Investments in B2B eCommerce platforms have not been top priority for B2B companies, but this is changing. Although many B2B companies have some sort of online portal, many are behind and market leaders are starting to recognise that their competitive advantage does not come from merely having a B2B online portal presence. It comes from having the right platform and a solution that combines the understanding of business rules, processes and issues to truly leverage this industry online.
B2B compared with B2C
B2B eCommerce has a lot more in common with B2C eCommerce than one may think. The underlying principle is essentially the same, that being the purchase of a product made online by a business from an entity that sells that product. However, where B2B differs from B2C can be summed up by:
- B2B buyers are professional and responsible shoppers that are held accountable whereas typical B2C eCommerce purchases are of a personal nature, and therefore are rarely mission-critical, and;
- Behind the scenes, B2B eCommerce requires a much greater level of complexity than B2C eCommerce
Although a B2C buyer can and will make a decision instantly, a B2B buyer will know that the decision to move to an alternative provider is a bigger decision that may require more time, effort and money. A poor user and buyer experience in both B2C and B2B eCommerce environments is irritating to the buyer and can be costly for the seller, especially in B2B. A poor customer user experience will usually end up with the same result for both B2B and B2C cases – the buyer will most likely seek another supplier who will offer a better user experience. If the experience continues to disappoint expectations the B2B buyer will move on. In B2C, that could be one lost customer that you can potentially replace or win back however, in B2B, that one lost customer could be a million-dollar account that is difficult to replace or entice again.
Complexity of B2B eCommerce
A major barrier for B2B eCommerce is the understanding of available solutions of eCommerce technologies. Many B2B companies are engineered by a combination of back office software, accounting systems, inventory management systems, and more. With an intertwined web of complexity, B2B companies find it difficult to confidently take the first step of introducing an eCommerce environment.
Things are changing, and there are exceptional solutions for B2B companies who need to introduce eCommerce but may be fearful of the level of complexity their business involves. eCommerce, mobile apps and other digital ordering tools can help deliver a world-class customer experience online and can create opportunity for massive growth for B2Bs, wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers.
B2B can learn from B2C’s mistakes
B2C eCommerce showed us that the customer experience should be at the core of everything the business does; Amazon, who will turn 25 in 2020, was not always this user-friendly, functional and seamless.
B2B has only just started gaining traction so there is an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of B2C. Successful B2B companies would have worked hard on customer service to make sure that when a customer meets with a sales representative or makes any form of contact to submit their order, staff will provide the best customer experience possible. However, service could end up being hindered due to the frameworks available to the workforces so to rectify this, it’s important to implement the right systems. B2B business need to transfer this to their eCommerce sales portal too. Working with a specialist is imperative as they can deliver a B2B eCommerce solution that integrates with other business systems, streamlines business processes to increase profitability, helps reduce costs, and provides a quality experience for your customers from start to finish.
Generation of online shoppers
The new generation of online shoppers grew up with technology and they use it daily in their personal lives, for convenience and other advantages. They are comfortable navigating their way on the web, with the clear majority preferring to buy online when they have decided what it is that they want to buy. According to a recent study, 93% of B2B buyers would rather place their order online than through a sales representative, proving that having a strong online presence today is essential. B2B organisations need to shift their focus to digital marketing strategies that appeal to this generation of B2B buyer. The fact is that more and more millennials are moving into roles in which they are involved in B2B purchasing decisions too, so the need to revolutionise traditional B2B sales channels to maintain competitive is critical.
B2B buyers have always had more personalisation than B2C buyers. However, personalisation is so central to a B2C experience now that users barely even notice anymore. Take again Amazon for example, users get a completely different experience to other users because everything is tailored exactly for that user based on past product searches, purchases and so on. B2B traditionally expect a personal sales rep who visit them occasionally and perhaps an account manager who will help them with any orders. B2B companies expect personalisation, and although in its infancy, there are solutions that are rapidly catching up for this in the eCommerce arena for B2B.
Article by Melanie Chan in collaboration with our team of Unleashed Software inventory and business specialists. Melanie has been writing about inventory management for the past three years. When not writing about inventory management, you can find her eating her way through Auckland.