What is B2B eCommerce?
When you think about eCommerce, Amazon and eBay are likely the first two companies that come to mind. Since they generate sales from businesses to consumers, they interact “B2C.” But in this post, we’re going to shift our attention to “B2B eCommerce,” or, sales from business to business through online channels.
We’re making this shift for good reason. In fact, according to Forbes, B2B eCommerce is anticipated to be the area of largest eCommerce growth from 2020 to 2025. Digital transactions help companies reduce their overhead. But unlike the sometimes impulse-driven B2C buyers (Prime Day folks, we’re looking at you), B2B buyers have a tendency to conduct extensive online research (an average of 12 searches, believe it or not) before they even engage a supplier on their website. And that’s just the research phase. We haven’t even gotten to the actual sale.
B2B transactions are also far more involved than B2C for a few different reasons: varied pricing, shipping requirements, and product volume — not to mention the taxing and regulations that make them far more complex than B2C.
What do these intricacies mean for your B2B marketing strategy? It needs to include a powerful eCommerce website capable of generating more leads, delivering top-notch user experiences, and helping your buyers easily locate the information, products, and services they seek. And since we’ve made one or two of those before (we say that tongue in cheek), we’re going to share some insight and lessons learned that you can apply to your B2B eCommerce marketing strategy. In today’s post, we’re going to cover:
So, let’s dive in.
Why Should B2B Companies Sell Online?
As you know, creating an excellent B2B marketing strategy is a big undertaking. But it’s worth mastering since B2B eCommerce has become a $1.13 trillion industry. This number will continue to climb, and as the market continues to grow, standing out will only get harder.
Creating a top-notch eCommerce website for a market segment entrenched in buyer and transactional nuances might seem impossible. And believe it or not, some businesses are still resisting the reality that buyers want to find them online.
A whopping 67% of the buyer’s journey is done digitally, and online searches are executives’ (many of whom are your target buyers) first course of action. Not to mention, millennials are moving into roles with purchasing power, which means they expect a unique and personalized purchasing experience. Businesses must either rise to the challenge or be left behind.
A recent article by Digital Commerce 360 elaborates on the move to digital. “We’re seeing a shift away from more traditional procurement methods such as phone, fax and paper catalogs by corporate buyers that prefer the ease and convenience of eCommerce,” says Paul Miller, founder and CEO of PMA Digital Solutions and former president of global eCommerce at W.W. Grainger Inc. “eCommerce is taking hold because a lot more companies of all sizes see it as a better and more efficient way to do business.”
As B2B eCommerce grows, the strategy for online customer interactions needs to grow to match it. Once upon a time, your business was going above and beyond if you had an online presence. Now, being online is indisputable, and keeping up with the growing market requires much more than it did before.
The most successful B2B marketing strategies are omnichannel, meaning they create a unified approach to commerce and can deliver a consistent, positive shopping experience across their customers’ various touchpoints: in-store locations, mobile browsing, online marketplaces, social media, and other online advertising avenues. In fact, these strategies gain so much insight from their audience that customers tend to spend more on brands with a smart omnichannel strategy. (More on that later.)
B2B eCommerce Misconceptions
Now that we’ve made the case for why B2B companies should most definitely be selling online, let’s address some other B2B eCommerce myths we’ve heard over the years.
What about brands who don’t believe they sell “B2B?”
The B2B market is complex and doesn’t only refer to massive transactions. This segment includes wholesale; retail distribution; selling to schools, businesses, and nonprofits; or a supplier selling to resellers. In fact, many companies sell both B2B and B2C (think Walmart, Home Depot, etc.).
A lot of brands may not even realize that they’re already selling B2B. Not to mention, if you have a product or service that’s helping consumers, there’s likely a business that could also benefit.
Do B2B customers order online?
As newer generations mature to managerial positions and gain purchasing power for larger businesses, they have a certain set of expectations. Merit reports that 73% of B2B buyers today are millennials who prefer buying online — one of the main reasons B2B eCommerce has exploded. Millennials are comfortable conducting research and communicating with their preferred B2C brands, and they expect that same convenience and personalization to transfer to their online experience with you, too.
Even if you don’t think your particular target buyers are millennials (if they aren’t now, they will be one day), 48% of companies now conduct 50–74% of all corporate purchases online and 23% of companies do 75% or more of their purchasing online. No matter the generation, offering online ordering is the least you can do.
Does eCommerce require price transparency?
B2B brands are often selling products and services at the enterprise level. These solutions tend to require a lot of customizations, which makes publishing a pricing model difficult. For example, a software subscription for a company with 100 people will require a much different option than a company with over 1,000 people. That price point could vary widely based on the manufacturer, third-party selling, and resell pricing. Companies can still create a fantastic online buying experience without a transparent pricing model on their website.
As we’ve mentioned, the journey to purchasing requires a lot of research. The sale isn’t the first priority for your customer, so it shouldn’t be yours either. Educate your audience through gated content so that you can get their contact information, then nurture them with email campaigns delivering quality information until they’re ready to make a purchase. Finally, once you’ve established your brand’s authority and trust, you can prompt users to request a quote or a free demo.
Does online ordering lack personalization?
Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, said it best: “We see our customers as invited guests to a party and we are the hosts.” As the host of your B2B eCommerce party, you can choose to either put effort into the presentation or not.
Online ordering (when leveraged properly) actually gives you more control and opportunities for personalization. There are plenty of integrations and customizations for eCommerce websites that can help create an ordering experience that’s tailored to your various audience members (much more to come on that topic).
Does an online store negate custom ordering?
Au contraire. Online stores foster custom ordering. You can integrate customer data, automate presentations to suit different company profiles, and a myriad other features that we’ll elaborate on in just a little bit.
B2B eCommerce Marketing
Now that we’ve spent a whole section talking about B2B eCommerce misconceptions, let’s take a look at some of the ways a strong B2B eCommerce marketing strategy can empower your business.
- Educate better than your competitors
- Migrate your customers from offline to online channels
- Use technology to reduce manual work and mistakes
- Increase customer support and loyalty
- Better align your teams and increase scalability
- Reduce costs while increasing sales
- Have conversations with your customers
- Segment your customer experiences
That sounds awesome, doesn’t it? In fact, Vital worked with ITNH, a nationally recognized distributor of industrial printers, inks, media and printing accessories to help them with these tactics. We increased their online lead generation by 1,286% through B2B eCommerce marketing. Their original marketing efforts relied on tradeshows for lead generation, but they quickly discovered the power, customization options, and results that a well-developed B2B eCommerce marketing strategy could bring to the table.
Their comprehensive digital marketing strategy included Magento for maximum flexibility and scalability on their pages. This sophisticated eCommerce shop integrates the necessary technology for custom product filtering that encourages upsell and cross-sell opportunities.
With so many different eCommerce names out there, it’s hard to narrow down the best choice for your business. You might be considering other platforms like Shopify or BigCommerce. As you compare names, whether it’s on your own or with an agency partner, try to think about the features best suited for your organization. Ask yourself which option has the following:
- Mobile Compatibility/User Experience – As more and more users browse on their phones, it’s no longer a bonus to have a mobile-friendly browsing experience — it’s an expectation. For optimal user experience, you should also have the ability to template the experience for different user types, creating an intuitive browsing experience for each of your different audience segments.
- Compliance – There are a variety of privacy and accessibility guidelines including GDPR and ADA; the platform should be created with these in mind.
- B2B eCommerce Functionality – The platform should be able to accommodate features like bulk ordering, account management, and multiple shipping and payment options.
- Available 24/7 – Clients shouldn’t need to wait for responses; that could lead to a missed opportunity. One benefit of a robust eCommerce platform is well-integrated AI like chatbots so that users never feel as though they’re on standby.
- Marketing Functionality – As people continue to conduct online searches, eCommerce is integral to your business’ paid and organic strategies. Your eCommerce platform should be SEO-optimized and automated to allow for consistent solutions that increase your website’s visibility.
Benefits of a B2B eCommerce Website
In short, you can garner more sales with less outreach. No matter which platform you choose, a well-developed B2B eCommerce website possesses a variety of features that help deliver personalized marketing and sales experiences — on either mobile or desktop. Many platforms, including Shopify, allow you to integrate customer data from your ERM or CRM; develop customizable navigation and search functionality; and incorporate flexible payment options with well over 100 different payment providers. These powerful tools enable you to develop a very personalized, yet automated customer experience for the new generation of B2B buyers. As a company, a strong B2B eCommerce website helps you:
- Win RFPs by request based on SEO and ease of discoverability
- Scale your brand with both inbound and outbound sales, earning revenue for additional equipment and product lines
- Expand into new product categories or geographies using localized sites to win customer loyalty
Do those three results sound like music to your ears? With an excellent B2B eCommerce website, they’re completely attainable. The most critical aspect is being able to communicate your product or service well through the content and messaging on your website.
B2B eCommerce Trends
The goal of your website is to communicate, and trends are the most popular techniques that businesses are currently using to accomplish that goal. We wouldn’t be doing this post justice if we didn’t take a few minutes to discuss the direction B2B eCommerce marketing is taking right now.
But before we proceed, we want to take the time to make one critical point. Every business is different, so every website should be, too. And when you work with the right agency, you won’t get an out-of-the-box solution, you’ll get a custom solution to suit your business’ unique needs. The world of eCommerce is all about personalization for the consumer’s buying experience, but it’s also about personalization for your business and your digital marketing strategy.
CPQ integration (Configure Price Quote)
As we mentioned before, B2B products and services aren’t straightforward to price and sell. CPQ solutions provide the opportunity to create customized configurations to suit each buyer’s needs.
The quote-to-cash process covers the entire sale transaction for your business. As B2B eCommerce solutions continually strive to incorporate an omnichannel experience, this process is becoming more and more connected, encouraging a single view for the customer with easy information transfer throughout the entire online buying experience.
For aging populations and the on-the-go B2C crowd, voice command and conversational commerce, like Siri and Alexa, are integral. Now, we’re seeing this trend trickle into the B2B world with technologies like the world’s first quote-to-cash intelligent agent, Max.
Desire for a B2C-like experience
Conversational commerce isn’t the only overlap between the B2B and B2C spaces. Companies like Amazon have created such a stellar consumer purchasing experience that B2B buyers expect the same from every company they encounter — and they refuse to entertain a clunky user experience. Thankfully, many cloud-based eCommerce solutions have stepped up to the plate to deliver an omnichannel experience to their B2B customers.
OptinMonster put together an awesome article on examples of smart personalization. Ultimately, a B2B eCommerce experience needs to meet each buyer’s individual needs and avoid making the wrong recommendations. The right B2B platform helps you turn data into personalized profiles — for example, pricing and discounts according to each buyer type. According to Gartner, your digital business could see a 15% increase in profit by paying close attention to customer intent.
B2B eCommerce FAQs
Q: What is the B2B eCommerce market size?
A: By the year 2027, the B2B eCommerce market is projected to grow from its current value of $6.69 trillion to $20.91 trillion. Wow. We know you can do the math, but that means it’ll more than triple. It’s definitely worth standing out in an industry that’s exploding to this extent.
Q: What are examples of large companies that utilize B2B eCommerce?
A: There are tons of companies out there who utilize B2B eCommerce, but we’ll cover five of the biggest players.
- Amazon – In addition to its well-known B2C eCommerce empire, Amazon Business provides the same top-notch, customized experience for the B2B world.
- General Electric – GE is a household name. Headquartered in Boston, MA, this eCommerce conglomerate serves finance, lighting, aviation, renewable energy, healthcare, and digital industry verticals.
- eWorldTrade – Provides home appliances, plastics, machinery, and more to worldwide manufacturers and suppliers.
- Quill – Sells office supplies including paper, ink toner, furniture, and more to small and mid-sized businesses.
- Mckesson – This pharmaceutical company supplies medical products to traders and retailers.
Q: How is the B2B buyer journey different from that of B2C?
A: Buying a car charger from Amazon is a pretty straightforward transaction. Consumers could make that decision and purchase in about ten minutes. However, B2B buyers aren’t making rash decisions. In fact, a B2BecNews survey reports that only 2% of companies make a purchase on a B2B website on the same day they complete their final research and internal discussion and approval process. “B2B is typically not an impulse buy, but rather a considered purchase, says Lauren Freedman, president of The E-tailing Group, an eCommerce researching group. “Buyers do their homework in order to be confident they are making the right decision.”
The B2B shopping experience has many more steps and complications; these buyers often have multiple interactions, negotiations, and approvals both internally and with your business before they can complete a purchase. A successful B2B eCommerce businesses takes into account each buyers’ pain points and accommodates this process by incorporating functionality for quote management, easy ordering, and inventory management to create a seamless transaction.
Q: What are some critical features of B2B eCommerce sites?
A: As we’ve mentioned, each B2B eCommerce site is going to be a little bit different. Since the buyer’s journey is so complex, successful websites need to be able to accommodate many different eCommerce features. Some of these features include:
Complex pricing. With system integrations, you can bulk upload pricing profiles and apply them across your different customer groups; many platforms also allow custom product views for these different customers.
Flexible checkout process. The checkout process should also align with your customer groups. For example, certain products should take state shipping restrictions into account and the platform can allow customers to charge shipping to their UPS/FedEx accounts.
Customer registration. B2C experience often allows account-less checkout. For B2B sites, registration allows custom pricing options and specific order tracking information. Once a customer logs in, their product browsing and purchasing experience becomes entirely tailored to their particular business.
Search and navigation. Sites with complex product catalogs benefit from sophisticated navigational tools and the ability to offer customers a view of recently purchased or recommended products. Optimizing site search is crucial to help increase conversions on your website.
Email marketing. Integrating your eCommerce site with your email platforms — MailChimp, Klaviyo, Hubspot, or Bronto, just to name a few — helps drive repeat sales and create custom messaging based on your users’ recent orders and browsing history.
Quick order. After the amount of research B2B customers conduct, they can drill down the exact product right down to the SKU. Your forms should be equipped for customers to quickly enter that number and add products to their cart without extensively scouring your website.
Multiple users in a single account. Since many businesses have multiple people placing orders under one account, this organization can become tricky. Your eCommerce platform should have an easy feature to add multiple users to the account and easy steps to view orders made by the different users.
Request a quote. Many products have quote variations. However, successful eCommerce sites guide customers through the information stage and provide a straightforward process to request a quote.
Q: What makes a great B2C-like buying experience for B2B?
A: B2C has grown and worked very hard to create excellent customer communication. B2B should take note of this strength, especially throughout the post-sale communication. B2C businesses do a fantastic job engaging their customers even after they’ve gone through the marketing funnel. Instead of letting them drop off after the purchase, a great B2C-like buying experience uses the marketing “flywheel,” which nurtures a continual relationship of education and communication even after the buying decision.
At Vital, we use our learnings from successful B2B and B2C eCommerce experiences to create the optimal B2B eCommerce experience and help build more personalized, continual communication channels. Our work with Consolidated Sterilizer Systems (CSS), a lab equipment manufacturer, included a robust content strategy that focused on fostering a continual relationship with their clients — even post sale.
Through blogs, social media, videos, eBooks, webinars, and email campaigns, we helped CSS increase their website traffic by 87% and simultaneously saw a 177% increase in “Request a Quote” leads through the website. These opportunities guided them through the marketing funnel, but our work didn’t stop there. We helped CSS develop downloadable premium content, which created micro-conversion opportunities that increased their monthly email subscriptions by over 200% and their social media traffic to the website by 100%. These subscriptions and social media connections are a real-life example of the marketing flywheel in action.
Q: Do you have to be a supplier to sell B2B online?
A: No, in fact, many brands (like Amazon) sell both B2C and B2B through their main website. Using a single URL with multiple customer groups enhances SEO and creates an opportunity to personalize each of your B2B segments’ browsing experiences. Businesses appreciate online access to their wholesale pricing, freight, and volume shipment options.
Q: How can B2B eCommerce serve personalized experiences?
A: The words customization and personalization have appeared multiple times throughout this article. You’ve probably noticed a theme here. According to Forrester, “Do not ignore the role of inbound marketing at later stages of the buyer’s journey, and be sure to look for gaps in the resources available to support buyers looking for validation rather than education. Regardless of stage, marketing must be vigilant in reviewing what’s really happening online and why. From search to content to contact identification, much can be done to understand what works, and where there are gaps in online execution.”
When you’re developing a B2B eCommerce website, if you take the time to research the right platform for your business model; analyze your customers and their search behavior; and use the proper integrations to solve their problems, you’ll be able to curate a very effective, personal eCommerce browsing and purchasing experience.
Q: How can a B2B eCommerce website support custom ordering?
A: There are so many powerful eCommerce platforms. WooCommerce, Shopify, and Magento 2 all have some awesome tools that can help build unique experience for customers. As you narrow down the best choice for your business, be sure to find the right experts to help manage your B2B platform; the agency or partner should have experience strategizing and executing each platform’s custom programming and functionality.
For example, Vital works closely with all three platforms and have built our own custom solutions for each one. We’re even Magento partners, which means that we went through a rigorous process to gain expertise with their unique tools and customizations. Magento 2 allows you to completely hide industry-specific products and set different pricing structures, even international variations that adjust based on the business’ geographical location. As we’ve mentioned in this post, these are some of the strongest features of a successful B2B eCommerce website.
Q: What integrations should I consider as part of my B2B eCommerce solution?
A: Asking which integrations your B2B eCommerce solution should have is like asking what kind of house you should build. The answer is so situational and is truly case by case. We promise this answer isn’t a cop-out, we’ll cover five key integrations that your B2B eCommerce website could have. However, we wouldn’t be answering this question honestly if we didn’t point out that there are so many variations on each integration; the right one can and should cater to the unique strengths and needs depending of your business. An excellent B2B eCommerce website doesn’t come with a one-size-fits-all solution. We rest our case. Let’s jump into ERPs, portals, and more.
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) & Back Office Systems
Efficient back office processes are integral. Streamlining and automating order fulfillment, invoicing, and accounting helps set your business up for success. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) integrates with your eCommerce platform and can help make online and traditional sales processes more efficient.
B2B Client Portals
We’ve talked about customizing the sales experience, and self-service client portals enable your clients to place, track, and return orders. As SaaS and cloud-based solutions rise in popularity, self-service portals are much easier to incorporate. However, in order to integrate with your eCommerce platform, you’ll need a well-developed API framework.
Point of Sale (POS) Software
Despite the changes in 2020 and the increased overall demand for B2B eCommerce, in-person meetings and ordering are still necessary. Point of Sale (POS) software helps your staff search products, create new contacts, and create invoice orders on the spot. Be sure that the POS system integrates with your eCommerce platform — whether directly or with an ERP — to maintain consistent inventory levels.
Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) Solutions
EDI systems help communicate directly with larger business systems for placing, tracking, and shipping orders. A robust API framework is necessary here, too.
B2B Payment Solutions
Every business has their own invoicing and payment policy. To make the selling process as easy as possible, your business should be able to adapt. Your eCommerce platform should be able to handle split, invoiced, and online payments either through the system or with a special integrated payment solution provider.
How To Get Started with B2B eCommerce
We’ve covered a lot in this post. So where do you even begin? B2B eCommerce websites aren’t cut-and-dried — but that’s the exciting part! Whether you’re revamping an old website or creating one for the first time, you can certainly do so on your own. But since your audience has specific expectations, you need the right strategy and tools to exceed those expectations and stand out in the market. Missing the mark will cost your business valuable money and time.
If you do choose to team up with an agency, they can break down the process and take the guesswork out of your marketing strategy. When you shop around with different agencies, make sure that they gather extensive information about your customers and their goals. We’ve successfully created B2C and B2B solutions across manufacturing, education, health, and a variety of other industry verticals; you name it and we’ve probably created a website for it. This experience allows us to make informed, customized solutions to fit a variety of different business needs.
So don’t fret, the right platform and integrations for your business are out there. And a powerful B2B eCommerce website is within reach.
Interested in getting started? We’d love to help you navigate the B2B eCommerce world and lead your business to incredible success. Drop us a line.