’ footsteps to deliver a seamless and engaging online customer experience that grows their revenue – Experience Driven Commerce.
Brian Green, senior director, magento, an Adobe company