Driving growth with B2B ecommerce

An effective B2B e-commerce platform will allow companies to sell more at a lower cost and transform sales efficiency

Following my previous blogpost on the difference between B2B and B2C e-commerce, I want to expand on the wealth of opportunities available to companies focused B2B commerce. We already know it’s a rapidly expanding market with Forrester forecasting B2B e-commerce to outspend B2C in 2013, but I’m even more impressed with these data points:

  • 60% of B2B e-commerce executives agree that the more channels a customer uses, the more money they spend overall
  • 55% of B2B e-commerce executives indicate a decrease in total customer acquisition cost after setting up B2B ecommerce

So, the business benefit is fundamental: an effective B2B e-commerce platform will allow companies to sell more at a lower cost and transform sales efficiency.

Although B2B e-commerce is still in early stages, companies hesitating to enter the market, whether for technical, operational or cost reasons, should understand that B2C e-commerce has provided more than 10 years of helpful lessons that can be applied:

1. Experience must transcend transaction

The data point is clear - 60% of B2B e-commerce executives agree that the more channels a customer uses, the more money they spend overall.  The conclusion is obvious; optimising the customer experience and offering the choice of multiple touchpoints – online, offline, social, mobile, print, direct mail and more – has never been more important. Establishing strong customer connections extends the lifetime value of that customer and lowers acquisition cost as additional purchases are made over time.

2. Convenience = loyalty

First impression counts in driving customer loyalty and streamlining the customer experience. The easier and more convenient the buying journey is the better for your brand. Business customers appreciate easy-to-replenish or easy-to-repeat orders, an opportunity for instant chat to discuss products or delivery, and the ability to request a follow-up call from an experienced company rep to answer questions.

3. Identity is key

The most successful B2C sites, such as Amazon, require customers to register or login. Having customers always logged in permits sites to offer a much richer and more personalised experience to further cement the bond between customer and brand. A login system allows the site to better serve customers by anticipating orders and providing trade pricing, tax invoices and credit accounts. So for B2B companies, capturing identify information is essential and can become part of the on-boarding process when a new contract is siged.

4. Close the loyalty loop and remind customers what they want or need

Once you know a visitors identity, you can use active merchandising (cross-selling and up-selling) to increase revenues  and deepen the customer relationship with your brand. What else does the customer want or need to purchase from the company at this time? Engage through email to drive them back to your site and provide them with relevant offers. Customers are already familiar with these types of personalised cross-sell and up-sell techniques from B2C sites.

5. Automated process build efficiency

Keep expensive sales personnel focused on the most important tasks such as large orders, new contracts and higher value sales while leaving small orders processing and order management to an automated system. This not only frees up your sales resource but it also reduce the cost of looking after smaller customers by moving them to online self-care.

Delaying the launch of a successful, fully integrated B2B e-commerce platform may leave you trailing aggressive competitors who are looking to cut cost of sales while increasing customer convenience, loyalty and margins.

Data source: Forrester, The case for channel-shifting customers online