Reimagining Your B2B Ecommerce
Make the most of your business interactions
February 22, 2022. 7 MIN READ
Senior Content Marketing Manager, Salesforce
Senior Content Marketing Manager, Salesforce
When people think of ecommerce, they often think of the ease of online shopping from their couch. In pajamas. But there’s another world of ecommerce with its own unique relationships and buying capabilities: business-to-business, or B2B, ecommerce.
Ecommerce is cited as the top sales channel for investment by B2B respondents in the State of Commerce Report, and B2B commerce (an ecommerce platform specifically designed for businesses making purchases online) has seen rapid growth in the last year with a 200% surge between March 2019 and March 2020.
What is B2B ecommerce?
B2B ecommerce is the process of selling products between two businesses. Reaching more customers and reducing service costs are the end goals to help drive more revenue for your business.
In a B2B ecommerce model, goods and services are sold to other manufacturers or wholesalers. Think of the auto industry. A parts manufacturer creates individual car components such as an engine, fuel pump, or seat belts, and those parts are sold to auto manufacturers, rather than individuals, for assembly.
B2B ecommerce aims to deliver a seamless multichannel relationship between business buyers. It gives sales reps and customer service reps (CSRs) a holistic view of each business so that they can provide a personalized buying experience every time.
How is B2B ecommerce different from B2C?
B2B ecommerce involves transactions between two or more businesses, instead of the transactions between businesses and individuals that define business-to-consumer (B2C) ecommerce. When it comes to B2B, we’re not just talking about a few items in an online cart. B2B transactions can include hundreds of items that can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. With that much potential for ordering, B2B ecommerce requires its own set of technology and systems in place to support purchases.
One of the most complex pieces of the puzzle in B2B ecommerce is pricing. These transactions often require negotiated, account-specific pricing and terms that are usually placed by a sales rep on behalf of the customer. Ordering quantities can also range from just a few items to long lists of products, making B2B purchases even more difficult to manage without the right systems in place.
The complexity of B2B ecommerce means business owners need an ecommerce platform with the right tools to manage such orders. These solutions should allow companies to easily create online storefronts with a holistic view of their customers so they can deliver truly 1-to-1 buying experiences.
What industries use B2B ecommerce?
Just about every industry involves some degree of B2B ecommerce. Whether it’s sourcing parts for a car or a bulk order of granola bars placed by a grocery store chain, B2B interactions are just as important as those with individual consumers. Let’s take a look at some specific industries where B2B ecommerce plays an important role in day-to-day operations.
One of the most common instances of B2B ecommerce is wholesale purchasing. Whether it’s a restaurant owner stocking up on ingredients or a contractor placing an order for nails, these orders involve larger quantities of items than an individual consumer would buy off the store shelf. As such, B2B sellers need a system in place to help them manage inventory, pricing, shipping, and more.
With complete visibility into your accounts, sales and marketing teams can offer top-notch customer support. They’re no longer stuck in a cycle of manual administrative tasks; they’re industry experts who know their customers inside and out. They can serve as trusted advisors for their customers, fully equipped with insights into their customers’ needs and behaviors.
Manufacturers operate almost exclusively in the B2B ecommerce space. The right ecommerce platform helps them streamline ordering, add account-based pricing, and split shipments — all from one unified platform.
To remove the bottleneck from sales, Ovation Medical deployed a robust digital commerce platform that automated and streamlined repeat business operations and sales processes. As a result, the productivity of sales reps doubled, with reps managing up to 400 accounts. Even more, reps have more time to seek out and secure new customers to help drive revenue.
Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG)/Retail
Consumer goods and retail purchasing requires a modernized system that can handle high-quantity orders. A unified platform can also help sellers stock inventory in retail stores, and support contract pricing and custom catalogs with smart digital experiences.
As in-person meetings came to a screeching halt during the pandemic, global sportstyle, lifestyle, and streetwear brand FILA had to rethink its B2B sales strategy. The brand created a consumer-like online shopping experience that provided the flexibility B2B sales require, including dynamic pricing, complex shipping functionality, and custom product catalogs for retailer-exclusive items. With the Salesforce Platform integration giving its teams the ability to make changes on the fly, FILA could respond to its B2B customers’ needs with speed and flexibility.
Distributors play an important role in B2B ecommerce: they make sure the products get to where they need to go. To do so, distributors rely on a system that helps them update orders, track shipping, and manage inventory.
What are the benefits of B2B ecommerce?
B2B ecommerce offers lots of opportunities for revenue growth and chances to build lasting customer relationships. A connected B2B customer experience allows you to create touchpoints across departments and engage buyers at any step in the customer journey — whether online or in-person.
One of the biggest benefits of B2B ecommerce is the self-service buying options that give customers the freedom to not only place orders but manage them from purchase to delivery. Digital ordering frees up your reps’ time so they can focus on building deeper relationships with customers instead of executing mundane manual tasks like sorting and submitting purchase orders.
Overcoming the complexities of B2B ecommerce allows you to streamline the process for both reps and customers. Simplifying online buying with features specifically designed for B2B, including fast reorders, account hierarchies, contract pricing, custom catalogs, and more, means a better experience for everyone.
B2B ecommerce can also lower service costs. By equipping customers with self-service tools and guided experiences, you can reallocate both time and money to other growth opportunities for your business.
How to get started with B2B ecommerce
B2B organizations need a strong ecommerce strategy in place to stay ahead in the digital-first world. With face-to-face selling on the decline, the right B2B ecommerce plan and platform can lower costs and help businesses get products to buyers faster.
These three steps can help you launch a B2B ecommerce storefront quickly and successfully.
1. Align objectives to new customer needs
The first step is to identify the biggest customer pain points. Most buyers are expecting businesses to implement new technologies to curate better experiences. What steps does your business need to take to accomplish that?
Once you’ve identified your goal, perform a “business as usual” audit and a separate review of the past two months. What’s been successful and what hasn’t? Where are the gaps between sales reps and customers? Are there additional opportunities for engagement?
Answering these questions can help you assess your B2B ecommerce strategy along the way and course-correct to ensure your interactions are driving the most ROI possible.
2. Start small and use incentives
Companies usually see the most success when they start small, focusing on one set of customers or business unit at a time. A smaller division of buyers for a new B2B ecommerce strategy allows for testing and optimization.
Incentivizing implementation partners to use your existing tools and capabilities can also help your business reduce costs when building your B2B ecommerce strategy. Actual results measuring adoption of features and real customer feedback can help your company determine what’s most important to customers.
3. Track KPIs but don’t ignore qualitative insights
Successful B2B ecommerce is so much more than your standard vanity metrics. Qualitative measures like speed and agility are just as important so make sure to think beyond your typical KPIs when setting goals for your storefront. Some metrics to consider include:
- Budget. Track spending as you go and avoid budgetary surprises to help your efforts come in under budget.
- Opportunity costs. Think about what other resources you are saving with the implementation of your B2B ecommerce strategy — data entry and other manual tasks, for example.
- Customer service requests. A decrease in customer service requests can indicate that your self-service options and guided experiences are working.
How to choose the right B2B ecommerce platform
The backbone of any successful B2B ecommerce strategy is a connected ecommerce platform. B2B purchases can get complex quickly, and unfortunately, many businesses are still using outdated technology to manage their modern requests.
Email, phone, and fax are no longer the only platforms for placing orders, checking order history, or collecting basic customer information. Without cutting-edge technology, managing post-order processes can lead to lost time for sales reps, partners, and customers alike.
Choosing the right platform can feel daunting, but there are some key features you want to consider as you compare options.
B2B ecommerce can involve orders ranging from 10 items to 10,000 or more. Your ecommerce platform should have the tools in place to help your business scale successfully and, most importantly, quickly. The right platform can help you launch custom and branded storefronts fast so you can handle any size order with the same ease and efficiency.
Single Source of Truth
There is a lot of data involved in B2B ecommerce. Your ecommerce platform should unify all of your data in one place, seamlessly integrating apps, data, and processes to give you a 360-degree view of your customer.
The business landscape is constantly changing, and your ecommerce platform should be prepared to help you innovate with speed to keep up with customer demands. The right solution will help you adapt to changing markets and customer needs by giving you the tools to create new business models on demand and make changes on the fly.
Deploying a B2B ecommerce strategy is no easy feat and requires support across the customer journey to be successful. A connected ecosystem of implementation partners is key to making sure your teams and customers have the tools they need, from ordering, to purchasing, to service.
How Salesforce can help
Setting up a B2B storefront is easier and faster than you may think. Our solution is connected to the #1 CRM — so you can get a more complete view of your customers.
Get more details on our product page or with our B2B Ecommerce Playbook.