B2B E-commerce can be defined as the online sale of products and services from one business entity to another.
This is different from B2C e-commerce, wherein products and services are sold to personal consumers. B2C e-commerce sales are relatively easier because of fixed pricing and the simplistic nature of the transaction.
In contrast, B2B e-commerce is more complicated with differential pricing, customised workflows, multiple touchpoints and flexible payment terms.
However, since most B2B users of products and services have become accustomed to the streamlined process of B2C, they are increasingly expecting a similar experience from B2B companies.
The B2B e-commerce industry is snowballing, with some estimates projecting the size of the market at US$1.2 trillion by 2021.
Furthermore, according to Forrester, 74 per cent of customers prefer to buy online as compared to buying from a sales representative. This number rises to 93 per cent when they’ve already decided what to buy and need to make the purchase.
With this in mind, B2B companies and other wholesalers cannot afford to stick to their traditional offline approach of dealing with clients and customers. They need to quickly adapt and chalk up a digital strategy that will help them capitalise on the growing trend of online buying.
Here is a round-up of the different steps B2B companies can take to grow their e-commerce business:
The first step is to create an online storefront which serves as the digital equivalent of a brick and mortar set up. This can be done through a custom-built site or using a suitable technology platform like Magento, CS-Cart, Woo-commerce etc.
While selecting the right e-commerce platform, it’s essential to consider the specific requirements of the business such as size and complexity of the product catalogue, variations offered, MOQs, tiered pricing, etc.
Once the platform is set up, B2B e-commerce companies need to be able to draw customers to their sites. A robust search engine strategy can help attract the correct target audience to the e-store.
Firms should invest in both technical search engine optimisation and a content-rich strategy that will help drive highly relevant organic traffic to the site.
They can also leverage advertising tools like search engine ads, product listing and display network ads to capture the eyes of potential users of their products. Social media can be another essential channel for acquiring customers.
It helps in brand building exercises and informing customers of seasonal offers and exclusive discounts.
Customer evaluation and decision making
Once a customer is on the site, they should be provided with a shopping experience that is at par with a brick and mortar store.
B2B Firms can leverage case studies and testimonials from satisfied customers on the home page to instil immediate trust in their products and services.
The site should have a powerful search engine that enables users to find the products they are looking for quickly. The product catalogue needs to be categorized in a logical manner, which makes it easy for users to browse through the offerings.
The B2B site needs to be closely integrated with the backend ERP system to sync up product availability and inventory levels, minimum order quantities and tiered pricing. Sites can further improve the customer experience by introducing features like smart product filters, product recommendations and comparison of product alternatives.
It is also important for B2B e-commerce sites to have distinct client-side interfaces to deal with the more complicated requirements of purchase teams. In addition to the straightforward add-to-cart feature, the store should have a way of capturing an indent, spreadsheet or a long list of product requirements from the client.
B2B e-commerce sites need to bring in automation to the entire sales workflow. While users can quickly checkout with their fundamental orders, they will need assistance from a sales rep for their more complex orders.
Onsite chat, call and email support can all play an essential role in guiding a user’s purchase journey.
Sales reps should be trained in encouraging customers to place their simpler orders and reorders online so that they can have more time to address the bigger deals.
Configure Price Quote (CPQ) tools can help firms provide a highly accurate and configured quote to the client.
CPQ puts upper and lower limits in place so that your sales team is always quoting with the latest approved pricing and discounting rules.
Order status information and previous order history of a client should be easily accessible to a sales rep so that they can always provide the right information to a client.
B2B customers tend to be more loyal as compared to their B2C counterparts. This provides a great opportunity to tailor solutions to clients.
B2B e-commerce sites can create user profiles for their customers based on their past order data and browsing behaviour on the site. These profiles can then be used to cross-sell and up-sell highly relevant user-specific product recommendations.
They can also implement customer-specific pricing and product bundles. Recurring requirements can be dealt with by offering automated reordering and subscription services to clients.
By offering flexible payment terms and lines of credit to customers, B2B e-commerce sites can smoothen the ordering and checkout process. Providing automated tax-compliant invoices is another essential platform feature that can reduce costs and streamline accounting for the company.
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