Five tips for making the most of the B2B ecommerce opportunity

Monday, March 11, 2013

B2C multichannel ecommerce retailers such as Amazon, eBay and John Lewis often make headlines with their extraordinary online growth figures, yet little attention is paid to B2B companies operating online and even less on B2B customer experience.

As ecommerce is fast becoming an accepted way of doing business for both consumers and business buyers, B2B ecommerce is having a quiet revolution to grasp the online opportunity. So much so that the B2C ecommerce giant Amazon is making a play in the space with the business-focused Amazon Supply.

Analyst Forrester forecasted that B2B ecommerce transactions are expected to hit $559 billion by the end of 2013, in comparison to B2C commerce's estimated $252 billion, it is worth nearly twice as much and provides huge opportunities for B2B companies who haven't ventured online.

But what should a B2B business focus on when setting up or revamping their ecommerce site? From our experience with customers who have gone through the process, here are five key things to consider:

Varied pricing levels

B2B companies have different pricing levels for different customers. Your larger customers can often negotiate lower prices by placing repeat or bulk orders, and prices can vary from region to region. As the complexity of multiple price levels and contractual price commitments is usually beyond the norms of the B2C world, many B2C ecommerce platforms aren't equipped for this. It's therefore important that your platform can handle this and be able to adjust pricing levels accordingly.

Multi-step buying process

The B2B sales cycle is often much longer and more complex than in B2C. The buying decision is based on business requirements and customers often need a fair amount of education, nurturing and reassurance to reach decisions. So content, lead nurturing, building trust and generating return traffic are all key factors in moving B2B customers closer to purchase. Getting a master agreement or a B2B contract in place takes time but the more you can streamline the ordering process (based on the customer's requirements such as ease of placing repeat orders or shipping to multiple locations) the better the customer experience you'll be able to deliver.

You should also consider your decision maker. The person who decides on the purchase may not be the same person that would actually make the purchase online, and the purchase may involve some level of contract agreement and approval before it can be completed. So make sure you make it easy for B2B customers to retrieve their baskets, make changes and preview orders to smooth the multi-steps.

Payment terms and options

The payment of B2B transactions are more likely to be made through an account which will then invoice customers at a later date or in stages, particularly for high volume purchases. This means your platform needs to be flexible enough to handle POs and invoices rather than just credit cards used in B2C. Many of our B2B clients offer value proposition of combining several orders into a single monthly settlement instead of invoicing for each order to further streamline the process, so make sure these complex invoicing and accounting process can be set up easily in your platform.

Targeted traffic, higher transaction value

B2B businesses often have smaller and more focused target markets that they sell to, so it is important to grab high quality, targeted traffic. Be thorough in the keywords you're targeting for SEO and don't just go for volume, are they terms your potential customers use? Use social media channels to find and speak directly to your audience.

B2B customers tend to make large orders with higher basket and customer lifetime values, so site conversion and retention are of paramount importance. Taking notes from B2C commerce, use clever personalisation tactics to customise the B2B user journey based on customer company, industry or past purchase will not only help you sell more but also deliver a better customer experience so they'll come back for more.

Multichannel customer experience resonates

B2B buyers demand the same experience in terms of multichannel engagement, unique web experience and after sales care as B2C buyers. Content is an even a bigger king in the B2B world as a way to instil thought-leadership, build trust and long term working relationships. Your content needs to live in whichever channel your customers choose to engage with you, and you need to think outside your website. The uptake of mobile is not limited to B2C buyers either. A recent infographic showed that 69% of IT decision-makers regularly use mobile to search for work related content, and B2B mobile traffic is predicted to grow 13x over the next four years.

Customer experience plays a key role in B2B relationship, it's therefore equally important to understand your customers' purchase behavioural, preferred channels and provide great after-sales service to deliver a B2C-like customer experience to enlighten your B2B customers.

Conclusion

The opportunity B2B commerce has to offer is huge. But with varied pricing levels, a multi-step buying process and different payment terms, a B2B commerce site generally involves five to ten more integrations in comparison to a B2C site. Consider this in your implementation process and make sure that you clearly identify the key processes and know what a great customer experience looks like for your B2B brand.

See my next blogpost on How to Drive Growth with B2B Commerce


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