If you’re a business selling to another business, then you are B2B. It may not sound complicated but there’s a whole other way to market your products and services when you’re a manufacturer, wholesaler, or distributor, or other B2B business. To add to the confusion, B2B marketing is beginning to look a lot like B2C (business to consumer) when it comes to outreach, sales generation, and customer engagement. So, exactly what is B2B ecommerce and how can it benefit my company? We will demystify some of the many misconceptions…
What is B2B Ecommerce?
This term often refers to websites, or some sort of online sales portal that B2B businesses use to promote, educate, sell, and support. According to Statistics Canada, the B2B ecommerce market is already booming. Wholesale companies already selling online brought in $85 billion in digital sales in 2019, while manufacturing brought in $38 billion.
Technological innovations, along with a strong demand for online interactions, have driven the trend away from manual, labour-intensive sales processes of faxes, phone calls and sales sheets. Instead, B2B companies are looking to ecommerce platforms to streamline their sales process, find new efficiencies, automate inventory management, and generate new leads.
Ecommerce websites are being used as hubs for sales and marketing activities, and companies are beginning to understand how important ecommerce is in B2B. Gartner reported that 27% of businesses conduct independent research online before purchasing. That’s compared to 17% who spent time meeting with potential suppliers. That means your website or online portal is the main influencer when it comes to sales.
What if you’re a wholesaler, distributor, or manufacturer? How does your B2B model affect how ecommerce is utilized? Here’s a quick rundown.
What B2B Am I and Where Does E-commerce Fit In?
Here are 5 common B2B models, along with some ways they each benefit from e-commerce solutions. See which one most closely resembles your organization:
What they do: Buy goods in bulk at lower cost, then resell them at retail value.
Industries: Can be anything from heavy duty engineered products, to construction, to healthcare, to food service.
Ecommerce Perks: Seamless buying experience, easily display products, assists sales teams with longer sales cycle of high-priced items. Read our article about shoppable catalogues with a twist.
What they do: Work closely with manufacturers to increase sales by bringing attention to goods produced.
Industries: A variety of industries, from tech to beauty products to office equipment.
Ecommerce Perks: Supports their sales efforts, simplifies and shortens order processing times and delivery, handles online sales logistics, and creates a superior customer experience.
What they do: Use raw materials, machines, and labour, to produce finished goods on a large scale, that are then sold to wholesalers or other manufacturers. A good example is a manufacturer that creates industrial parts, such as grapples, then sells to a heavy equipment reseller, who then sells it to the consumer, B2B or B2C.
Industries: Heavy construction, various goods at large scale, such as clothing, tech, appliances.
Ecommerce Perks: More of a necessity, as customers have come to expect similar online experiences as B2C, with features like online demos and digital catalogues.
What they do: Business-to-business-to-consumer organizations partner with other companies, like manufacturers and wholesalers, to connect them directly with consumers.
Industries: Any industry. A good example is a product that is bought from an affiliate blogger, but which is delivered and branded by the manufacturer.
Ecommerce Perks: Virtual storefronts, apps, or ecommerce websites allow these transitions to happen online, which results in less confusion for the consumer, and reduces order errors by digitizing the process, resulting in seamless customer experiences.
B2B Ecommerce Misconceptions
So, what is B2B ecommerce and what is it NOT? We will clear up some common misconceptions.
Myth) I can’t be B2B and B2C.
- Yes, you can. Many online brands are. You do not have to be a supplier to sell B2B. You may sell to businesses and directly to consumers. An agency like Original Ginger can build a wish list or sales support system that can handle both.
Myth) On a B2B ecommerce site you’ll have to list your pricing.
- Many B2B businesses dread making their prices available to the public. They fear that competitors will use this info to underbid them. However, many ecommerce solutions offer ways to safeguard your pricing, or at least control who sees it. Special customer logins, password protected portals, or e-commerce set up with a twist can achieve this.
Myth) B2B customers aren’t interested in online orders.
- As millennials enter the age of their prime purchasing power, they have also worked up to managerial positions and 55% of Canadian millennials are involved in major purchases. This generation will expect more modern, digital processes. 41% say that self-service functionality is a draw for them. Online FAQs, demos, warranty info, and wish lists that lead to an online cart, can help to shorten the purchasing cycle, which also permits your sales folks to focus their efforts on complex or ideal leads.
Myth) Online ordering is too impersonal. There’s no human touch.
- An online store may seem like a cold way to build lasting customer relationships, but that depends on how you craft the online experience. A recent McKinsey report showed that more than three quarters of B2B buyers now prefer digital self-serve and remote engagement over in-person interactions. This is because of the speed and convenience. And with technologies such as online chat, texting, and Facebook messenger, there are all sorts of ways to ‘personalize’ communications in a manner that is tailored to your customers preferences.
Benefits of B2B Ecommerce
Now we’ve answered the question: what is B2B ecommerce? And we’ve cleared up some common misconceptions. It’s time to understand how an ecommerce platform can enhance your sales process and give you certain advantages over the old way of doing things.
Not only will a wider online presence help you to increase brand visibility, and therefore, sales, you won’t have to do so much outreach or research to close those sales.
Your ecommerce site will do the work for you by already providing customers with the information they require to make a purchase. Public-facing catalogues and digital marketing strategies can extend your reach. And with a website, you can easily implement automated recommendations that help you cross-sell and up-sell.
Going digital also means more insights into your customers and your business.
Digital analytic software allows you to track how customers use your site and how they shop. You can generate all sorts of reports that will help you make better business decisions. Customer data will permit you to tweak your digital strategy, so you can provide more personalized shopping experiences and boost engagement. Analytic data also provides a way of measuring success by showing, in real terms, the effectiveness of your sales campaigns.
What The Future Looks Like for B2B Ecommerce
According to Forrester, B2B ecommerce transactions will exceed $1.8 trillion by 2023.
Already in Canada, the B2B market is 2.1x larger than B2C, and B2B businesses report that half or more of their sales are generated online. This is a trend that’s expected to grow as Millennials, a generation raised on tech, ascends to high managerial positions where they will act as key decision-makers.
Digital sales portals, websites, self-service functions, and mobile ordering will continue to lead the modern sales process. There will always be room for phone calls and emails, but e-commerce has become the norm for B2C sales, and it is leading the revolution in B2B sales because that’s what modern consumers have come to expect.
B2B businesses are also finding cost-savings and new efficiencies as they automate some of their sales, inventory, and order processes.
As technology moves us forward, exciting possibilities emerge. New ways to personalize and tailor the customer journey, such as augmented reality (AR) tours, 3D presentations, demos, modeling, and AI-assisted programs that help you understand, and respond to, changing consumer patterns and behaviours.
It’s a brave new world out there. But an exciting one that could elevate the B2B buying experience to unprecedented heights.
Get started with one of our B2B e-commerce experts! Contact our agency and we can help you select the right e-commerce solution with customized insights, strategies, recommendations, and technical advice.
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