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Is E-Commerce the Future of B2B?

By Angela Myrtetus

Is E-Commerce the Future of B2B?

There’s no question that e-commerce has changed the face of B2C sales.

Worldwide online commerce has grown from $1.3T in 2014 to $3.5T in 2018, with a projection that it will reach $4.9T by 2021. With this type of growth, you wonder why B2B hasn’t taken a deeper dive into selling products and services online.

But actually, they have.

The B2B e-commerce space is growing rapidly with B2B e-commerce websites increasing their sales by 11% in 2018 to $1.082T.

If you know you need to begin selling to other businesses online but you’re not sure where to start, you’re not alone.

In order to be successful in online sales, B2B business owners must do their research, develop a strategic plan and launch a smart rollout plan.

Common Objections B2B Business Owners Have About Selling Products Directly Online

My Customers Don’t Want to Buy Online

Many B2B think their buyers are more traditional, not buying or researching online, but relying on phone, fax, and email ordering is simply no longer sufficient, regardless of your industry.

The world is moving to a self-serving economic model.

People don’t want to search through a paper or digital catalog or deal with the hassle of speaking to a rep on the phone just to place an order.

They want things fast and efficient. They want to be able to browse and compare a complete, continually-updated list of offerings.

Fact: B2B buyers are consumers too!

They expect the same buying options they get as consumers in their personal life.

The B2BecNews survey found that just about one-half of all companies—48.6%—now conduct 50% to 74% of all their corporate purchases online, including 23% that do at least 75% or more using B2B e-commerce.

Increasingly the old way of purchasing products is becoming a thing of the past.

New generations of B2B buyers dislike searching through print catalogs or speaking to sales reps.

They want to start their journey on a website or search engine, and expect to not only purchase directly online but schedule their deliveries and check their order status online.

The stats don’t lie:

A customer’s digital experience with your website drives B2B brand loyalty.

The importance of credible product details and information, as well as a user-friendly website, is a must for buyers.

If your company isn’t taking this into consideration on your website, customers and prospects may seek convenience with one of your competitors, regardless of price.

We Do Not Want to Share Our Prices On our Website

We hear that a lot in every industry.

Selling your products online requires product descriptions and price, and it can be a little scary.

We’ve shared our feelings on this topic before.

We understand the competitive nature of B2B sales. You don’t want another company underbidding you.

But here’s the thing: not having price on your website will automatically send up a red flag for prospective buyers.

You might also say that your pricing is complicated and there are many factors that go into how much something costs.

That this requires a sales rep, especially for industrial products that don’t lend themselves to a simple MSRP and it becomes even more complicated if you sell through channel partners.

These are totally valid and reasonable concerns.

There will always be services and products that require explanation, but, sharing pricing isn’t about affordability, it’s about psychology and trust.

B2B business owners and sales reps know what their prices are, and your prospects know this.

If you’re not sharing price on your website, prospects feel like you are hiding something from them.

Do you believe your prospects are saying “Well, I’ll just dig through this website and see if I can find the answer about pricing”? Or “It’s OK that they aren’t sharing their pricing on the website, they must be a “value”-based business. I’ll just call this 800 # instead?”

Even if they are, with so many options for online custom ordering tools to use, this really can’t be an excuse anymore.

Buying products or services online demands trust.

You may sell your products online already, but the price is hidden behind a login or perhaps your prospects have to become a customer through a sales rep first and then they can purchase online.

There is no trust in that experience.

We Can Just Add a Few Product Pages and a Shopping Cart to Our Website to Compete

It’s not that easy. An e-commerce shift requires everyone to be on the same page. Sometimes even an organizational overhaul is necessary for success.

Internal processes must change, and you’ll have to create new processes as well.

Change is not easy. People will have to adjust and be able to adapt.

Three things B2B companies need to address within their internal processes before they even think about the logistics of the website are:

1. Product pages —Your e-commerce strategy will need to include product descriptions or “rich content.”

Rich content makes it easy for users to browse your products online and gain the information they need to make a purchase.

Internally, someone has to own optimizing this, as this responsibility will not only include collecting and presenting information, but also maintaining it across the website and product life cycles.

2. Placing orders — The way people place orders with your company today is likely through customer service or sales reps.

These teams will be some of the first you need to get on board and create different processes around the way they sell.

Educating prospects through content and assignment selling will still be very important. Teaching prospective customers will need to become the new norm for reps. Your sales strategy will be valuable if you are teaching them how not to make poor buying decisions and why the cheapest isn’t always the greatest.

3. Online Payment methods — Your billing and accounting department will need to research the best services for secure online payments. Businesses with a user-friendly, safe online payment process will certainly enjoy a competitive advantage.

These three areas are just the beginning.

Preparing your entire organization for e-commerce requires a deep look into all of your internal processes.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the way your customers currently purchase has to completely change immediately. E-commerce is just a new revenue stream that creates business -- and it should be added to your offerings.

E-Commerce Doesn’t Build Relationships the Way My Sales Team Does

More often than not, our clients tell us their differentiator is being family-owned and operated, or how long they’ve been in business.

This is their personal touch to building relationships with their customers. They worry that a customer purchasing from an online store takes away from that.

However, there is still a way to create a personal relationship with your customers - and still keep your sales and customer service teams intact through your website.

Online chat, or conversational marketing, allows users to receive instant answers to their questions rather than having to pick up the phone, complete a form, or send an email and have to wait a day or two for a response from a rep.

Increasing your speed to respond to a prospect or customer is an essential tool for successful modern relationship building.

Other options for digital communication like text messaging or Facebook Messenger are two ways customers already communicate in their personal lives, making them also powerful tools for you to try.

Of course, someone within your organization, likely in the marketing department, will have to own digital communication.

They will need to be responsible for creating a process, finding the right tools, and managing all digital requests, otherwise, it will fail and it won’t look good for your company if no one is responding, especially publicly.

But B2B E-Commerce Can Still Work

There are many reasons why certain B2B companies aren’t ready to talk about e-commerce, but $6.7T should make you stop and really think about how you could adopt this as a new revenue model.

As millennial buyers gain more decision-making and purchasing power, the number of B2B “consumers” that prefer to buy through a sales rep will continue to decline. What does that mean for the future of your company? You will lose to the competition who is launching e-commerce.

So where do you start? The first thing you need to do is get leadership and sales bought in.

  • Send this article to them.
  • Show them additional research and stats.
  • Talk to your customers and ask them if they would prefer to purchase and manage their account online with your company.
  • Write a business case and present it to those in charge of making a decision like this.

If you get leadership bought-in, the rest of the company will be more willing to be open-minded and you all can begin to develop plans and processes to make it happen! And, of course, if you need an agency to help with your website, don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions! 


Free Assessment:

How does your inbound marketing measure up?
Take this free, 5-minute assessment and learn what you can start doing today to boost traffic, leads, and sales.


Published on June 10, 2019

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