Personalization that hits home. Promotions that pop. Recommendations from search engines that are apparently reading your mind. For consumers, online shopping can be such a pleasure.
Based on what you see as one of those consumers, you might assume that the colorful, finely calibrated B2C ecommerce market is huge, while the B2B market must still be awakening and catching up with all those savvy online retailers. B2B is the ugly duckling with the outdated online-store functionality. Right?
No, wrong. Very wrong.
The global business-to-business ecommerce market, expertly dominated by sites like Magento, BigCommerce, and Shopify Plus, is actually higher, more than six times, in fact, than the B2C market, at $12.2 trillion. So at some point, B2B may have been the tortoise, lumbering along, gulping up, and slowly digesting ecommerce technology, but this plodding turtle has pulled far ahead of the flashy hare.
Fewer buyers, heftier orders
One reason for the massive lead in this sales channel is that B2B orders tend to be placed in relatively huge quantities. Fewer people are tasked with buying for a business, but these procurement folk are empowered to make weighty production purchases such as a thousand screw-on caps or 500 solar panels. That alone can obviously ratchet up an average order value (AOV).
Another reason for the discrepancy is that the many items ultimately sold by B2C storefronts are generated thanks to B2B wholesaler and reseller workflows.
So despite advanced ecommerce developments having largely originated in B2C, they’ve been taking hold in B2B commerce solutions as well. After all, wholesalers and reseller individuals are also consumers, and they’ve come to expect the very best online customer experiences available, whether they’re browsing a social media feed on their lunch break and notice an ad for a trendy fashion item or they’re actively on the job, looking to score 2,500 cubic yards of mulch for a corporate landscaping project.
What is a B2B ecommerce platform?
Like a B2C ecommerce platform, the B2B version is an ecommerce store for companies big and small, profit and non-profit. It leverages automation and personalization to let business shoppers easily place cost-effective orders, get guidance and customer support if needed, collaborate with co-buyers and colleagues in the online sales process, and feel confident about their working relationship with the organization so that they naturally think to place more — and larger — orders on a regular basis. As with B2C, a transaction on a B2B website, as opposed to a transaction achieved in person or by phone, is often easier and more efficient.
What’s key for B2B?
When it comes to an effective B2B ecommerce solution, some requirements apply universally across B2C and B2B. However, B2B has certain specialized needs as well, related to the fact that B2B:
Is focused on cost savings
In the B2B digital commerce sector, shoppers are constrained by specific budgets. Your pricing needs to be attractive, and so does the perceived value of the buying experience. It’s not about flash; everything shoppers are thinking about revolves around the bottom line.
Presents a different purchasing experience
While B2C transactions are pretty straightforward, complexity is a factor in the B2B version. A business purchase typically goes through various stages as prospective buyers evaluate the options and multiple people with different expertise get involved in aspects like negotiation on bulk pricing.
Relies on working relationships
The B2B transaction world is smaller. That means it’s imperative to impress every buyer or potential buyer (or buying team) with professionalism and limit issues they might encounter on your site in order to build a solid customer base that intends to stick with you.
Must offer an A-rated user experience
The user experience is talked about incessantly nowadays in relation to B2C sites, but B2B is not far behind. When all aspects of your business site run smoothly and make your prospective buyers’ work lives easy, you’re one step ahead of your less-organized competition.
For example, when you have a mobile app that works every bit as well as your B2B ecommerce website, you’re bound to satisfy some business buyers while they’re traveling and wanting to get a few work tasks checked off on their phones. If such a prospective buyer tries to use your mobile site and runs into trouble, it can signal rocky times for your customer relationships and conversions.
So what exactly is required for an outstanding B2B buyer experience online? Leading B2B ecommerce sites demonstrate various attributes and add-ons/integrations.
A-rated B2B ecommerce features
How do successful B2B sellers — business owners and managers of the best ecommerce platforms out there — make sure their B2B customer experiences shine? Here are a few key features that stand-out sites have in common.
A robust content management system
A business purchase is many things, but one thing it’s not is emotionally charged, as might be the case in a B2C purchasing checkout. So if there’s one thing business buyers need in order to make successful purchases, it’s enough details to herald well-thought-out decision making: thorough descriptions of products, specs, how-to videos, reviews by other buyers, Q&A. And good knowledge management can go a long way: when all of this corporate material is well organized and easy to access and comprehend, prospective buyers can move forward without issues.
In addition, a B2B site CMS should make it easy for regular employees and contractors on the selling side to edit and display content and images, plus make it simple for merchandisers to update promotions and content. Lastly, to save time, a good B2B CMS should be effortlessly searchable in near real time, as most businesspeople have no bandwidth for puttering around, clicking here and there in a quest for a must-have piece of data.
Easy catalog management
To account for the fact that businesses are often unique in the ways they operate, a B2B catalog should be easy to tailor, adapt, and personalize for what your different groups of customers can see or do. You might need to customize your product catalog for a certain buyer or business unit, or specify different options — for instance, related to promotional pricing — for multiple types of business shoppers.
Shopper segmentation and customization
A customizable setup for different shopper personas gives a B2B ecommerce platform the advantage of flexibility. Because such large quantities are involved in B2B buying and order processing, it makes sense to base offerings on the needs of specific customer groups, taking into account factors like their budgets and the quantities they’re looking to acquire. Plus, with B2B, you want your site to have easy scalability. When you have the ability to customize, you can also scale up fairly effortlessly (perhaps by going headless).
Part two of the customization piece is tailoring the B2B shopping experience expressly for your different classifications of buyer. When you can activate appropriate filtering, content (such as promotions), pricing tiers, minimum orders, delivery options, and payment processes, and provide access to shortcuts like simplified reordering procedures, you can connect well with prospective buyers. There’s nothing better than ensuring that you’re providing all the essential features to help you cultivate new business and meet your B2B sales goals.
Smart search functionality
With all that product information that buyers must sift through, the search bar on a B2B site or marketplace platform is just as important as it is on a B2C site. Advanced search technology lets business shoppers look for items not just by name but by parameters like SKU, category, partial name, and word that could quite easily contain a typo or be misspelled. A high-functioning search engine goes beyond spitting out results that match keywords; it helps B2B shoppers find what they need by suggesting what it thinks they seem to want (semantic search).
Along the same lines as semantic search, by analyzing data from business shoppers’ searching and buying activity, an ecommerce site can then “thoughtfully” offer up recommended products and services, such as accessories, that they may also need. This cross-selling can turn a B2B site’s already high AOV into a truly impressive KPI.
Do your B2B shoppers have the ability to easily switch channels, say, from a phone call to your website, or from their mobile-device screen to online chat on their desktop computer? As in B2C, multichannel experiences have fast become a must-have feature — one that can not only delight your customers but give them multiple convenient touchpoints from which they can go ahead and complete a purchasing transaction.
B2B sites and marketplaces are used by businesspeople with a variety of roles that necessitate different levels of access to your business ecosystem. For example, a purchasing manager needing to handle orders and invoices would need full access permissions, while a lower-level associate might need only to see a price list. However, it might also work well for your site to allow buying-team members responsible for different tasks (e.g., shopping and reviewing purchases) to access the same shopping cart (or carts).
B2C commerce platforms typically have one price for each product or service, and there’s no such thing as negotiating with the sales team (well, unless you’re on ecommerce marketplace sites like eBay or Amazon, which can let third-party sellers consider shoppers’ offers). With B2B, it’s a whole different story. Pricing is more fluid and tailored to buyers’ status. If a buyer is purchasing in large quantities, for instance, you can give them bulk ordering discounts. If you want to give a new buyer an incentive to come back, you can offer a “Welcome” promotional price. And if for some reason you want to be like a B2C site, you can add an online negotiating feature. If that level of flexibility is something your business customers would expect offline, then hey, why not? You can’t go wrong with multichannel benefits.
The ability to make data-driven decisions
What do your business customers want? Rather than scratching your head or surveying them, you can do what many B2C sites typically do: trail them and collect information as they investigate your products and place orders.
What are they showing interest in? What have they done on the site so far? When you know your customer business needs and patterns to a tee, it’s easy to then determine the right ways to respond and adjust your ecommerce operations. Your trove of data can inform the decisions you make about the products you carry, your marketing tools, inventory management, specific pricing, and other aspects of the B2B user experience.
A user-friendly analytics dashboard
Step two after collecting your site data is using a reporting engine whose output you can customize for stakeholders. Summarizing what your data shows allows you to cultivate merchandising success. Your commonly used B2B platform features should all be enumerated, providing snapshots of your recent ordering history, best-selling items, and other key indicators. When this information is laid out in an easy-to-read, inviting way, your teams will enjoy checking it regularly and putting the valuable nuggets of information to good use.
All applicable payment options
When it comes to businesses, purchasing representatives are often required to pay using a certain methods, such as by physical purchase order, net 30, writing a check, using a corporate credit card, opening a line of credit with you, or billing the buy to a specific corporate account. A company might also need to utilize multiple payment methods, such as when different departments are picking up the tab. That means to avoid customer annoyance and hassle, your B2B checkout station must offer the full menu of payment types.
Effective customer service
Customer support is important for account management no matter what type of business model you’re using, but with B2B, in which the traditional interaction has always incorporated connection with a dedicated human sales rep, it’s imperative to go all out in efforts to duplicate this expected benefit on your ecommerce platform.
In the physical world, a B2B customer may need to ask important FAQs, like can they stack items in a shipping container without breaking them, or is a partial order — not quite an entire pallet — OK to purchase while still getting the mentioned discount? You can offer quick contact with a human to answer more complex questions, while simultaneously offering your online shoppers self-service for simple issues from a knowledgeable chatbot. You can also go a step further and streamline the B2B online shopping process by letting sales reps go ahead and execute buys and order-management tasks for shoppers.
Join the B2B elite
Whether you’re a B2B business upgrading your existing B2B ecommerce platform or setting up new B2B ecommerce software, chances are that your online business could use a little optimization of your B2B features to grow your site.
Want to learn more about effective online B2B solutions?