In 2019, only 13% of all B2B sales were generated digitally. If US B2B online sales are projected to hit $ 1.8 trillion by 2023, that (based on a pre-pandemic forecast) is projected to hit 17% – which is not an insignificant part of the circle.
And with COVID-19 still affecting the way we live, work and shop, the call for e-commerce is growing ever stronger. In all industries, business people and consumers are learning difficult lessons about agility and resilience.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that both require at least some degree of digital presence.
When you combine that with the growing financial opportunity, you might wonder what is holding back traditional B2B companies from embarking on digital transformation.
There are many answers to this question, but one of them is that B2B sales are usually a little more complex than a typical B2C transaction.
The traditional process of sales meetings, handshakes, demos, negotiations, contracts and procurements cannot simply be translated into a consumer-like digital online experience. At least it wasn’t always like that. And besides, the modern B2B buyer has different expectations.
Between the evolution of customer expectations and the advancement of e-commerce technologies, your company’s online usage has a lower barrier to entry than ever before.
Let’s take a look at what has changed in the B2B sector over the past ten years and what challenges retailers still face in the transition from building blocks to clicks.
The modern B2B buyer
Today’s B2B buyers are increasingly tech-savvy – 61% of all B2B customers Transactions start online now.
In fact, buyers want to be able to go through the process themselves as much as possible. Most buyers are on the go, according to a report from Accenture 57% of the way through the buying process when speaking to a representative.
That they are willing to do so much of this research is a good thing considering the same report states that today’s buyers are more cautious – more than 90% of decision makers never respond to cold contacts.
But buyers are also becoming increasingly demanding, with expectations being strongly influenced by their personal buying experiences. Thanks to websites like Amazon, customers expect fast page loading times, effective, user-friendly on-site searches, intuitive navigation, detailed product images and descriptions, self-service options, and quick checkout.
B2B e-commerce has lagged behind its B2C counterparts in terms of its ability to offer a positive, holistic customer experience.
So the main challenge of B2B e-commerce is to provide a beautiful, easy-to-use e-commerce website that also supports complex business processes such as custom contract pricing, custom catalogs, purchase approvals, payment on credit terms and other business-specific types, easy re-ordering, delivery – and collection methods as well as digitization of other traditional offline processes.
B2B e-commerce challenges
Your B2B buyers want the same experience as B2C buyers: efficiency and ease of use. But they have different needs – and therein lies the great challenge of B2B e-commerce sales.
1. B2B relationships are personal.
You probably don’t have an account manager to liaise with your favorite department store. However, B2B relationships are often personalized this way and have evolved over time.
These personalized requirements include custom pricing, whether based on a tiering system or specially negotiated deals, as well as bulk pricing. You may also have customers who don’t need access to your entire catalog.
B2B buyers expect prices, catalogs and product selections to be organized according to their specific needs. How are these relationships translated online? How do you keep relationships unique and individual?
By assigning customer catalogs to specific customer segments, you can personalize the shopping experience for B2B customers for your users. This way, logged in customers can only see what is relevant to them and see the prices that have been negotiated specifically for their account.
2. The B2B buying process involves many decision makers and the buying cycle is long and complex.
The B2B purchasing workflow can consist of a variety of people with their own specific roles and responsibilities. There will be people looking for solutions, stakeholders who will need to be bought in to move forward, financial representatives approving the spending, and much more. And depending on the value of the purchase, this can take up to a year or more – a far cry from the one-click buy button on Amazon.
All of this complexity means there is a lot to do. This is where solid back office management comes into play. You have to be able to do that efficient Provide each stakeholder your company interacts with with the information they need to do their job.
This is not a job for a manual process. You need powerful tools like Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software to integrate all of your data, and self-service options so that buyers can find as much information for themselves as possible.
3. Buyers have complex procurement processes.
B2B buyers expect flexibility when ordering and paying – and they need it because some companies’ buying processes are as complex and analogous as the latecomers they shop from.
Procurement refers to the activities related to the acquisition of the products and services that support business operations. It is often closely monitored and controlled, with clearly defined guidelines and processes. This can include many documents such as contracts, purchase requisitions, purchase orders, invoices, and more.
According to an August 2019 survey of B2B buyers, nearly three-quarters of respondents said they do Switch to a new ecommerce website for better buying opportunities. The same proportion of respondents said they would buy more products if they could pay by invoice.
eProcurement is the digitization of the procurement process. B2B buyers leverage eProcurement platforms to improve efficiency and better control spending across the company.
These platforms enforce best practices and consolidate data. However, getting data into the platform can be difficult. An eProcurement integrator, bridging the gap between buyer and seller platforms, facilitates the flow of purchase requisitions, orders, invoices and other data between e-commerce and eProcurement platforms.
4. Buyers need many payment options.
If you offer flexible payment terms to B2B customers, you can attract new customers and satisfy existing customers.
B2B loan solution
Using a B2B lending solution gives you the following advantages:
Improvement of customer loyalty and compliance with buyer expectations through offers
Net 30 (or longer) terms.
- This allows you to keep growing your business with immediate capital instead of waiting for customer payments.
- Avoid the financial risk of offering loans to new customers.
5. Data for multiple channels can be isolated.
Several moving parts need to be linked together to sell online. That number can be even greater when you talk about B2B. In particular, if you sell across multiple channels (e.g. B2B and B2C or across multiple distribution lines), you may have many different data sources. Keeping this data in isolation is not the best option for your business.
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
The ERP software integrates order management, accounting and a 360-degree view of your customers in a single real-time system and offers the flexibility you need to customize the workflows and functions of your back office environment. Strong ERP integration gives you a clear, holistic view of your business and inventory levels so you can strengthen the overall operations and meet buyer expectations.
6. Shipping B2B has its own requirements and limitations.
Determining the best shipping strategy for your B2B business poses a number of unique challenges, from freight shipments to custom requirements and more. Some of the factors that you may need to consider are:
- Possibility and frequency of repeat orders
- Small shipments
- Bulky items that are difficult to evaluate
- Offer and real-time evaluation
- Existing agreements and contracts
However, the added complexity doesn’t mean you can shy away from the shipping options offered by B2C retailers. Indeed, buyers expect a B2C-like experience that offers personalization, fast delivery, and convenience. The growing demand for alternative delivery options in B2C shipping is just one example.
Price transparency and tailored shipping options
When developing your B2B shipping strategy, strive for complete price transparency, multiple shipping options, and tailored shipping options based on product, order, or customer. Two things you can do now? Use different rules per product group, especially if you are launching a brand new line of products, and make sure you place orders through appropriate services (e.g. no LTL freight for small parcel shipments).
7. B2B buyers need to find more complex products just as easily.
Modern buyers move away from personal sales calls and order using a paper catalog. Online B2B buyers, like B2C buyers, want relevant search results, easy website navigation, and recommended product content.
However, you also need accommodations that can accommodate the complexities of B2B buying, such as: B. a unique account with a custom catalog, special pricing and sensitivity to product availability. The future of B2B lies in e-commerce, and the need for a personalized, intelligent, and search-driven experience is essential.
By improving your B2B website search solution, your website will become a dynamic, customer-centric shopping experience. Adaptive search is a technology that learns from and adapts to the behavior of B2B buyers over time. It uses machine learning to display products based on each shopper’s individual browsing and search behavior, thereby personalizing the shopping experience.
When adaptive search is combined with autocomplete, the word is completed in the search bar and suggested answers or results are displayed based on the search term.
How to use adaptive search for B2B functions:
- Search for the exact part number or article number
- Look for specific keywords, including industry terms
- Finding problem or problem solved
- Search for content
McKinsey published a report in 2017 in which this was stated B2B companies lagged behind B2Cs how they use digital tools and data to set strategies. Less than 24% of executives understood how their industries were disrupted by digital media.
A combination of factors results in a slow move from B2B towards digital transformation – as described in this article. With technology and buyer demands evolving, today you can find more ways to easily enable successful B2B sales on an ecommerce website.
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