For anyone who has been in B2B sales and marketing in the past 18 months, it is an obvious statement that buyer behavior has changed significantly as a result of the pandemic.
Here are just a few noticeable statistics:
- 74% of B2B buyers now research at least half of their work purchases online (Forrester)
- 43% of B2B buyers would prefer not to interact with a sales rep at all (Gartner)
- Eight in ten B2B executives say new remote sales models are at least as effective, if not more effective, than traditional models (Gartner)
This has led to a huge boom in B2B e-commerce. It is valued at $ 7.72 trillion worldwide and is expected to grow to $ 25 trillion by 2028. Notably, global B2B e-commerce sales are six times higher than B2C e-commerce sales.
And yet, selling online for B2B brands is far from the norm. Ultimately, there is still a long way to go before digital B2B experiences are consistently as good as the best B2C experiences.
So what are the secrets of success in B2B e-commerce? We have worked with B2B brands for the past 20 years and helped them switch to an online sales model.
LISTEN: Inside B2B: How B2B Brands Can Be Successful in E-Commerce
This article introduces some of the great insights we have found that can help create the right conditions for success in B2B ecommerce.
Choose the right B2B ecommerce model
The first thing B2B brands need to do is decide on the right ecommerce model. There are essentially three models:
These are online stores that work similarly to B2C models. You have product lines, purchase buttons and shopping carts, etc. These are suitable for smaller items with high needs, such as laptops, machine parts or home office accessories.
This is the largest segment of e-commerce (around 50% of the market) and is dominated by large marketplaces such as Amazon Business and Alibaba. These are suitable for smaller B2B companies that do not want to invest in their own platforms and would rather forego control.
These are for large organizations with great purchasing power. These platforms act as a marketplace with one customer and many suppliers where RFPs are submitted and the buyer can choose the best solution.
When choosing the right model for your business, it is always important to put the customer at the center of the decision. Ecommerce isn’t just about making your old sales process digital, it’s about rethinking it from the buyer’s perspective.
Customer insight methods such as personas and journey mapping should be carried out as well as internal business analyzes to ensure that the right e-commerce model is selected.
Create a distinctive digital experience
Choosing the right ecommerce model is just the beginning. Your digital experience must reflect the needs of your customers, your brand, and the best way to buy your products and services.
A Gartner survey of more than 1,100 B2B customers has shown that customers have difficulties distinguishing provider offers from one another through digitalization alone: 64% of B2B buyers cannot differentiate between the digital experience of one B2B brand and that of another.
For example, consider the difference between two Omobono customers – a cloud telecommunications provider for SMBs and a hard-to-find drug company for pharmacists. For the telecommunications customer, the experience had to be fun, informative, and use clever targeting techniques for up- and cross-selling. In contrast, the drug business was clear, technical, and with no sign of upselling due to strict industry regulations.
Integrate sales reps into e-commerce
It is tempting to think of e-commerce as a “replacement” for salespeople, but the successful brands incorporate human sales “within” the experience. Because digital is not the end goal, but better customer service and there will always be times when the human touch is appreciated.
Consider chatbots, virtual tours, or shopping guides where live streaming or video could help an interested customer. Or perhaps you are thinking of how digital diagnostic tools could help a customer understand their needs while providing your sales teams with vital information about a prospect’s vulnerabilities.
Take small steps towards data and technical readiness
One of the trickiest hurdles when switching to online sales is the use of data and the integration into the existing technical infrastructure. Most B2B companies have data in their pockets across the company that may not be structured and difficult to use by any CRM or personalization engine.
You may also be working with older supply chain management systems that are difficult to integrate with new e-commerce technologies.
Our advice is to go slowly and in small steps.
Think carefully about what you really need the platform for and avoid investing in all the bells and whistles from day one. Many brands buy a “Formula One” business solution only to find that no one in the industry can push it.
When it comes to data, too, think about how you can get the data you really need into a usable format and expand over time. Don’t try to personalize every aspect of your experience, do small tests and get good data on what is working before you act.
Don’t forget your mindset and culture
Technology is only as good as the people who use it. Success in ecommerce requires a new cultural mindset – testing, iterating, and treating all mistakes as learning. And creating a growth mentality in which teams feel mentally secure is vital.
In addition to the mindset, you need to think about sales and marketing training and skills development as well. Your team may need data literacy, conversion rate optimization, technical SEO, merchandising, and content strategy.
Investing in new skills for your team can be a great way to build new muscle for the company while showing commitment to employee growth.
Now is the time
We see a great opportunity to invest in B2B e-commerce in 2021. Research companies predict that this segment will more than triple in the next seven years.
We recommend a commitment to putting the customer first, integrating with existing sales processes and technology, and a culture that supports small movements, learning and experimentation.
Now is the time to lay the foundations for ecommerce success.
Simon McEvoy is Head of Strategy and Rebecca Pike is a Strategist at Omobono.