When you think of “customer experience,” what comes to mind?
People, right? Specifically, consumers. Retail customers.
That’s easy; the customer experience is king. It’s especially revered in relation to the business-to-consumer (B2C) ecommerce website business model.
In comparison, people don’t necessarily think of a “customer experience” when it comes to B2B, business-to-business ecommerce. Customers are the standard end users. Business transactions happen at the “back end,” before customers enter the online-shopping picture.
For example, let’s say a construction company works out the cost of retail development in a city center. They need to negotiate on prices and delivery for material and equipment, then purchase quickly and efficiently. A B2B ecommerce site can speed up the decision-makers’ process of finding the right sales reps and suppliers, securing the right raw materials, tying off with the sales team, and getting the project started. Then, consumers enter the picture when the complex’s new stores are ready to welcome shoppers.
However, even if the customers in B2B are more often called “business buyers,” they’re still technically customers. They, too, want to enjoy a satisfying experience on a B2B ecommerce website. And now, with electronic commerce upgraded for the retail customer experience, customers on B2B platforms expect the same royal treatment.
So with this ecommerce model, ensuring a smooth B2B shopping experience online is just as vital in terms of expanding market reach, executing on corporate initiatives, and prospering as an organization.
The lingering effects of COVID-19
As with B2C ecommerce trends, in the past few years, the B2B landscape has undergone some radical digital transformation. Almost overnight, COVID forced businesses to figure out ways to move most of their transactions to B2B ecommerce platforms. The pandemic also resulted in some significant supply-chain issues — many of which have continued indefinitely — which has created an opportunity for B2B companies to grab market share. To add upheaval to this new online sales world, the omnichannel selling model — once used primarily in B2C commerce — has assumed a starring role in B2B ecommerce. In fact, when making a purchase, B2B customers now regularly use at least 10 channels.
One of those channels, mobile ecommerce, has played an outsized role in transforming B2B operations as well: 50% of B2B queries are made using a smartphone. After all, why wouldn’t businesspeople, who are also used to the perks of being consumers, want to conduct their business on their mobile devices?
Types of B2B ecommerce business
Doing business online comprises everything from making and selling a product to marketing, packaging, and delivering another business’s product. Every B2B ecommerce model has advantages and challenges, so companies must carefully consider which one best aligns with their goals and resources.
In this model, a company buys products in bulk at discounted B2B prices and resells them at retail prices. Wholesalers typically sell products to resellers that turn around and sell them to end users; they may also offer services such as product storage, packaging, and transportation.
Wholesale B2B ecommerce focuses on high-volume B2B sales and has low margins. Costco is a good example of a B2B wholesaler; its stores and website provide larger-volume items for businesses and individual consumers alike.
Manufacturers that produce goods can also sell them directly to other businesses, plus do direct-to consumer transactions through their ecommerce platforms. By eliminating intermediaries, manufacturers can achieve higher profit margins and gain more control over their branding, pricing, and distribution.
A good example of a manufacturer is Apple, which sells its products directly through its online store and physical retail locations.
Distributors work with manufacturers to handle marketing, packing, and shipping of goods when the manufacturer can’t or doesn’t want to deal with that part of the process. They act as intermediaries between manufacturers and retailers, managing product logistics, inventory, and transportation. Distributors may also provide value-added services such as training on how to use the product and technical support.
An example of a distributor is Fulfillment by Amazon, which allows businesses to store products in the company’s fulfillment centers; Amazon does the packing and shipping, as well as supplies the customer service.
This convoluted-sounding business model looks like a combination of B2B and B2C, and it does indeed combine the business-to-business and business-to-consumer segments. However, there’s more to it, specifically, partnerships. The companies involved utilize an integrated supply chain to jointly provide products or services.
For example, a retailer of more-expensive goods, such as cars, might partner with a finance company to let customers pay over time. It’s as if the industries are blended.
Microsoft and the Microsoft Partner Network are an example of a B2B2C setup. Microsoft sells its products and services to other businesses (its partners), which in turn sell them to various groups of end users.
Online marketplaces bring together multiple sellers and buyers with storefronts on a single platform, which can be handy for conducting B2B transactions as well as B2C transactions. Businesses can source products, compare prices, and manage orders all in one virtual location. B2B marketplaces may be specialized, focusing on a specific industry or product category, or they can be more generalized, catering to a variety of types of businesses.
One marketplace example is Alibaba, a global B2B site that connects manufacturers, suppliers, and buyers, offering a range of products and services across multiple industries.
Keys to B2B ecommerce success
Want to succeed in the B2B ecommerce space? By focusing on certain key factors, you can drive long-term customer satisfaction and success. Here are some components to integrate with your B2B ecommerce solution:
Excellent visual merchandising
A visually appealing ecommerce site with a winning user experience (UX) can make a huge difference in attracting B2B shoppers and ensuring that they can easily navigate to what they need and get the right information to make informed purchase decisions.
As in the B2C world, B2B site visitors expect seamless buying experiences across multiple sales channels in your ecosystem, including your website, mobile apps, social media, and offline touchpoints (e.g., curbside pickup). Integrating these channels and providing a consistent brand experience throughout all of them can help ensure business-buyer satisfaction, loyalty, and repeat purchasing.
Effective marketing campaigns
To drive traffic and sales, it typically helps to promote your ecommerce platform through targeted marketing campaigns. You can use a mix of content marketing, email marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), social media, and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to reach potential B2B buyers with your value proposition.
Strong supplier relations
If you rely on supply chains, you probably already know that building strong relationships with your suppliers is crucial. A rule of B2B ecommerce is closely collaborating with your suppliers to ensure good communication, product quality, and timely delivery.
Leveraging of analytics
Another key to B2B success is analyzing your website performance to identify areas for improvement and optimization. You can track metrics such as your conversion rate, average order value, and customer lifetime value, using any insights you receive to make informed decisions and continually refine the way you operate.
Personalized shopping experiences on a B2C website make shoppers feel valued and understood, and the same is true with B2B. You can use your business-customer data to offer prospective buyers “intuitive” recommendations, relevant content, and promotions. By tailoring your ecommerce site for your unique users, you can increase your engagement, conversion rates, and customer loyalty.
When business shoppers arrive on your B2B ecommerce site, they may have a specific item in mind and want to simply type its name (or paste an image) in your search box. The longer it takes them to find what they need, the more likely they’ll be to lose interest in doing business on your site.
That means providing easy, intelligent search functionality with features such as autocomplete, query suggestions, product recommendations, and filtering can be a game changer. When your business shoppers can enjoy delightful commerce experiences, you’re on track for better conversions for your business systems. When they can find what they need and proceed to checkout, corporate credit card firmly in hand (or the ability to use some other payment option), they’re likely to rate their shopping experience highly and come back to do some reordering, then continue to complete business transactions in the future.
Solid customer support
With B2B sellers and sales processes, as in a B2C scenario, exceptional customer service (and easy self-service) is essential to building long-term relationships with buyers in an ecommerce business model. You can provide multiple support channels: real-time online chat, email, phone, and connecting through social media. Of course it helps if your ecommerce-company support providers are knowledgeable, responsive, and able to effectively address customers’ concerns.
Make over your B2B ecommerce site
That sums up the “need-to-knows” of successful B2B ecommerce sales.
Thinking about all this B2B ecommerce market information, how does your B2B-site buying process rate in terms of search? If your ecommerce store could use some streamlining or an outright overhaul, we have an API with the latest digital commerce tools, as well as a stellar reputation among our B2B business clients.
Get in touch with our team to learn more about all the search and discovery options available to you, and take your B2B experience to the next level.