B2B eCommerce is the buying and selling of products or services online between business entities. For eCommerce merchants, the goal is to expand the reach of the company to an international audience, reduce the cost-to-serve ratio and increase revenue.
This guide is to help merchants interested in launching a B2B platform online understand the steps they need to take to set up a site, find tools for marketing and automation, and overall launch a successful venture.
How B2B eCommerce works
The business-to-business (B2B) model is the buying and selling of products and services between business operators. B2B eCommerce involves transactions between a manufacturer and a wholesaler, or a wholesaler and a retailer, via an online platform.
The global B2B eCommerce market is valued at over US$12 trillion, which is 13% of total B2B sales in the US. It is the fastest-growing sector and is expected to continue to grow in the next 5 years. This growth is driven by innovation and technology applications in online sales, marketing and communications.
Traditional B2B business involves labour-intensive, manual sales and marketing processes. However, online processes have evolved these processes with automation, digital marketing and direct sales on global platforms.
B2B sellers work with:
- Large retailers
- Organizations such as schools or nonprofits
B2B platforms allow buyers to place orders online from their mobile phones, laptop or computer. With tracking across devices and targeted marketing, plus the power of automation and 24/7 access, businesses have the opportunity to grow faster by reaching a wider selection of clients, worldwide.
Key advantages of B2B eCommerce
- Reduced infrastructure and overhead costs
- Automated sales processes between businesses, suppliers, and distributors
- Better partner relationships
- Less need for intermediaries, higher growth prospects
- Ability to reach a mass market at scale
- Omnichannel branded presence available 24/7
- Higher productivity
Online B2B sales have exposed the weaknesses in supply chains and workflows. The streamlining of ordering, the ease of service and reduced wait times, costs and unnecessary interactions have changed the way B2Bs operate.
The future of B2B eCommerce
B2B eCommerce is a major sales channel in digital commerce. Changes in buyer behaviour have driven the adoption of the services. Forrester forecasts that B2B eCommerce transactions in the US will reach US$1.8 trillion by 2023, which would account for 17% of all B2B sales in the country.
While eCommerce still needs to be supported by direct contact between sales agents and customer service representatives, the speed provided by autofill, automated recurrent ordering and independent online purchasing makes it an attractive option for buyers.
Personalized sales portals, mobile ordering, VR tours, self-service functionality, secure email invoicing and other features available to online B2B operators make the sales process smoother and faster via B2B platforms. Software and apps that support the front and back end of B2B operations reduce time and costs and elevate services and competition.
- Reach a mass audience with fewer resources.
- Personalize relationships at scale.
- Customers have greater autonomy.
Types of B2B eCommerce
There are 3 main types of B2B eCommerce models.
Buyer-oriented marketplaces are based on a higher number of buyers and fewer sellers. In this model, buyers create an online marketplace and invite suppliers and manufacturers to showcase their products and services. Buyers bid on the products and services advertised.
For wholesale suppliers, these B2B marketplaces are a good way to advertise products to buyers and retailers with reduced marketing costs.
This model is more common for B2B retailers. It depends on a higher number of buyers and fewer suppliers. Businesses join supplier directories or create a collective online portal to meet customer demand and sell at scale. Suppliers control pricing and the customer experience, which helps build long-term relationships with buyers.
The intermediary-oriented marketplace involves third parties matching buyers and sellers. The intermediary controls the product range, information, and descriptions using specific guidelines. The intermediary owns the buyers’ orders, contact information, and data and controls the buyer-seller relationship.
Intermediary marketplaces, also known as “horizontal marketplaces,” include B2B eCommerce sites like Amazon Business, Alibaba, AliExpress, Rakuten and TradeKey.
Using a B2B eCommerce platform
Longtime B2B eCommerce businesses can find the transition from legacy SOPs to new technologies limiting. Businesses that traditionally relied on phone calls, emails and Excel spreadsheets to sell to B2B customers can transition their sales to online platforms that support customer autonomy and streamlined sales.
These platforms, including mobile and app services, help create an online experience that drives sales and fulfils orders for buyers anywhere in the world. However, a B2B platform supports more than a sales portal. The site is a hub for all marketing, sales and dispatch operations. It gathers data, processes payments and orders and can automatically execute important functions.
B2B eCommerce website:
- Integrates customer data from your ERP or CRM through reliable APIs.
- Optimizes conversion with powerful checkout promotions.
- Personalizes sales and marketing experiences across channels and devices.
- Helps customers find products with onsite search and customized navigation.
- Offers flexible payment options with different payment providers and manual invoicing.
A B2B eCommerce solution drives sales by:
- Automating and reviewing new buyer signups.
- Creating custom pricing and discounts for specific customer segments.
- Syncing inventory, purchase orders, and customers with an existing eCommerce store or third-party software.
- Allowing B2B customers to buy, track, and reorder products easily.
There are many platforms that provide off-the-shelf solutions for B2Bs. Some are more versatile than others and it is essential that B2B operators take the time to understand their needs before committing to a platform. To understand what your B2B needs, the best place to look is towards your customers, or ideal customers.
B2B eCommerce best practices
The best in B2B eCommerce are successful because of brands:
- Apply the principles of B2C sales and service to B2B operations
- Enhance onsite search functionality
- Improve wholesale sales functionality
- Generate leads with digital marketing
- Build brand awareness on social media
- Use automation to maintain relationships
Apply the principles of B2C sales and service to B2B operations
ECommerce has led to massive shifts in the B2B industry. Some of the biggest changes have been the application of retail sales techniques and marketing strategy to B2B, including:
- Content marketing
- High-quality product images and videos
- Personalization based on past purchases
- Social proof in the form of reviews and ratings
- Flexible shipping options
- Real-time product and stock availability
- Mobile services
- Customer service using chat and phone support
Studies show that 75% of B2B customers buy online, and 47% do online research during the buying process. Adapting B2C marketing and online store development strategies is an advantageous move for B2B brands as customers in the sphere seek an increasingly personalised experience.
Enhance onsite search functionality
Many B2B sellers have large catalogues. For example, a parts manufacturer could have millions of items. For these sellers, optimising search functionality elevates the brand above competitors. Buyers want fast and easy access to the products they need, and a search that is diverse and flexible is important for catalogue access.
Customers who use site search are almost 2X more likely to convert and can generate more than 40% of a site’s revenue. Optimised search helps to streamline the sales process by making it easier and faster for customers to source what they need from an extensive catalogue.
One of the optimal search strategies includes three separate invitations:
- Submit a query on the homepage
- Word auto-completion
- Preview product images and prices as customer types
Traffic can select “see all results,” to view results with price comparisons, bigger images, and detailed product descriptions.
Key search elements include:
- Part number
- Manufacturer or brand
- Part or full product title
- Product type
- Item details
These distinct search parameters make it easier for businesses needing to order parts, make bulk orders of small items or source very specific items.
Improve wholesale sales functionality
In B2B eCommerce, simplicity is key. Autofill fields, recurrent ordering and other sales functionality that streamlines processes and promises consistency and accuracy are very important to business customers.
For some businesses that have only moved online in recent times, keeping forms simple and clear can be an important USP. Many customers wanting to follow your business to online ordering will want the same spreadsheet style they are used to when emailing or faxing. It is an easy and effective way to show your customers your brand consistency which can improve their loyalty to your brand. It will help to secure sales from loyal clients and could encourage new sales from traffic seeking simplicity.
Generate leads with digital marketing
Digital marketing is essential for eCommerce, even in B2B. Content remains the best way to connect, and for professional industries, white papers, how-to guides and other value-adding information are the best way to engage traffic and generate leads. Some B2B sales can take up to 12 months to complete. Through negotiations, and navigating client pain points and customer expectations, the best way to keep clients engaged and remember the value of your brand is to provide high-quality content that is useful to your customers.
Digital marketing strategies should include content marketing, social media, PPC, email and personalisation techniques that generate leads and secure sales.
Build brand awareness on social media
B2B businesses are not using social media networks like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to improve their brand awareness in the same way as B2C operations.
Nonetheless, a 2020 B2B report found that B2B marketers are using social media as their primary organic content distribution channels. Social media is a powerful tool for outreach. Businesses are able to present content in digestible bites for audiences seeking engaging content.
Social selling, as used by B2Bs, concentrates on producing focused content and promoting one-to-one communication between the salesperson and the buyer. Social selling is about developing relationships that secure ongoing relationships, in the same way that phone calls and in-person meetings did in the past. This content can be fun and engaging, or serious in tone. The social media presence you create should reflect the brand persona you have created, and be an extension of the values your business represents.
Use automation to maintain relationships
According to a survey, 74% of B2B buyers research at least half of their work purchases online, with 53% completing purchases online. It is important that B2Bs understand how automation, targeting, tracking and other sales techniques can transform the performance of the business.
Today’s B2B buyers insist that B2B eCommerce act in a similar fashion as B2C eCommerce. Buyers want a personalised experience online. It needs to be fast, targeted, accurate and streamlined.
Another important aspect of B2B operations is negotiated deals. Pricing is tailored to clients depending on their needs. This need not be neglected when buyers shop online, as it is possible to provide automated quotes based on buyer parameters, including:
- Multiple price lists for fixed, percentage, or volume discounts
- Application of lists to individual customers or groups
- Setting minimum, maximum, and quantity increments per product
- Establishing minimum purchase amounts storewide or per customer
- Draft order reviews before invoicing for negotiated deals
- Integrated loyalty and reward programs
This allows for the personalisation of sales using automation technology, which creates consistency and improves streamlining and speed.
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