B2B sales have gone digital – and in a big way. For B2B companies the shift towards ecommerce is a fundamental change in how business has traditionally been conducted. Traditional B2B sales had the sales representative controlling the buyer’s journey. Businesses reached out to vendors and communicated with sales reps who, in turn, pitched them on the potential solution. Yet, research continuously shows that model is quickly becoming obsolete.
Research from McKinsey found that more than three-quarters of buyers and sellers said that they prefer digital self-service and remote human engagement over face-to-face interactions. Further, buyers are more willing than ever before to spend substantial amounts through remote or online sales channels, with 35% willing to spend $500,000 or more in a single transaction. 77% of B2B customers are also willing to spend $50,000 or more.
With B2B ecommerce as one of the fastest-growing sales models, it is well on its way to becoming the new normal. A new generation of digital buyers is shifting their organizational purchasing permanently online, signaling a fundamental change to the way B2B companies conduct business. In this guide, we will cover the concept of B2B ecommerce, the difference between B2B and B2C, and 19 of the best B2B ecommerce strategies for 2023.
What Is B2B Ecommerce?
B2B ecommerce, or business-to-business ecommerce, refers to the sale of products or services between businesses through an online sales portal. These sales happen through the internet between two business entities, instead of between a business and a consumer. B2B ecommerce transactions are between manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors through company websites and online marketplaces.
- Business-to-business (B2B) ecommerce has grown exponentially over the past several years and is set to be the new normal in the B2B realm.
- While important strategic differences exist between B2B and B2C ecommerce, it is similar in the fact that customers in both areas want a seamless, personalized experience.
- To stand out in the competitive world of ecommerce, B2B companies should focus on creating an engaging, intuitive purchasing experience across channels and platforms with an emphasis on informative content.
B2B Ecommerce Strategies Explained
B2B ecommerce strategies are focused around making the digital shopping experience as engaging and efficient as possible. In particular, B2B ecommerce strategies are concerned with allowing customers to manage their purchasing experience. That means providing information-rich content across platforms and channels, setting up self-service options and ensuring that payment can be done online safely and securely. These and other tactics come together so that the customer is supported throughout the buying journey.
Difference Between B2B and B2C Strategy
As a business model, B2B ecommerce differs significantly from its business-to-consumer (B2C) counterpart. The divergence between the two primarily occurs because of the audience and intent of the sale. Because B2B is selling to a company to help fulfill the company’s long-term goals, it tends to have a longer buying cycle. Budgets are bigger, purchases are more expensive and there are multiple stakeholders involved, meaning that buyers will take longer to determine if the return on investment (ROI) is worth it. Because a contract for a B2B purchase tends to last months or even years, there is a larger emphasis put on relationship building than there is in B2C commerce.
In contrast, B2C is focused on selling a product or service to a consumer, which tends to be shorter and more transactional in nature. A B2C consumer following a brand isn't necessarily looking to build a close relationship with it. A consumer purchase tends to be more based on gut feeling. A B2C marketing strategy reflects that by bringing the fun or emotional factor. A B2B purchase needs to be evaluated from a more logical perspective, meaning that a B2B marketing approach is focused on getting the information out there needed by other businesses to make an informed purchasing decision.
However, while there are stark differences in marketing strategy, the B2C experience has begun to inform the B2B experience. Decision-makers in business purchasing decisions are also consumers outside of work. They have experienced the conveniences of B2C commerce – omnichannel organizations offering flexible payment options, well-designed websites, personalization and a frictionless customer experience. Those trends in B2C ecommerce are quickly influencing expectations of buyers in the B2B realm, requiring that sellers up their digital commerce game.
How can B2B find new customers and increase sales?
The first step before deploying any marketing or sales strategies is to define your ideal customer profile and buyer personas. What type of company would benefit the most from your product or service? It is important to define that first so all marketing and sales strategies are tailored to the buyers most likely to purchase – too general of an approach will get lost in the noise. From there, B2B companies can find new customers and increase sales through several tactics:
Turn your website into an educational hub: The B2B buying journey is much more information intensive than a consumer purchase. Providing relevant information on your product or service, as well as the industry itself – in various engaging formats can draw new buyers in and even convince current customers to buy more. Blogs, webinars, ebooks, videos and podcasts are all good options to raise awareness among prospects.
Offer discounts and promotions: Offering specials on products and services can bring in a wealth of new customers, strengthen your brand, help develop customer loyalty and serve as a competitive differentiator.
Create a referral program: Referrals are one of the most powerful ways to attract new customers. Ask your happy customers if they would be willing to review your product or service and consider offering an incentive in return.
Embrace search engine optimization (SEO): Using SEO strategies to ensure your company’s online presence ranks higher in search engines is critical. It makes your business more visible online and more easily found by potential customers.
Increase your visibility: Whether it be attending trade shows, being active on social media platforms, cold calling, emailing, affiliate marketing or online advertising, make sure that your company’s name is getting out there. Brand recognition is critical to bringing in those new customers and increasing sales.
Use your customer relationship management (CRM) software: CRM helps sales people to optimize their daily schedules and prioritize tasks to make sure customers are not ignored and the key prospects are contacted on time.
Lead generation in B2B sales is a difficult, time-consuming process. However, advances in technology mean that companies have innumerable ways to reach their potential customers.
What are the key technologies used in B2B ecommerce?
Key technologies used in B2B ecommerce include:
Ecommerce platform: Hosts the ecommerce website. Should be robust, scalable and PCI-compliant.
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) system: Connects the processes and data of different parts of the business through a centralized application.
Customer relationship management system: Helps companies manage all their prospects, customers, partners and vendors in a single place.
Electronic funds transfer (EFT): Processes payment methods like ACH, wire transfers, credit cards and electronic checks.
Electronic data interchange (EDI) or order management technology: Allows for the electronic exchange of business documents like purchase orders and invoices.
Online transaction processing (OLTP) or payment gateway technology: Tracks, records and processes ecommerce transactions.
Supply chain management system: Oversees the flow of goods from suppliers through manufacturing and into customers' hands.
Inventory management system: Tracks inventory levels, sales, and shipments.
Mobile commerce: Facilitates user-friendly experiences on mobile phones and tablets.
Artificial intelligence: Personalizes product recommendations and creates self-service options like chatbots.
19 Best B2B Ecommerce Strategies for 2023
In order to take advantage of the immense value B2B ecommerce has to offer, you need to be sure that you are building your digital approach effectively. Unfortunately, the path towards ecommerce is not simply creating a website and forgetting about it. B2B ecommerce requires continuous outreach, optimization and strategic tweaks. Here are 19 of the best B2B ecommerce strategies to set your company up for success:
Fast Load Times:
Patience is not a virtue in the realm of B2B ecommerce. According to research by Portent, the highest ecommerce conversion rates happen on pages with load times of 0-2 seconds. Conversion rates drop by an average of 2.11% with each additional second of load time between seconds 0-9. Strategies to decrease the load time of a website include using a content delivery network (CDN), enabling caching and optimizing images and video. A speedier web page load time means a better user experience, which will likely lead to a higher conversion rate and increased sales revenue.
CRO, or conversion rate optimization, refers to the practice of enhancing a website to drive visitors towards a desired action. In B2B ecommerce, the intent of the CRO process is to increase the percentage of website visitors who make a purchase on the site. CRO strategies include improving product photography and descriptions, delivering a mobile-friendly experience and creating an easy, intuitive checkout process.
Expanded Payment Options:
The proliferation of B2C ecommerce means that buyers are comfortable with digital payment options – and are wanting that payment flexibility in the B2B space. Offering multiple payment options can increase conversions, minimize abandoned carts, appeal to a wider demographic and provide an easier checkout experience. In addition to the traditional purchase order method, consider offering other options like credit cards, ACH transfers and wire transfers.
Email marketing is a powerful tool for sharing your business’ ecommerce offerings. An email marketing campaign is both low cost and low effort – but can provide innumerable benefits in nurturing leads, keeping people engaged, building brand awareness and increasing sales. To capitalize on email marketing, ensure that emails are mobile-friendly, have enticing subject lines and are segmented to reach the most relevant audience.
Virtual and augmented reality options – like virtual try-on solutions (VTOs), 360-degree videos and 3D models – are becoming increasingly popular in the B2B ecommerce space. Virtual reality has been proven to provide a distinct competitive advantage by allowing for deeper personalization, effective product presentation and improved relationships with B2B customers.
Frictionless Customer Experience:
With B2C ecommerce largely a frictionless customer experience, B2B customers are expecting the same for their business purchases. Offering a frictionless shopping experience means identifying and solving any bottlenecks that may impede the customer from completing their journey. Friction points that need to be addressed by a business tend to include a lack of real-time inventory, sites that don’t follow B2B ecommerce website design best practices and a lack of self-service or customer service help for when issues arise.
The referral economy is a system where companies can generate new sales through existing customers sharing their positive experience with the business. Common referral types include word of mouth, reviews and social media. By implementing a referral program – where current customers are incentivized to share their experience – businesses can capitalize on this effective and low-cost way to attract new B2B ecommerce customers.
Tailoring the customer experience is a crucial differentiator in the B2B ecommerce space. In fact, Gartner predicts B2B sellers that incorporate personalization into digital commerce will realize revenue increases up to 15%. Buyers want an experience similar to their B2C shopping journey that is customized based on factors like user behavior, past purchases and other data. Businesses can incorporate personalization into their B2B ecommerce initiative by offering personalized product recommendations and pricing, as well as setting up corporate accounts with multiple user role functionalities to make the sales process easier for B2B customers.
Security and Fraud Prevention:
Unfortunately, ecommerce can prove to be a hot target for cyber attacks due to the amount of personal and financial data involved. B2B companies in the ecommerce world must be continuously evolving their security measures to protect their customers’ data and prevent fraud. Effective tactics to prevent fraud include manually reviewing risky or unusual orders, being PCI-compliant and using verification software to automatically flag orders where a customer’s billing, shipping, or card details don’t line up.
Influencer marketing isn’t just reserved for the B2C sphere. With so many people trusting the recommendations of individuals, having a key leader in your industry endorse your product or service can be an immensely valuable tactic. Remember: Unlike B2C influencers, a B2B influencer’s expertise is more important than their follower count. Find a credible subject matter expert with high authority in your industry.
According to the Harvard Business Review, 73% of customers prefer to use multiple channels when they shop. In fact, a survey from McKinsey found that B2B customers now regularly use 10 or more channels to interact with suppliers, up from just five in 2016. An omnichannel approach connects all these channels to engage current and prospective customers. Customers can be shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, via phone, or in a brick-and-mortar location, and the experience will be seamless and consistent — particularly during crucial seasons, like major ecommerce holidays. In order to facilitate an omnichannel B2B ecommerce journey, customer, product and sales data all need to be integrated.
Data can be a huge component of success for B2B ecommerce. It allows them to target customers effectively, personalize experiences and create a frictionless shopping journey. However, customers are also acutely aware of the vulnerability of shared information, enhancing the role that data privacy plays in the B2B ecommerce market. Companies need to prove their trustworthiness to their customers through responsible data protection practices, like only asking for relevant information, implementing firewalls and encryption practices, and strictly following applicable state data privacy laws.
A B2B marketplace refers to a digital platform where businesses gather to carry out commerce. Marketplaces have become a key avenue for customers to research their options and connect with multiple brands and products at once, making them a critical channel for new lead generation. Prominent B2B marketplaces include eWorldTrade, Alibaba, Rakuten and Global Sources.
Social commerce refers to the use of social media to drive sales – a practice becoming increasingly integral to B2B ecommerce. Creating product pages, running ads with links to your company’s website, and creating carousels of product photos with links on social networks can all help influence purchasing decisions.
While customers want customer service available for the truly pernicious issues that may arise, the majority want to be able to handle the simple issues on their own. Self-service features like chatbots, online scheduling, FAQ sections, and real time order tracking capabilities empower customers to take charge of their shopping experience. And the benefits are felt by both sides: Customers gain convenience, control and confidence while the business saves time and expense in customer support.
According to research by Wyzowl, 96% of people have watched an explainer video to learn more about a product or service and 88% of people have been convinced to buy something by watching a brand’s video. There are plenty of video content options as well to boost your brand, including product videos, commercials, webinars, explainers, Q&As, and interviews.
By 2020, data from Google showed that about two-thirds of all website traffic was mobile, and, according to research by BCG, 80% of B2B buyers are using mobile at work. With the rise in mobile usage across the board, facilitating a seamless experience for those using cellphones and tablets is imperative. Companies that build a mobile-first website can drive sales and build loyalty – all while making purchasing more flexible and convenient for the customer.
Compared to B2C fulfillment, B2B fulfillment tends to be more complex. While usually lower in volume, they tend to be larger, bulkier, and, at times, subject to strict regulation. These factors can drive up both expense and fulfillment times. However, speeding up those times can provide a distinct competitive advantage in the B2B ecommerce space, as well as ensure all service-level-agreements are met. Order fulfillment can be sped up through software that allows for warehouse optimization and effective inventory management.
An ERP integration is critical to the success of a B2B ecommerce venture. A business running on multiple, disparate systems or conducting processes manually is not going to be able to create the desired seamless customer experience. An ERP system provides the integrated data, insights and efficiency required to compete in today’s marketplace.
The next generation of B2B purchasing is quickly being ushered in by tech-savvy age groups and evolving channel adoption. Today’s B2B buyers are owning their buying journey and want the digital information and tools to aid them in every step of the process. B2B companies that fail to realize that will quickly become obsolete.
NetSuite’s SuiteCommerce solution helps B2B companies deliver intuitive and information-rich ecommerce experiences. Merchants can create sites that engage business buyers, maximize their purchasing efforts and allow them to manage all aspects of their business relationship. Sites are cloud-based, mobile-optimized and easily managed, giving sellers the flexibility and adaptability needed to keep pace with their business.
And, with NetSuite, it’s a complete solution. No need for integrations among disparate systems. NetSuite’s natively unified ecommerce, inventory and order management, marketing, customer service and financials ensure that everything comes together smoothly for the ultimate competitive edge in B2B ecommerce.
B2B Ecommerce Strategy FAQs
What do B2B customers want?
B2B customers are heavily influenced by their experiences as consumers, meaning that they want many of the components of the B2B process to be similar to B2C. They want a frictionless, customized buying experience where companies meet their specific needs, make relevant product recommendations and deliver the right level of engagement throughout the buying journey. They also want omnichannel capabilities to provide relevant information and fulfill customer needs across channels and platforms. The B2B ecommerce experience should be efficient, easy and flexible.