Why B2B Companies Must Sell Online, And Start Right Now.

B2B Ecommerce, Ecommerce, Leadership

eCommerce isn’t just for B2C retailers.

The B2B eCommerce market is much larger than its B2C counterpart. By 2020, Frost & Sullivan predicts it to be twice the size of B2C, $6.7 trillion versus $3.2 trillion. Forrester is even more bullish. They predict that in the United States alone, B2B ecommerce will exceed $1.1 trillion and represent 12% of all B2B sales. Furthermore, 85% of all buyer-seller relationships will be managed without interacting with a human.

As recently as 2016, 30% of B2B buyers were already making at least half of their purchases online. 74% of buyers research their purchases online and once they have made a decision, 93% want to make the purchase online. The digital age and the internet have completely changed the way companies do business. Companies that don’t make the commitment to selling online not only risk losing business, they face extinction.

eCommerce is no longer optional, it is essential. Don’t ignore the trend.

An eCommerce site is much more than just a portal for making purchases. It’s the digital equivalent of your sales, customer service, and marketing departments.

More importantly, your website is the face of your brand and it’s how today’s buyers want to interact with your company. In case you haven’t noticed, B2B buyers are getting younger.

The number of 18 to 34-year-old B2B researchers increased by 70% between 2012 and 2014, and it’s only gone up since then. These professionals grew up in the digital age, they prefer the internet over other sources of information to form their purchasing decisions, and they prefer a self-serve model. In fact, 67% of the buyer journey is now done digitally and buyers are over halfway through the journey before they ever engage with a salesperson.

Consider this, 31% of B2B buyers want to research and buy online without assistance provided, in case there is access to phone support if needed. 10.5% of these buyers want to complete the sales process entirely unaided, while another 12.5% want to complete the purchase online while someone walks them through the process.

An effective eCommerce site lets these buyers research products and make purchases on their terms. That means when and where they want. Their preference for digital delivery of your company’s information cannot be ignored. These B2B buyers are now looking for the same range of omnichannel buying options they enjoy in their personal life and successful companies will deliver this experience.

You can’t afford to ignore the rising dominance of mobile access over traditional desktop delivery. Mobile access to the internet surpassed desktop access back in 2016 and tech savvy B2B buyers love their mobile devices.

According to BCG, 80% of B2B buyers use mobile access at work and a full 60% say mobile is a significant part of their purchase experience. Purchase decision makers are often supported by researchers that use multiple screens as they multitask. According to Google, 50% of B2B-related queries are performed on a mobile device.

An eCommerce site that is fully responsive can provide a user experience that speeds up the time required to purchase.

The eCommerce world opens the door to new markets and new customers. Through your site’s content, you win new customers that might not have otherwise heard of your company. You can expand into new markets without opening a new sales office.

From a US standpoint, Almost 90% of internet users aren’t local. eCommerce lets you reach these markets on a global or targeted basis. Through the process of localisation, you can tailor your website to specific locations. It’s like having a virtual field office in every geographic location you want to penetrate. Localisation isn’t just for new markets either. Over 70% of Fortune 500 companies localise to reach more customers in markets where they already compete.

Through digital localisation you interact with these new markets their local language, currency, and preferred shipping and payment methods. The benefits are huge. It’s a tried and true growth strategy, but you can’t implement it easily without an online presence.

It’s clear from wide ranging sources of evidence that B2B buyers want to self-educate. If your company isn’t online, you won’t be discoverable during their search process. It’s as simple as that. Offering buyers the ability to research and purchase products online reduces friction from highly motivated customers. Even if your products and services are highly specialised, leads will have basic information in hand before they begin discussions with your sales rep.

A lead may be interested in complementary products that aren’t obvious to the sales rep. An eCommerce site allows leads to identify the products they think they need before making that first call. Now, the sales rep works more efficiently. The focus becomes on solving the customer problem and the benefits of doing business with your company.

One really important thing to note. A B2B ecommerce website is not going to replace your teams in the field.

The website should be viewed as a sales tool, not a sales replacement. In the field, sales reps can use mobile access to the website for demonstration videos, infographics, and other sales tools to help close the deal.

Once the deal is closed, ongoing relationship management is more efficient too. Now, instead of your sales force spending time putting together personalised catalogs and pricing for their customers, dynamic eCommerce sites can use custom catalogs and pricing algorithms that consider purchasing volume, frequency, and long-term relationship value and display custom results. The sales rep is freed from this task and can focus on building personal relationships that are the basis of all long-term B2B relationships.

Repeat selling/ordering is much easier as well. Since many B2B customers purchase the same items multiple times, online access to past orders and quick order forms facilitate repeat purchases. An eCommerce site gives you a way to create standing orders and automatically send reminders when it’s time to re-order. This allows the customer to simply click and buy. The easier you make it to purchase from your company, the more your customers will reward you with their loyalty. As a bonus, upselling and cross-selling can be automated to increase the average sales order value.

If your company is still relying on the traditional sales funnel, you may run the risk of extinction. That’s because the B2B transactions are evolving to become more and more like B2C transactions every day. Where B2B purchases were previously seen to be highly rational and immune to emotion, they are now more fluid and certainly more social. The internet and social media have changed the entire sales funnel.

While multiple decision makers are still involved in the process, they are now subject to outside influence as well as internal recommendations. The funnel has become less linear.

Customers not only research, evaluate, and select products; they now share their experiences. That means people outside the funnel are now influencing the purchasing decision. You are no longer the sole source of information about your company and products. Blogs, social media, and review sites all now figure into the evaluation process. Instead of focusing on moving leads through the funnel, successful B2B companies focus on charting the customer purchase journey and improving touch points along the way. Marketing efforts may rely on awareness building through social media as well as search engine optimisation and integrating with e-procurement systems.

Successful companies know they must move beyond simply competing on the basis of price or product availability. They must deliver exceptional omnichannel customer experiences. That’s not possible without an online presence and an eCommerce site.

Sales isn’t the only area that sees improved efficiency with eCommerce. Your eCommerce platform becomes the basis of your digitized B2B ecosystem. eCommerce allows you to automate many internal processes that were previously handled manually.

Gone are the days of inputting fax and phone orders into the ERP. Not only does that save time, but it also increases order accuracy by removing human errors that occur during manual order entry.

Integrating eCommerce with order management, fulfilment and shipping keeps everyone on the same page. Customers can track orders and purchasing teams can keep an eye on inventory levels. Integration with a product information management system makes sure all catalog information is kept in sync across all channels. This reduces inefficiencies and inconsistencies that arise when there are conflicting product descriptions and photographs or diagrams.

Accounting and billing is easier and more efficient when invoicing and payments are integrated with your eCommerce system. Almost as important as these efficiencies are the efficiencies gained through integration with a customer relationship management software. Sales and support can get a full 360° view of the customer and their every interaction with the customer. Every member of every team is in sync with a centralised source for customer information. This increases satisfaction with the customer journey before the purchase and after the sale. Marketing is more efficient when it is integrated with your eCommerce platform. In the new digital age, personalisation is crucial. One survey found that 80% of buyers don’t believe that salespeople understand their business.

The company that can overcome this misconception automatically has a leg up on the competition. Personalisation is one way to connect. Personalised emails, personalised offers, and personalised web content benefit your sales cycle and your customers.

They become more engaged with more relevant, personal and timely messaging. Engagement converts better.

When you break down information silos, every area of the company operates more efficiently.

B2B eCommerce may be following B2C, but it is still very different. B2B transactions usually include multiple players with different levels of purchasing authority.

One account may serve multiple buyers and the end user isn’t necessarily the same as the purchaser.

Prices are individually negotiated, and payment may not be made at the time of purchase.

B2B sellers must be able to manage multiple price lists and build custom catalogs. They need to set corporate account roles that may vary from account to account. Depending on the company, custom workflows may be necessary. This is all in a day’s work for B2B but totally foreign to B2C selling.

As a result, standard B2C eCommerce platforms simply cannot handle the complexities of B2B eCommerce. B2C platforms require extensive customisation for B2B, and this only adds to the cost of acquisition and maintenance and decreases the return on investment.

If you’re going to make the critical move to eCommerce, make sure you select a real B2B eCommerce solution.

Full disclosure, we work with lots of clients, and one of them is OroCommerce, from whence this information was sourced. Having said that, I personally strongly believe in the product that Oro Inc have built, and simply wouldn’t work with them if I didn’t. This article has been adapted from an original guide produced by OroCommerce, which you can find here.

Frost & Sullivan has named OroCommerce the number one B2B eCommerce platform. That’s because it was built from the ground up to serve B2B eCommerce and comes out of the box with core B2B features. It’s the B2B eCommerce solution that can help you crush the competition.

One of my missions is to help people find the right digital path, and there are plenty of B2B companies who could use the direction right now. If you’re reading this and want a steer, or some impartial advice on anything ecommerce or growth marketing related, reach out. Remember – Heur can help with insight, strategy and action across a variety of sectors and challenges.

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