B2B eCommerce: What You Need to Know to Sell Your Products Online

Ron Dodby Ron Dod

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The B2B eCommerce sector has been experiencing explosive growth as of late. As Forbes reports on the B2B eCommerce industry:

“B2B eCommerce, when compared to the B2C industry, is projected to be two times bigger than B2C in 2020. In fact, it’s anticipated to be the area of largest eCommerce growth from 2020 to 2025… According to the latest publication from Meticulous Research, the global e-commerce market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 11.1 percent from 2018 to 2025, reaching $24,265.12 billion by 2025.”

With the anticipated growth that B2B eCommerce is expected to receive, those who understand how to sell their products online will be in a position to scale their eCommerce business substantially.

Those who wish to capitalize on the immense expansion set to take place in the first half of the decade must understand where the industry currently is and how to move forward as B2B eCommerce comes to more closely resemble its B2C counterpart.

Here is everything that B2B retailers need to know about selling their products online in 2020.

A New Generation of B2B Buyers

The millennial generation has come to power. These young professionals now occupy a variety of high-level positions across virtually all industries. In this regard, the B2B sector is no different.

According to a 2016 study from Merit, 73 percent of today’s B2B buyers are millennials. While this research may be several years old, there are scores of studies that have revealed similar findings.

The fact of the matter is that the millennial generation largely grew up with many of today’s technologies. While some members of the age group are not “digital natives,” most are as well adapted as those who do don this moniker.

In fact, it is the tech-savvy nature of millennials that largely drives the exponential growth of B2B eCommerce and its evolution to look and feel more like B2C platforms.

Alongside the change in who does the buying, the way in which B2B buyers research and carry out transactions is being modified as well.

b2b ecommerce growth statistics graphic

For instance, millennials prefer to conduct research themselves, utilizing a variety of digital resources to complete the task. Instead of interacting with company reps as previous generations of buyers may have done, today’s buyers turn to online content. As Business2Community reveals about millennial B2B buyers:

“When the survey participants were asked what types of content were most helpful in their buying decisions, the top choice was user reviews (61 percent of respondents), and case studies came in third (34 percent of respondents)… When asked what role social media plays in their process for researching potential purchases, a majority of the survey respondents said they browse existing discussions to learn more about their topic of interest (63 percent) or ask for suggestions and recommendations from other users (55 percent).”

Naturally, this means that efforts such as content marketing and social media marketing strategies are essential for B2B eCommerce success.

Additionally, because of all the research that B2B buyers now conduct via content consumption and citing a variety of sources, the sales cycle has become significantly lengthier. This is one of the many ways in which B2B eCommerce differs from B2C interactions.

With that said, let’s take a moment to explore the distinctions between these two verticals.

How B2B eCommerce Differs from B2C

Over the years, many aspects of B2B eCommerce have come to resemble the B2C industry. Because of this blurring of lines, what are traditionally B2C eCommerce platforms have begun integrating B2B features.

For instance, thanks to recently adding business-to-business focused features, Magento has become the perfect eCommerce platform for B2B organizations.

However, despite the similarities the verticals have come to share, there are still key differences between B2B eCommerce and B2C online retail efforts. Some of those discrepancies include:

Decision-Makers

When it comes to B2C purchases, there is typically only a single buyer involved. However, B2B buying decisions are rarely made by one person. Often, the latter will not only include multiple people but a variety of departments as well.

Delivery Times

B2C customers are often in search of speedy delivery. This is precisely why eCommerce trends have increasingly veered toward providing one-day and two-day delivery services.

However, those who engage in B2B eCommerce are often less concerned with the shipment speed and are generally more interested in ensuring that they will receive deliveries on a reliable schedule.

Payment Timeframes

In the B2C industry, shoppers can usually pay for purchases through a variety of methods, including credit cards, PayPal, mobile wallets and the like. Payments are typically collected prior to the products being mailed.

With B2B eCommerce, payments can sometimes be negotiated by different terms and may not be required in full (or at all) until after the goods have been shipped out and received by the client.

Pricing

When shoppers in the B2C space make a purchase, the price usually is not negotiable. Of course, there are exceptions, such as auction sites like eBay.

Where B2B eCommerce differs is that negotiating on price is a common practice. Given that B2B buyers tend to place bulk orders and maintain long-term relationships, providing a bit of wiggle room on rates is in a seller’s best interest in the long term.

Purchase Frequency

The needs of consumers in the B2B and B2C spaces are drastically different.

Unless a customer is purchasing an eCommerce subscription service, they will usually only be making a one-time purchase. Moreover, B2C customers are much more prone to impulse buys than B2B buyers.

On the other hand, B2B customers will often set up long-term, recurring purchases, typically scheduled far in advance.

With these disparities outlined, let’s go ahead and explore the tactics that B2B businesses can use to excel in the eCommerce industry in the years ahead.

B2B eCommerce Strategies

There is a whole slew of things that can impact B2B eCommerce sales. If merchants want to generate high sales volumes, there are specific B2B eCommerce marketing strategies that must be used and specific website elements that should be present.

Some of the tactics and components that B2B eCommerce retailers should implement include:

Employ Content Marketing

Content marketing is critical for a variety of reasons. Outside of being the driving force for ranking in search engines (thereby producing visibility) and helping to build a robust social media presence, Martech Today reports that B2B buyers consume an average of 13 pieces of content before finalizing their decision on which vendor to utilize. As the publication reports:

“The 13 content pieces breaks down into an average of eight vendor-created pieces and five from third parties. This content ranges from video to blog posts, white papers and customer testimonials to software reviews and analyst reports.”

By creating unique and informative content, B2B eCommerce retailers can help to obtain visibility in the SERPs and educate potential buyers on the finer points of the products they sell.

air sea containers website blog post

However, blogs, videos and the like aren’t the only kinds of content that can help merchants generate qualified leads.

Showcase Customer Testimonials

Ratings, reviews and testimonials are an incredibly powerful marketing tool. This is true across B2B and B2C as these resources give potential buyers the social proof they require to feel confident in a product.

customer testimonial online product

Moreover, as far as B2B eCommerce is concerned, reviews and testimonials are one of the most viewed types of research material. Therefore, retailers should take full advantage of this and proudly display product ratings and reviews on their site, as well as share customer testimonials via social media.

Leverage Social Media

As discussed earlier, social media plays a considerable role in today’s B2B research process. Given that most buyers tend to trust social media more than traditional adverts, cultivating a robust social media presence is of the utmost importance.

Social media marketing for eCommerce brands entails many things, including:

  • Posting regularly
  • Curating content from third-party sites
  • Frequently engaging with followers
  • Running retargeting campaigns
  • Listening to conversations about the brand

While this can certainly be a time-consuming endeavor, social media has become a central component to B2B eCommerce research, making it vital to selling products online.

Invest in SEO

To sell products to prospective buyers, businesses must be able to be found. Therefore, search engine optimization is critical to success. Again, this stands for B2B and B2C businesses alike.

optimizing a site for search graphicThe fact is that SEO statistics show that over 50 percent of all website traffic comes from organic search. Therefore, if merchants are not surfacing in the SERPs, it is unlikely that they will make a buyer’s shortlist of potential vendors.

When optimizing a site for search, merchants must take many aspects into account, including:

Moreover, the platform on which B2B retailers opt to build their store can have a significant impact on search performance as well. Not only do some platforms offer a better user experience than others, but many will limit a brand’s ability to optimize different aspects of the site. Again, part of what makes Magento great for B2B stores is that the framework is fully customizable, extraordinarily SEO-friendly and includes tons of B2B-focused features.

Enhance Site Speeds

Site speed is a critical component of online success. This is particularly true in the eCommerce industry.

For B2B eCommerce sites to succeed in selling products online, ensuring that the site is lightning fast is vital.

Some tactics that sellers can use to minimize load times include:

  • Compressing images
  • Employing a content delivery network
  • Eliminating redirect chains
  • Utilizing a premium hosting service

Optimize for Mobile

In many ways, the millennial generation has been one of the main drivers behind the transition to the mobile-first paradigm that exists today. As a result of their preference for small screen devices, B2B retailers must accommodate this inclination by ensuring that their sites are optimized for mobile.

mobile version furniture ecommerce site

Moreover, in helping to keep pace with the B2C industry, business-to-business brands should consider implementing some of the mobile eCommerce trends that will dominate 2020.

By existing on the cutting-edge of eCommerce, B2B merchants are more likely to attract the younger, more tech-savvy buyers.

Simplify the Purchase Process

As mentioned when discussing the importance of SEO, creating a user-friendly website is vital to the success of a brand.

The fact is that if a site is challenging to navigate, features a lengthy checkout process and displays other signs of a poor user experience, B2B eCommerce retailers will generate far fewer sales.

In the B2B space, buyers want a no-nonsense website that provides them with a simple buying and shipping process. Given that a significant portion of these buyers are millennials, these folks are used to the often simple and intuitive checkout process.

B2B buyers want that same type of optimized checkout process from the vendors with which they partner. Therefore, B2B retailers should aim to get their site to closely resemble the feel and functionality provided by B2C sites.

Provide Bulk Ordering Options

The process of buying from a B2B eCommerce website shouldn’t just be simple and intuitive. It should also meet the needs of the customers it serves.

Many B2B companies sell smaller items such as paper clips, disposable gloves, envelopes and similar products that buyers might need to purchase thousands of at a time.

To make things simple for potential customers, B2B retailers should provide shoppers with bulk ordering options that enable them to order as much of an item as they might require.

Improve Product Pages

Product pages are a critical component of earning online sales. Since B2B buyers no longer rely on things like print catalogs, building better B2B product pages that feature detailed, accurate information alongside high-quality images is a fundamental element to success.

online product page options

Through these destinations, customers should be able to view and compare different products, as well as find out just about anything they would need to know to feel comfortable making a purchase.

Personalize the Shopping Experience

Customization and personalization have become core components of eCommerce over the last several years. While a personalized shopping experience is vital to B2C websites, it is even more critical for B2B businesses.

b2b buyers personalize experience graphicPlainly put, B2B buyers often spend a substantial amount of money and build long-term relationships with vendors. Because of the deeper nature of these connections, it is critical that merchants seek out ways to personalize the experience of their customers.

One of the most obvious ways to do this is through custom product recommendations based on a buyer’s previous purchases, search history and pages viewed. By presenting relevant products to buyers, the customer lifetime value of these folks is likely to increase as they are more likely to partake in the up-and-cross selling options offered by retailers.

However, merchants can also send buyers special promotions and content offerings via email through segmenting audiences based on demographics, business characteristics and other data that helps to differentiate customers from one another.

Consider Upgrading Platforms

There are a lot of different website elements that retailers must possess to create the best possible on-site experience. Unfortunately for some, there is a chance that their current eCommerce platform might not be capable of accommodating these demands.

In such a situation, retailers might need to consider upgrading their eCommerce platform to something a bit robust.

While replatforming a site can be a time-consuming and costly endeavor, in the long run, it is likely to be in a merchant’s best interests. As it stands, the B2B eCommerce industry is quickly evolving. Those whose stores seem antiquated and clunky are at risk of falling behind and getting swallowed up by more forward-thinking competitors.

Moreover, when a seller decides to upgrade their eCommerce platform, they are preparing their business for the future. The new framework should enable the company to scale as order volumes increase alongside the site traffic and sales generated by their SEO, content marketing, social media and other efforts to obtain new customers.

Final Thoughts

B2B eCommerce isn’t the same as it was just a couple of years ago. As it stands, a new generation of buyers is placing increasing demands on B2B organizations to evolve with the times and become more digitally oriented.

As a result, B2B businesses are being presented with a tremendous opportunity for growth, assuming that they can rise to the challenge of becoming more like B2C sites in their functionality and marketing efforts.

While changing with the times might seem like something of a Herculean feat for some B2B retailers, there is help available.

Visiture’s services, which encompass everything from SEO, website development, content marketing and beyond, can help digital retailers push their B2B eCommerce efforts into a new era of optimization and online success.

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