The times are changing and so are your customers. Today’s B2B customers expect personalised shopping and engagement with their retailers. No matter whether you’re working from an online or offline platform, your customers have high expectations when it comes to efficiency and individualised business experiences. Are you prepared to meet this demand?
Forming a B2B eCommerce Game Plan
Of course it’s important to have a strong ecommerce presence online, but that is no longer enough. All too easily, your business could be swallowed in the sea of competition, leisure and spam.
On top of that, your business will have to work through the further complications of formats, currencies and languages while managing massive product catalogues and intricate virtual obstacles. Considerations for tech support, backups, privacy and tight security cause real concern that did not exist before virtual storefronts and shopping carts.
If your B2B e-commerce plan is not a prominent figure in your organisation’s strategies, then you are missing out on a large slice of the pie – or, at least, missing out on the opportunity to improve your slice.
In fact, Forrester Research reported that B2B e-commerce in the US more than doubled B2C e-commerce with over $559 billion in annual sales (Key Trends in BtoB Ecommerce For 2013). With this important shift in the wind, 55% of B2B merchants believe B2B commerce should be following the best-practices of B2C purchasing experiences, according to a 2013 E-commerce Report by Intershop. This report interviewed over 400 top IT and business managers from merchants and found:
97% were selling B2B products or services online
On average, merchants were planning to increase online sales by 34%
More than half (54%) believe the most difficult challenge for B2B online sales is finding an intuitive, user-friendly interface
72% plan to create mobile-friendly virtual storefronts in 2014
If you still aren’t totally sold on the importance of B2B e-commerce, you should consider how major companies (like Amazon and Google) are adding B2B aspects to their services. Though Amazon is a major B2C player, they launched Amazon Supply in 2012 to sell industrial supplies, office equipment and parts to businesses and capitalize on the B2B arena.
Just as the B2C space has watched commerce move online, you should be fully prepared for B2B commerce to make the same shift.
Aligning the Sales Team
It is important to take a moment to note that online sales doesn’t make offline sales techniques redundant. Top B2B companies have found that marketing and sales should be more closely aligned to create a seamless team that is capable of working with the customer at any point in the sales funnel.
The sales teams are beginning to graduate in their roles from cold-calling to nurturing. Rather than searching endless hours for new leads, their focus is more often spend on high-level questions, adding to the personal buying experience and helping customers understand deeper needs they may have. It is now the job of the marketing team to put together the inbound marketing strategy that draws in the new leads your business needs.
Think of your marketing department as the net weavers and your sales team as the fisherman.
Working together, your teams can build a structure that engages the customer searching for answers, leads them down the sales funnel, encourages them to make the final purchase decision and retains them as a loyal customer.
Phil Duhs, director of ebusiness at Ingram Micro Mobility and a speaker at Game Plan notes, “In B2B you’ve got to create a relationship with the customer first, then you start selling them something, where as in B2C it almost happens at the same time.”
This gives your sales team a real gap to fill in customer conversion and relationship building that your marketing team won’t be able to completely do on their own. Human interaction is still a very important part of the B2B buying process.
Addressing the Complications of eCommerce
Your game plan for e-commerce should be focusing on the complications that are specific to e-commerce B2B experiences. According to Oracle’s 2013 B2B Commerce Trends, 92% of respondents were addressing B2B complexities. Top concerns included:
Pricing Complexities (+50%)
Product Complexities (45%)
Channel Complexities (45%)
Back-End Complexities (40%)
This same study found that 80% of respondents agreed that B2B sales interactions have changed due to B2C sales practices. Personalization, online catalogs and SEO are the top three practices that influence B2C revenue growth.
Your game plan and infrastructure will need to support the multiple commerce complexities your business will face. Businesses need to be able to navigate the digital transformation process to develop key strategies and best-practices for each state of the e-commerce process.
Success will be determined by adaptation to the shifting B2B climate and the changing demands of today's customer.