With the COVID-19 pandemic still impacting how we live, work and purchase, the call to ecommerce is growing stronger. Across every industry, business people and consumers are learning lessons about agility and resilience.
Couple that with the growing financial opportunity, and you may wonder what’s holding traditional B2B companies back from embarking on their digital transformation journey.
Between the evolution of customer expectations and the advancement of ecommerce technologies, taking your business online has a lower barrier to entry than ever.
The Modern B2B Buyer
Today’s B2B buyers are increasingly tech-savvy, so much so that a McKinsey & Company report states about 65% of B2B companies across industries are fully transacting online in 2022.
Furthermore, buyers want to be empowered to go through as much of the process on their own as possible. According to a report from Accenture, most buyers are about 57% of the way through the buying process by the time they speak with a rep.
That they’re willing to shoulder so much of that research is a good thing, considering that today’s buyers are more cautious, with more than 79% of unidentified calls going unanswered.
However, buyers are also growing more demanding, with expectations highly impacted by their personal buying experiences. Thanks to the success of sites like Amazon, customers expect features such as fast page load times, easy-to-use on-site search, detailed product images and self-service options.
The primary challenge of B2B ecommerce is to deliver a beautiful, easy-to-use ecommerce site that supports all of these features and more.
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B2B Ecommerce Challenges
B2B buyers want the same shopping experience as B2C shoppers, with a focus on efficiency and ease of use. However, B2B buyers have different needs — and therein lies the major challenge of B2B ecommerce sales teams.
B2B relationships are personal.
B2B relationships are often personalized by account managers, who act as a liaison between businesses. These personalized needs can include customer-specific and bulk pricing, based on a tiering system or specifically negotiated deals.
B2B buyers expect pricing, product catalogs and item selection to be organized according to their particular requirements. How will those relationships translate online? How do you keep relationships unique and personalized at scale?
These are questions you must be able to answer.
Solution: Customer segments.
Assigning customer catalogs to specific customer segments is a great way to start personalizing the B2B customer shopping experience for your users.
This can enable logged-in customers to see only what is relevant to them and show them the prices specifically negotiated for their account.
The B2B buying process involves a lot of stakeholders.
The B2B purchasing workflow can consist of a wide range of people with specific roles and responsibilities. There will be people researching the solutions, stakeholders whose buy-in is needed to move forward, financial representatives to approve spending and so on.
Depending on the purchase value, this could take up to a year or more — a far cry from the one-click purchase button on Amazon.
All that complexity means there’s a lot to keep up with, which is where solid back-office management comes in. You have to be able to efficiently provide each stakeholder your business interacts with the information they need to do their jobs.
Solution: Integrated tools.
This is not a job for a manual process. You need powerful tools on your side — like customer relationships management (CRM) software, an enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to integrate all your data — and self-service options so buyers can find as much information as possible.
B2B buyers have complex procurement processes.
B2B buyers expect flexibility on how they order and pay since many companies' purchase processes are highly complex.
Procurement refers to the activities around acquiring the products and services that support business operations. It's often tightly monitored and controlled, with clearly defined policies and processes. The procurement process can include many documents, such as contracts, requisition orders, purchase orders, invoices, etc.
It doesn't take much for B2B buyers to move on.
According to a survey of B2B buyers, almost three-quarters of respondents said they'd switch to a new ecommerce site for better purchasing options. The same share of respondents stated that they would purchase more products if they could pay by invoice.
eProcurement is the digitization of the procurement process. B2B buyers use eProcurement platforms to improve efficiency and gain greater control over spending across the organization.
These platforms enforce best practices and consolidate data, but getting data into the platform can be tricky. An eProcurement integrator can facilitate the flow of requisition, purchase order, invoice, and other data between ecommerce and eProcurement platforms.
Buyers need many ways to pay.
One thing that can end a business relationship with a B2B buyer is to limit the payment options available. By offering flexible payment terms to potential B2B buyers, you can help win new customers and keep existing customers happy.
Solution: B2B credit solution.
Using a B2B credit solution can help you:
Improve customer loyalty and keep pace with buyer expectations by offering Net 30 terms.
Allow you to grow your business with immediate capital instead of waiting for customer payments.
Avoid the financial risk of providing credit to new customers.
Data for multiple channels may be siloed.
Selling online requires locking together a number of moving pieces, which can be even more significant when you’re talking about B2B.
If you sell via multiple channels — e.g., B2B and B2C — or have multiple lines of distribution, you may have many different data sources. Keeping that data siloed is not the best option for your business.
Solution: Enterprise resource planning (ERP).
ERP software integrates order management, accounting and a 360-degree view of your clients into a single, real-time system, providing all the flexibility you need to customize the workflows and functionality of your back-office environment.
A robust ERP integration provides a holistic view of your business and inventory levels to strengthen overall operations and meet buyer expectations.
Shipping B2B has its own set of requirements and constraints.
Determining the best shipping strategy for your B2B business comes with unique challenges, from freight shipments to client-specific requirements.
Some of the factors you may need to consider include:
Frequency of repeat orders.
Bulk orders that are difficult to rate.
Quoting and real-time rating.
Existing agreements and contracts.
The added complexity doesn’t mean you should shy away from the shipping options offered by B2C merchants. Buyers expect a B2C-like experience that delivers on personalization, quick delivery and convenience. The growing demand for alternative delivery options in B2C shipping is another example.
Solution: Price transparency and tailored shipping options.
When developing your B2B shipping strategy, aim for complete price transparency, multiple shipping options and tailored shipping options based on product, order or customer.
Use different rules per product group — especially if introducing a brand new product line — and make sure you are fulfilling orders via appropriate services.
B2B buyers need to find more complex products just as easily.
Modern buyers are moving away from in-person sales meetings and ordering via a paper catalog. Online B2B buyers — like B2C shoppers — want relevant search results, easy website navigation and suggested product content.
They also need accommodations that meet the complexity of B2B buying, such as a unique account with a custom catalog, specialized pricing and sensitivity to product availability. The future of B2B is in ecommerce, and the need for a personalized, intelligent, search-driven experience is essential.
Solution: Adaptive search.
Adaptive search is a technology that learns from and adapts to B2B buyers’ behavior over time. It uses machine learning to display products based on each buyer’s unique browsing and search behavior, thus personalizing the shopping experience.
When adaptive search is combined with autocomplete, it can complete words in the search bar and present suggested answers or results based on the search term.
Here’s how to leverage adaptive search for B2B functionality:
Search by exact part number or SKU.
Search by exact keywords, including industry terms.
Search by problem or issue solved.
Search by content.
Security is becoming more important.
As the B2B sales process grows more digital, the demand for greater security — for both ecommerce businesses and customers — will only continue to increase.
From data breaches to corporate espionage, understanding how to best secure your B2B networks will serve to help customers most efficiently while protecting your backend from potential harm.
Solution: Add new procedures and software.
To better protect your customers and yourself from security threats, your ecommerce solution must be able to store important customer data, from contact information and order history to payment methods. The more your customers feel protected and secure, the more likely they will purchase from you.
To make sure that you have the proper security procedures in place, you must:
Ensure that your business understands and follows the various privacy data, from GDPR to CCPA.
Engineer a safe, secure data storage plan with robust, consistently-updated software.
Craft and implement a disaster plan to respond to cybersecurity attacks or data breaches.
Train your staff on how to maintain data safety.
A New Approach for New Expectations
BigCommerce’s B2B ecommerce platform enables you with powerful features to readily meet — and exceed — your buyers’ expectations.
The Final Word
In 2017, McKinsey released a report finding that B2B companies lagged behind B2Cs in how they use digital tools and data to set ecommerce marketing strategies. Fewer than 24% of executives understood how their industries were being disrupted by digital.
That's all changed now, as the money spent on B2B digital advertising is projected to jump from $4.28 billion in 2017 to a whopping $14.57 billion in 2023.
A combination of factors lead to B2B's slow movement toward digital transformation. However, in today's world, with evolving technologies and buyer demands, you'll be able to quickly find more ways to enable successful B2B sales on an ecommerce store.