Why 2018 is the Year to Amplify B-to-B E-Commerce Sales
Consumer brands were much quicker to embrace e-commerce than their B-to-B counterparts, but that has been changing rapidly in recent years. Fueled by a need to boost sales and a new generation of individuals responsible for making purchasing decisions, B-to-B companies are increasingly warming up to digital options.
However, as B-to-B brands increasingly embrace e-commerce, they have a responsibility to decipher buyers’ needs. While Gen X buyers might have preferred a purchase experience facilitated by a dedicated sales rep, millennials expect that same personalized experience to occur online. In the midst of this changing landscape, how are merchants aligning their businesses with new expectations for B-to-B sales? And how are they adjusting to accommodate e-commerce?
A recent BigCommerce survey of 525 merchants that identify as either B-to-B-only sellers or merchants that sell both B-to-B and B-to-C found that B-to-B e-commerce isn't as untested as conventional wisdom would lead you to believe. According to the survey results, 80 percent of merchant respondents currently accept B-to-B orders online, and 78 percent of those have enabled e-commerce purchasing for at least two years.
B-to-B e-commerce, much like the broader e-commerce industry, is on the rise and merchants feel especially optimistic about its upward trajectory.
This increase, combined with the shifting demographic of today’s B-to-B buyer, makes it increasingly important that B-to-B retailers adjust their sales strategy to accommodate buyers’ preferences. Whether you've enabled e-commerce for years or are still trying to understand the benefits within your organization, these tips can help your business find B-to-B e-commerce success.
Educate Stakeholders on the Reality of B-to-B E-Commerce
As with any new technology, fear of the unknown can hold companies back, and the decision to enable e-commerce is no exception. While B-to-B has a more complex sales process involving high-touch relationships, customized pricing and long-term payment agreements, SaaS e-commerce platforms provide the customization capabilities that B-to-B sellers need.
E-commerce also demands a level of transparency that many B-to-B salespeople find disconcerting. In BigCommerce’s survey, 33 percent of respondents said they have concerns about divulging pricing online; others worried that moving online would eliminate sales jobs. For some companies, these concerns might be valid, in which case a complete shift to e-commerce might not be a practical near-term solution. For everyone else, e-commerce should be the obvious next step. However, choosing between online and offline doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition. The key to trying any new sales channel, online or otherwise, is taking the time to understand the pros, cons and potential impact on your business. That’s much better than making assumptions based on fear, misinformation or lack of understanding.
Embrace a Hybrid Sales Model
The reality is that B-to-B buyers are the same people making B-to-C purchases in their personal lives, and online shopping has become the preferred avenue for consumers. The U.S. Department of Commerce found that online shopping brought in $453.5 billion in 2017, accounting for the largest increase in online spend since 2011. As consumers continue to move online, they become accustomed to certain expectations during all buying interactions. Those preferences don’t change when they switch between personal and business purchases.
As such, B-to-B retailers that refuse to adjust to today’s buying preferences are leaving significant sales on the table, as their customers may be more inclined to work with businesses that enable online capabilities.
Don’t Forget Brand Reputation and Personalization
Aside from a few notable exceptions, buyers in a B-to-C environment often prioritize price over all else. But in B-to-B buying, where orders tend to be larger and total costs are inherently higher, price becomes less of a priority. In fact, 53 percent of survey respondents identified reputation as one of their company's key selling points.
This becomes particularly important when combined with the value that B-to-B buyers place on personalization and word-of-mouth recommendations. Personalization can be more challenging online than in face-to-face interactions, so give buyers choices where you can, such as payment options, individualized pricing, catalog content or custom store accounts. In the survey, 63 percent listed word-of-mouth as a primary sales acquisition channel, and its importance extends online with social media serving as a top channel for 41 percent of respondents.
Make it Simple
For 71 percent of survey respondents, an easy-to-navigate website was perceived as one of the most important online selling features. Even for complicated B-to-B sales, a website should not require an advanced degree for customers to find what they want.
In actuality, a B-to-B site should help simplify the purchasing process. Give visitors in-depth product information, tools to generate custom quotes, advanced search options and bulk ordering capabilities to enhance their experience on-site. Consider how each of the included site features will complement — not duplicate — the work of the customer’s existing account manager or sales rep.
B-to-B e-commerce is clearly on the rise — 90 percent of survey respondents expect to see it increase this year, and 5 percent predict it will double. Like any technological development, some will embrace it and others will ignore it. It’s important to do what works best for your business and your customers, but you already know who tends to come out ahead in those situations.
Jimmy Duvall is the chief product officer at BigCommerce, an e-commerce software and shopping cart platform.
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