In 2019, only 13% of all B2B sales were generated digitally. By 2023, when U.S. B2B online sales are projected to reach $1.8 trillion.
And with COVID-19 still impacting the ways we live, work, and purchase, the call to e-commerce is growing stronger. Across every industry, business people and consumers are learning tough lessons about agility and resilience.
It’s increasingly clear that both require at least some degree of digital presence.
The traditional sales-meeting, hand-shaking, demoing, negotiating, contracting, and procurement process isn’t easy to translate to a consumer-like digital experience online. Or, at least, it wasn’t always. And besides — the modern B2B buyer has different expectations.
B2B Ecommerce Challenges
Your B2B buyers want the same experience as B2C shoppers: efficiency and ease of use. But they have different needs — and therein lies the major challenge of B2B eCommerce sales.
1. B2B relationships are personal.
You probably don’t have an account manager to be the liaison between you and your favorite department store. But B2B relationships often are personalized in this way and have developed over time.
These personalized needs include customer-specific pricing, whether based on a tiering system or specifically negotiated deals, and bulk pricing. You may also have customers who don’t need access to your entire catalog.
B2B buyers expect pricing, catalogs, and product selection to be organized according to their particular requirements. How will those relationships translate online? How do you keep relationships unique and personalized at scale?
2. The B2B buying process involves a lot of decision-makers, and the buying cycle is long and complex.
The B2B purchasing workflow can consist of a wide range of people with their own specific roles and responsibilities. There will be people researching the solutions, stakeholders whose buy-in is needed to move forward, financial representatives to approve the spend, and so many more. And depending on the value of the purchase, this could take up to a year or more — a far cry from the one-click purchase button on Amazon.
All that complexity means there’s a lot to keep up with. This is where solid back-office management comes in. You have to be able to efficiently provide each stakeholder your business interacts with the information they need to do their jobs.
You need powerful tools on your side, like customer relationships management (CRM) software, an enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to integrate all your data, and self-service options so buyers can find as much information on their own as possible.
3. Buyers have complex procurement processes.
B2B buyers expect flexibility on how they order and how they pay — and they need it, because some companies’ purchase processes are as complex and analog as the laggards they buy from.
Procurement refers to the activities around acquiring the products and services that support business operations. It’s often tightly monitored and controlled, with clearly defined policies and processes. This can include a lot of documents, like contracts, requisition orders, purchase orders, invoices, and more.
According to an August 2019 survey of B2B buyers, almost three-quarters of respondents said they’d switch to a new ecommerce site for better purchasing options. The same share of respondents stated that they would purchase more products if they could pay by invoice.
4. Buyers need many ways to pay.
Offering flexible payment terms to B2B customers can help you win new customers and keep existing customers happy.
Avoiding the financial risk of offering credit to new customers.
5. Data for multiple channels may be siloed.
Selling online requires locking together a number of moving pieces, and that number can be even greater when you’re talking about B2B. Particularly if you sell via multiple channels, you may have many different sources of data. Keeping that data siloed is not the best option for your business.
ERP software integrates order management, accounting, and a 360-degree view of your clients into a single, real-time system, providing all the flexibility you need to customize the workflows and functionality of your back-office environment. A strong ERP integration provides you with a clear, holistic view of your business and your inventory levels so you can strengthen overall operations and meet buyer expectations.
6. Shipping B2B has its own set of requirements and constraints.
Determining the best shipping strategy for your B2B business comes with its own set of unique challenges, from freight shipments to client-specific requirements and more.
As you develop your B2B shipping strategy, aim for complete price transparency, multiple shipping options, and tailored shipping options based on product, order, or customer. Use different rules per product group, especially if you’re introducing a brand new product line, and make sure you are fulfilling orders via appropriate services.
7. B2B buyers need to find more complex products just as easily.
Modern buyers are moving away from in-person sales meetings and ordering via a paper catalog. Online B2B buyers, like B2C shoppers, want relevant search results, easy website navigation, and suggested product content.
But they also need accommodations that meet the complexity of B2B buying, such as a unique account with a custom catalog, specialized pricing, and sensitivity to product availability. The future of B2B is in ecommerce, and the need for personalized, intelligent, search-driven experience is essential. But today, with evolving technologies and buyer demands, you’ll be able to find more ways to easily enable successful B2B sales on an eCommerce website.