5 Rules of B2B eCommerce

February 1, 2016

Editor's Note: This post was contributed by Mark Lavelle, CEO of Magento Commerce.

As B2B customers grow more comfortable with eCommerce and online engagement, B2B marketers need to fundamentally rethink how, when, and why they engage clients and how they support their needs. We spend so much time focusing on the differences in the B2B buyer journey that we lose sight of the universal commonalities.

Here are five rules your B2B business must follow to thrive in a consumer-driven world.

Rule #1: People First

Unlike their B2C siblings, B2B companies have historically viewed their customers as entities (an account) rather than individuals. But just because someone dons a uniform for a part of their day (be that a suit, scrubs or a hard hat) doesn’t mean that they shed their consumer expectations.  As such, your goal should be to provide a unique experience for each client based on their previous order history, their negotiated pricing terms, shipping locations, approval workflow and other relevant factors.

Importantly, much of this personalization can be automated and adjusted on-demand, just as it is on most successful B2C eCommerce sites. This can save B2B vendors and their customers a significant amount of time because it empowers and promotes self-service, eliminating the need for customers to call in with every question or issue.

Rule #2: Make it Easy

There’s a reason why the Staples “easy” button campaign was such a hit. They promised to make a tedious process fast and efficient. B2B buyers are busy, and their time is precious. It is critical that you provide them with a convenient and transparent buying experience such as robust search capabilities, expedited logins to streamline the path to purchase, and total price and inventory transparency.

For example leading enterprise bookseller BookPal offers bulk discount pricing that dynamically updates as customers change item quantity, enabling them to quickly fit orders to their school or corporate budgets.

Rule #3: Be Where Your Customers Are

Whether company issued or not, mobile device penetration in the workplace is at an all time high. Embrace it and empower enterprise buyers to shop how, when, and where they want. If they want to place an order while on a job site or after hours on their personal iPad, your eCommerce site should give them that flexibility. Harnessed effectively, optimizing your customer’s experience on any device can represent a significant opportunity to leapfrog your competition.

A good example of this is the veterinary-health company, Zoetis which built out a mobile application called “iOrder” that enabled the company’s field sales reps to retrieve historical customer orders, easily show new product information, compare items given current marketing promotions, and place orders from the application on behalf of the customer.

Zoetis' vet clients also have access to a mobile app of their own—which the company calls VHub, or its “clinic on the go”—that gives them instant access to medical information and business resources when they’re on the move (e.g., on the farm with an animal).

Rule #4: Empower with Knowledge

B2B customers have an almost insatiable appetite for content. From extensive specifications to how-to videos and detailed FAQs, your customers want to self-educate and self-research before making purchasing decisions. After all, they often need to get buy in on their product choice from peers and superiors.

Develop deep catalogs of products and deliver content and merchandizing that help customers make faster, smarter decisions. This is a key way you can differentiate based on selection.

As one of Europe’s leading direct suppliers of building maintenance and industry flooring products, Watco operates multiple websites in several different languages. Their site allows each country’s marketing team and web administrators to update their sites with content, imagery, and promotions that are relevant to their specific customer bases. The result: Watco’s number of orders per day doubled and unique visits to the company’s websites increased by 68 percent year-over-year.

Rule #5: Extend Value of Your Sales Team

Online channels are an extension of your sales team, not a replacement for it. So use digital channels to supplement how you engage and grow your customer base and drive business efficiency. Think of it as a self-service model that empowers customers to buy products and sales reps to develop deeper, more value-added relationships. An effective eCommerce portal can free up sales reps from managing low-volume customers, reorders, and replacements to focus on acquiring and retaining higher-margin and higher-volume customers.

So to drive business and marketing success in 2016, it’s time to focus less on B2B and more on B2I (business to individual) to achieve superior engagement, differentiation and overall business growth.

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