Business-to-business (b2b) selling tends to be more complex than business-to-consumer (b2c) selling. For example, business buyers need access to a comprehensive product catalogue and want to know which items are on promotion; they often need to buy in bulk – and frequently; they want to be able to easily track their invoices and purchase orders; and there may be more than one buyer making purchases for the same customer.
Business-to-business customers are difficult to win but can carry significant lifetime value. Their relationship with trade suppliers is deep and based on trust. Over time, the nature of these relationships, the way they are conducted, and the details around transactions become embedded in the seller’s accounts and inventory systems.
Supporting and growing the b2b buyer/seller relationship online means choosing an ecommerce platform specifically designed for b2b businesses – and one that will integrate seamlessly with your accounts system from day one. Customers need to see their individual product prices, discounts and payment terms, as well as real-time inventory levels.
Your ecommerce platform will need to be configurable to allow for the complexities of your business and the way want to work, and it should be able to easily flex with your business. Make sure the technology provider you choose understands the b2b sales landscape inside out and has the capabilities to deliver a high performance ecommerce channel that aligns with your business goals.
Adding a b2b ecommerce channel involves a lot more than just getting a new website built. Organisations are increasingly making their business purchases online and they expect you to offer a self-service facility for your products that delivers a first-class customer experience. Get it right, and switching to ecommerce can rapidly accelerate business growth. It can help you differentiate and gain a competitive advantage that attracts new customers across time zones and geographies. Making that move should be a clear boardroom priority.
Creating a successful online sales channel demands a cross-functional approach across the business to transform the way your customers are able to buy. You want to make the buyer’s job easier – from ordering products to managing their account – so that they enjoy the process of doing business with you. Choosing the right b2b ecommerce platform and technology partner will help to ensure you capitalise on all opportunities that come with selling online.
Best practice for b2b ecommerce covers many different areas – from ensuring the site is responsive, easy to navigate, and contains engaging content, to optimising for search engines (SEO), security and GDPR compliance. On top of this are all the features and functionality that will help deal with the complexities of online b2b selling, including:
These are some of the basics to expect from your ecommerce platform and will help to free-up time to focus on other areas of your operations.
Buyers increasingly want the ability to do business on the move. They use multiple devices to browse websites and expect the experience to be optimised across desktop, laptop, tablet and mobile. The good news is that over 80% of buyers prefer to search for products on a supplier’s website rather than having to look them up on Google – so good design across all devices will support engagement wherever they’re working.
Business customers research their purchases extensively online before buying. Often, the products they require have complex features, and buyers need to see comprehensive product descriptions so that they can make informed purchase decisions. It’s therefore important that your b2b ecommerce website carries detailed, easy to understand information for all your company’s products. This will help your site become the go-to destination for buyers looking for expert insight.
Don’t make your customers think any more than they have to – a website that contains all the information they need will help to lock-in buyer loyalty both online and offline.
At the same time, don’t be misled by fancy website design, stick to online ‘norms’ so your customer doesn’t have to learn new ways of using the site because it works differently to everyone else’s. Make sure it’s easy to use and easy to buy from, with intuitive navigation and clear buttons to make the buyer’s job as straightforward as possible.
Pressure to create an ecommerce channel for your business may be coming from your customers, salespeople, the warehouse or marketing. It may be a competitor who has launched a new website that’s attracting your customers – so you need to respond quickly and decisively. In our experience, a dedicated b2b ecommerce platform will help to increase both sales and profits from both existing and new customers. For example, customers using Aspidistra’s Shopfront ecommerce platform are seeing average business growth of around 50%.
Moving the bulk of order taking and processing from your sales and customer service teams, and automating updates into the accounts and inventory systems will free-up a significant amount of time and help to eliminate errors from manual procedures. This gives you the opportunity to review your resourcing requirements or redeploy staff into other areas of the business.
Given the complexities of b2b business and the basic operational requirements of an ecommerce site, few companies take the risk of building their own platform or commissioning a web designer for the task. Some choose to have the site built, then use a third-party integration tool to connect the front end with the business accounting system. But we frequently see how this creates problems at a later stage, when changes are required in order to meet different business objectives.
These scenarios mean that technical support and ongoing maintenance become challenging. Who will support the overall site performance, technical configurations, design changes, accounts integration and hosting? Unless you’ve commissioned a one-stop-shop for the work, you’ll end up with a complex, 24/7 support burden just when you want to focus your efforts on growing the business.
This is why many organisations opt for a specialist b2b technology platform from an experienced provider with a proven track record. These companies benefit from a platform that is specifically designed to address the complexities of b2b selling and integration with their business systems from day one. Most find that their platform is designed, integrated, configured for their needs, live and launched within 10 weeks of commissioning.
The best performing platforms are securely hosted in the cloud, which means your site is ‘always on’. You don’t need to worry about the cost of hosting, managing and monitoring the site yourself because a simple monthly subscription fee allows you to control your budget and the total cost of ownership.
Your b2b ecommerce website is not a simple catalogue or brochure – it’s a live part of your business that is continually interacting with your customers, systems and people. The companies we work with usually see sales and margin increase almost immediately, and this often gives them more ideas on how they could further grow their new online channel.
You’ll be able to see what’s working, which products are selling well, which ones are cross selling, where they are selling all the time on your analytics dashboard, without having to wait for your accounting system to update.
You’ll want to make changes and additions, and run promotions and campaigns to drive business growth – so when you’re appointing your b2b ecommerce partner, make sure you check how easy it is to make amendments, configure new features and build new ideas into your platform. The solution must be flexible and configurable without huge costs in time and money so you can quickly capitalise on any growth opportunities.
With the right ecommerce solution, customers and trade partners can now order your products anytime from anywhere, without the need to speak to your sales people. Customers will soon come to rely on the ability to self-serve at a time they choose, and they’ll begin to research products on your site and track all their orders online.
This means that your ecommerce channel needs to be secure and ready for customers at any time. You’ll also want to know that if you need specialist support from your ecommerce partner, it’s always there – inside and outside working hours.
Once a b2b ecommerce channel is running smoothly for trade customers, some companies also start thinking about selling online directly to consumers (or end-users). This is a big decision because consumers have very different needs to b2b buyers, (from how often and how much they buy, to payment methods, pricing and shipping), and b2c requires a different business model. Companies need to consider how such a strategy might involve undercutting existing b2b customers, and whether different websites are required for each audience.
A good b2b ecommerce technology partner and platform should be able to support you in developing complimentary b2b and b2c websites that can drive business across both sets of customers, while benefiting from efficiencies between sites.
Over the last 20 years, we’ve developed specialist expertise in b2b ecommerce. Unlike most b2b ecommerce solutions, which are based on modified or extended b2c platforms, our cloud-based Shopfront solution has been developed from the ground up and integrates seamlessly with financial accounting systems. Shopfront has software and database structures written specifically for b2b, so it’s streamlined, feature-rich and fit for purpose.
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