Leaders in the B2B space are increasingly relying on digital commerce to allow them to work smarter. In fact, 69% of sellers rely on digital channels as well as salespeople or third-party distributors to conduct business. Now that brands have had time to find their bearings and gain traction with their digital initiatives in this new landscape, what’s next? We’ve got a few ideas. These are a few emerging business-to-business (B2B) commerce trends that are here to stay.
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1. B2B marketplaces will be the real MVP
Marketplaces — digital platforms that connect buyers and sellers of goods — are becoming one of the biggest trends in B2B commerce for both enterprise and small-to medium-sized businesses. Businesses that use marketplace technology to onboard additional sellers and offer third-party products related to their core goods can vastly expand their reach. These experiences offer better assortment and choice for B2B buyers. Additionally, marketplace operators often see meaningful revenue growth (with little risk) since they earn margin on top of third-party products.
Marketplaces are a smart move, especially in the midst of enduring supply chain woes. They allow companies to expand their digital assortment of goods and services with existing and new distribution partners and third-party sellers. The results are a more comprehensive service for B2B buyers that addresses region-specific product and distribution needs.
In international markets where supply chain and distribution impacts vary, a marketplace operator can target sellers who have goods at the local distribution point — or at least in the same country. This means faster delivery and a better overall experience for customers.
2. B2B brands will focus on customer acquisition
In the past, B2B brands focused digital initiatives on creating and streamlining self-service portals for current customers. While customer retention and loyalty will always remain a major priority, new customer acquisition is front-and-center.
When you consider that 72% of B2B buyers start their journey online, it’s no wonder that B2B brands are pulling out all the digital marketing stops. Rather than relying on cold calls and emails to bring in new business, B2Bs are developing data-driven digital marketing strategies. Paid ads, search engine optimization, email marketing, and social media campaigns are now key to B2B success. As digital natives become B2B decision makers, they expect companies to meet them on the channels they’re already on.
Across all industries, B2Bs are experimenting with marketing tactics that have traditionally been used in business-to-consumer (B2C) sales. Digital order growth boomed in 2020 and 2021, with global same-site sales growing 44% in B2C and 95% in B2B.
3. B2B commerce trends include rapid traction for large and complex goods
Traditionally, B2B commerce initiatives have focused on automating simple reorders. That’s changing. Gartner research found that 77% of B2B buyers said their last purchase was very complex or difficult. This year, B2B brands will put muscle into solving this common pain pont. Even as their digital needs expand, business buyers want the ease of the consumer experience above all else.
This goes beyond the connected channels that B2B buyers always demanded. Buyers want more than the same price guarantee whether they call their rep or order from the website. It’s also no longer enough for B2B brands to limit self-service to reorders and status checks.
Now, B2B buyers want choice and flexibility. Customers want to configure complicated products online. For example, medical device companies have typically focused their digital commerce on consumables and supplies. Now, they’re allowing customers to specify devices and complete purchases online. Buyers want to do more of their transaction purchase flow digitally. They want more control and more choices about how, when, and where to transact.
4. The distinction between B2B and D2C will get even hazier
Throughout the pandemic, many businesses slowed their B2B investments in favor of direct-to-consumer (D2C) initiatives, and these decisions have forever changed the distinction between B2B and D2C. This includes manufacturers and consumer goods companies that wouldn’t typically sell to consumers.
Many companies who never would have thought about incorporating D2C models found themselves adapting to the pandemic’s challenges by supplementing B2B channels and going straight to the consumer. Now, businesses must maintain these supplemental channels they built throughout the past few years. The result will be increasingly blurred lines between B2B and D2C brands. Companies will need to invest in technologies that can support agility and channel shift.
5. B2Bs lean on automation and AI for cost savings
Businesses across all industries are facing financial uncertainty. Cost-saving methods are now priority number one — and implementing the right commerce strategies can help. B2B leaders have expressed the benefits of digital channels. According to the State of Commerce, B2B sellers credit 40% of revenue to digital channels. Leaning into technology like AI, unified solutions, self service and automating re-orders can help increase efficiency and boost cost savings. In fact, 33% of digital sellers report digital channels have reduced their costs to serve.
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