How to Navigate the Changing B2B E-Commerce Landscape

Contributed content / By Dipti Parmar / 30 January 2019

B2B e-commerce has transformed from being an afterthought for companies to a legitimate revenue driver that’s set for explosive growth in 2019. Learn actionable tips and tricks on how to follow these trends and stay ahead.

Every year, we witness a new trend that completely dominates the business world. 2017 was the year of mobile commerce. Artificial intelligence ruled the waves in 2018. My bet for 2019 is B2B e-commerce.

The B2B e-commerce wave has been gathering strength for a while now. Although most attention is focused on retail e-commerce due to its proximity to our everyday lives (hello, Amazon!), B2B commerce has been learning from its retail counterpart and is getting bigger by the minute.

Research from Forrester claims that B2B e-commerce was on course to reach $9 trillion in revenue in 2018. That explosive growth in B2B online revenues alone is an indicator of how the year ahead is going to be.

B2B companies that haven’t gotten on board the online bandwagon are smartening up. A report by e-commerce agency, Absolunet, found that by 2019, B2B businesses will outspend their B2C counterparts on e-commerce technology.

Not sure how your business will keep up? Read on to learn where B2B e-commerce is headed in 2019 and beyond.

The B2B Buyer Is Changing

The perception of B2B companies as being boring places with middle-aged white men shuffling papers around needs to shift. Fast. The face of the B2B buyer is probably unrecognizable by those standards.

Not only are B2B shoppers getting younger by the day, but the amount of power they wield in making buying decisions is growing, too.

Research by Merit reveals that 73% of millennials are involved in B2B purchasing decisions at their workplace.

Millennial B2B decision-makers
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Of these, more than a third are the sole decision-makers on such purchases.

Nearly 50% of all B2B shoppers now start their research of a potential purchase on search engines. In fact, data says that they perform at least 12 searches before heading to any particular brand’s website.

Video tops the list of all content formats that buyers access to learn more about potential B2B purchases.

Which one of the following content formats would be most important to you in researching a new product or service for your company?
Source

B2B shoppers also use case studies, white papers, brochures, webinars, and infographics to research a new product or service for their company.

How to Appeal to Millennial Buyers

Millennials are the B2B buyers of the future. Appeal to them with these tips:

  • Find out who your typical buyer is and if there’s a change going on there. An analytics tool such as Improvado can help you collate metrics from different platforms such as social media, your website, or your CRM, create centralized dashboards on Excel, Tableau, or Google Data Studio, and send them to business intelligence tools to reveal insights that help in decision-making.
  • Invest in SEO and get your website visible, loud, and clear on search engines where millennials spend the first half of their research journey.
  • Ensure your brand is active on social media. Engage with your millennial buyers on social media, where they spend disproportionate amounts of time every day.
  • Focus on video content – millennials’ preferred content format – to resonate with them better. Video content such as product demos, webinars, unboxing videos, and even customer testimonials are fair game when it comes to showcasing your product’s strengths. Even something as basic as the iMovie app on your iPhone can produce respectable videos.

The B2B buyer of today is much different than the B2B buyer of the past.

B2B E-Commerce Goes Multichannel

Smartphones and “anytime-anywhere” connectivity have changed the way consumers shop. Consumer shoppers mix and match their shopping channels at will, both online and in-store

The B2B shopper is not far behind. As we saw in the last section, the same people who transformed retail e-commerce are now making buying decisions at B2B firms.

Although B2B buyers search online and use multiple data sources to arrive at a purchasing decision, the actual purchase need not always happen on your website.

From making a purchase at a trade event to buying on mobile or buying a product or service through social media, B2B buyers now demand all the various channels available for B2C.

In the fall of 2016, FoldingChairsAndTables.com, a B2B seller of tables and chairs, discovered firsthand how rewarding going multichannel can be.

The seller created a popular product bundle and listed it on Amazon in addition to selling on its own site.

FoldingChairsAndTables.com
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Orders started flowing in, and the listing eventually had to be pulled down, as the company could not keep up with the demand. Today, the company’s revenues have grown 3x by selling items simultaneously on Amazon and its own site.

Businesses can increase sales by going multichannel.

How to Sell Your Products on Multiple Channels

Although it’s easy to say that you should sell your products across all the channels your users prefer, it can be hard to pull off. Here are some tips:

  • Look for e-commerce platforms with built-in capabilities to sell across different channels, such as marketplaces, social media, and Google Shopping. Most modern e-commerce platforms offer this feature.
  • When picking a new platform or tool that helps you sell on a new channel, check if it has APIs (codes that allow you to access certain features or data from its applications or dataset) that integrate well with your current systems for core functions such as product information management, order management, tracking, and deliveries. This prevents data losses, inaccuracies, and eventually, customer complaints.
  • Your payment mechanism needs to be unified across channels to keep things simple. In this piece about accepting credit card payments online, you’ll find some interesting advice on using options such as PayPal, 2CheckOut, and Stripe to help you accept payments across channels without the hassle of multiple integrations.

Selling your products on multiple channels ensures you reach the most potential buyers possible. Businesses need multichannel marketing strategies.

Mobile Matters for B2B, Too

We saw earlier that B2B buyers rely heavily on search to know more about a potential purchase. But did you know that more than 50% of B2B searches happen on buyers’ smartphones? That number is set to grow to 70% by 2020.

It’s no wonder, then, that more than 60% of buyers say mobile played a significant role in their recent B2B purchases.

Average number of days from lead generation to purchase
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The same study also found that mobile accelerates B2B purchase time by at least 20%, as shown in the figure above.

B2B companies that harnessed the power of mobile efficiently saw an average of 42% of total revenue either contributed or influenced by mobile.

B2B e-commerce businesses need to have a presence on mobile.

How to Use Mobile

Integrating mobile into your e-commerce strategy is possible with these tips:

  • Go with a mobile-first approach in developing your marketing strategy. Even if mobile does not have a high share in last-touch conversions, it plays an outsized role in influencing B2B purchase decisions. Respect that, and act accordingly.
  • Create simple, easy-to-navigate interfaces for your mobile site and app. Larger images, larger buttons, and less text all ease the user experience.
  • Site speed is a critical consideration from both a UX and SEO perspective. Reduce user frustration with a site that loads fast and offers important information in as few steps as possible. Similarly, a fast-loading site (preferably AMP-optimized) helps your site rise up the search rankings on mobile with Google’s latest mobile update.
  • Leverage uniquely mobile features such as a phone camera with a VR option on your site. You could geo-fence your store or tradeshow booth to share special offers and tailor-made content exclusively on mobile.
  • Invest in mobile ads to reach users where they spend the majority of their time. For example, social ads on mobile reach people where they are and offer much higher ROI than traditional advertising.

Use mobile in your B2B e-commerce strategy.

Charting Your Own Course

If you already sell your B2B products online, you’re halfway there. All you need to do is keep in mind that your buyer is as unique as your business.

Do not rush to blindly beat your competition or market leaders. Dig deep to understand what controls your business metrics, and pick what to focus on based on hard data.

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