B2B Ecommerce: Does Your Business Help Customers Help Themselves?

March 13, 2019

B2B Ecommerce

Editor's Note: This guest post was contributed by Barry Feldman, Owner, Feldman Creative.

Here’s a dangerous supposition I encourage you not to make:

Though B2C sales are moving online more each day the same doesn’t hold true for B2B.

It’s not an uncommon line of thinking, but it’s seriously flawed. Subscribing to it could cost your business dearly.

Yes, B2B tends to work differently:

  • B2B buyer journeys usually to involve decision-making committees, rather than individuals.
  • Customization of the solution is far more common.
  • Customer relationships are more complex and more relationship-based.
  • The stakes are often higher.

But here’s a modern (or maybe timeless) reality in any sales realm:

Less friction = more sales.

It applies to every business, for every customer, at any time. B2B sellers are not exempt.

Harvard Business Review tells us numerous studies prove purchase ease is by far the biggest driver of deal quality. Suppliers that make buying easy are 62% likelier than other suppliers to win a high-quality sale.

Let’s look at a few more numbers…

  • Frost and Sullivan forecasts global business-to-business (B2B) eCommerce sales will exceed $6.6 trillion by 2020, more than doubling business-to-consumer (B2C) valued at $3.2 trillion by 2020.
  • The 2018 B2B ECommerce Report by BigCommerce claims 90% of B2B sellers expected to see sales growth last year (from a survey sample of 500+ international merchants. 5% anticipate sales will double.  (Note: This report is free while those mentioned previously are not.)

Welcome to the age of self-service

A few years back, almost all B2B purchases were conducted by phone, fax or in person. The move toward self-service in B2B was inevitable.

Business buyers are consumers too and now expect the option of making purchases via intuitive ecommerce websites. But do they get it? More often than not, they don't.

Businesses continue to rely on rigid commerce systems ill-equipped to deliver the omnichannel experiences (increasingly younger) B2B purchasers now expect. B2B buyers rarely struggle to find content and marketing information, but when it’s time to request a quote, configure a product or place an order, their needs go unfulfilled.

86% of B2B decision makers prefer using self-service tools for reordering, rather than talking to a sales representative. — McKinsey & Company

10 keys to increasing B2B ecommerce sales

1. Educate with content

In the self-serve arena, buyers are going to seek and find the specific information they need to make informed decisions. Will the content they discover and consume come from your company or a competitor? Become the company in your market most committed to providing useful, informative, and free content.

2. Offer excellent product information

Your ecommerce store is your new catalog. Product information must not only be easy to find but accurate, detailed, and consistent across your product listings. Enable prospects to find and compare different products. Create FAQs, how-to guides, and interactive navigations to help your customers get answers to their questions.

3. Save your customers time

Digital natives are becoming the dominant B2B buyers and they want what they want. If you believe that includes several rounds of handholding from sales reps you’re reading the wrong article. Make sure your prospective buyers are aware of all the content and timesaving, self-serve features you offer.

Make the buying process as smooth and easy as possible. Study the best B2C ecommerce sites and pay particular attention to the checkout process, site design, delivery options, site navigation, and site search.

4. Solve buyer challenges with technology

You need to ditch antiquated technology and put an ecommerce platform in place capable of meeting the needs of savvy online buyers. Look for ecommerce software that:

  • Satisfies specific customer requirements such as price levels and term accounts
  • Allows customers to manage their own account and perform tasks such as applying for credit, making payments, and reviewing order history.

Here’s a long list of functionality buyers should have access to in order to realize a great online B2B buying experience.

5. Prioritize mobile

Your ecommerce must be mobile-friendly. B2B buyers are not only becoming savvier but far more mobile.

Research by Google and The Boston Consulting Group revealed 50% of B2B search queries were made on smartphones in 2017 and the number continues to escalate.

Consider offering a mobile app that provides customers a personalized experience and makes it quick and easy to re-order.

6. Create loyalty programs

Are your products continuously consumed such that they need to be replaced or maintained? Can you grow sales with upsells and cross-sells?

A loyalty program will encourage customers to purchase more frequently and spend more. What’s more, a loyalty program builds advocacy from your best customers encouraging them to refer business your way.

Bonus tip: make sure your mobile app and loyalty program work together to make it convenient for customers to participate in your loyalty program. Promote your mobile app to your loyalty program members. Encourage usage by offering bonus points when customers download the app.

7. Personalize the process

Last year, guest blogger Andy Hoar explained here on our blog, the B2B buying process seldom fits neatly into the linear funnel. As such, B2B marketers must create personalized experiences and build one-to-one relationships.

  • Leverage customer data to better predict their needs and provide a customized service.
  • Customize unique catalogs and price lists for each customer.
  • Offer an omnichannel sales experience to create better customer engagement.

8. Offer chat

Live chat enables you to interact with your customers, create rapport, and boost conversion. It also helps increase order value. Most importantly, customers love the option to use chat as it’s far faster than any other digital service channel.

9. Make shipping options simple

Shipping is all-important in business-to-business e-commerce and issues with it can be a deal-breaker. To overcome shipping issues, you’ll want to ensure:

  • The process is automated and intuitive.
  • Shipping costs are not inflated and there are no unexpected delivery charges.
  • If possible, expedited options are offered to speed delivery.

10. Cater to the customer

Customize the ecommerce channel to cater to the way your customers do business. Develop workflows that align the ecommerce system with the way your customers do business to remove any friction.

The same goes for payments. Payment options are a vital part of the B2B ecommerce sales process. While checks and POs are still heavily used, mobile wallets are on the rise. From enabling purchase orders, to checking credit availability and enforcing purchasing thresholds, ensure the ecommerce system conforms to customer needs.

B2B sellers are moving from nascent ecommerce channel experimentation to full omnichannel sales approaches. — Source: BigCommerce.

According to data from BigCommerce, credit cards still reign supreme for the online channel, however checks, terms, and purchase orders remain vital for B2B buyers. Mobile wallets are on the rise and in the “other” category, third-party financing and ACH were the most commonly cited.

B2B must grow up to satisfy younger buyers

A few years ago, Google found close to half of B2B buyers are millennials. As millennial buyers gain more purchasing power, the number of B2B customers that prefer to speak to a sales rep in person continues to decrease at a rapid pace.

Though B2B brands may have lagged in adopting ecommerce, most now realize the urgent need to make smart digital moves to boost sales and respond to the needs of the changing B2B buyer demographic.

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