The acceleration of digital transformation in the B2B buying space is moving at breakneck speeds, with more business conducted online than ever before. Just as COVID-19 upended how many consumers interact with their favorite brands, it also dramatically transformed how B2B organizations buy and sell in an increasingly virtual world.
The numbers are impressive. According to one analyst forecast, B2B e-commerce sales will reach nearly $1.77 trillion in 2022, a 12% increase from 2021. A survey we did with Sapio Research supports the digital trend as well, showing that two-thirds of B2B buyers are spending more online now than they did pre-pandemic. In fact, half of B2B buyers we talked to say that web stores are now the most frequent channel through which they place an order.
Potholes in the Customer Journey
Unfortunately, the road to successful online sales is often far from smooth. Gartner, for example, says 77% of B2B buyers found their latest purchase was very complex or difficult. Our view into the experiences of B2B buyers adds further evidence that suppliers have failed to meet expectations, with a whopping 50% saying B2B e-commerce sites are subpar.
Clearly, many web stores have some work to do — and fast. Why? Because in today’s e-commerce world, the vast majority of buyers report they are more inclined to buy from a supplier with whom they have a great relationship — even if the terms of sale are not as good as a competitor’s.
In other words, building and maintaining customer relationships is a high-stakes task. To do so, suppliers should start by taking the following steps to immediately give buyers a superior online experience, and strengthen connections with them.
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Know Your Data Inside Out — and Act on It
The growth of B2B e-commerce has resulted in a treasure trove of data waiting to be collected and analyzed.
Tracking customer online behavior — including how users navigate a site, where they spend the most time, when products are added to a shopping cart, and even the place where users abandon the web store — delivers deep, accurate, actionable insights about the customer journey. This knowledge eliminates guesswork and underpins an organization’s ability to make evidence-based decisions about how to optimize a buyer’s online experience.
And remember that information related to a customer’s online journey is only part of an organization’s overall data picture. By combining B2B e-commerce data with its enterprise data, a seller can maintain a 360-degree view of its customers, irrespective of channel.
Integrating web store, ERP, and analytic data has never been more important — especially when it comes to making key decisions about where a budget can be spent most effectively.
Make Your Checkout Smarter and Slicker
One specific area where online B2B buyers consistently report dissatisfaction comes at the end of their customer journey: online checkout and payment systems. The truth is clear: sellers that make it easier for buyers to make a purchase online will make more sales.
Because B2B buyer needs tend to be more nuanced than those of B2C customers, e-commerce sites should take several additional steps to improve the checkout experience and increase conversion rates.
One has to do with transparency. Checkouts are the ideal place to clearly spell out return policies, tax data, and shipping costs. Providing explicit, easy-to-access information alleviates lingering concerns for reluctant buyers while also protecting the seller from the time and costs required to fix misunderstandings.
Another area that benefits from transparency is payment term options. B2B buyers often expect — and require — a broader range of payment term options. If choices are available, they should be clearly explained and executable online.
Finally, make it convenient for B2B buyers to pay for their purchases. Keep in mind that legacy payment mechanisms like checks, credit cards, purchase orders, and bank transfers remain vital for a majority of B2B buyers. It’s important to have these available at checkout. But also think about adding additional digital options, including mobile apps and wallet-based solutions like Apple Pay and Amazon Pay.
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Personalize, Personalize, Personalize
Personalization has gained prominence as a critical tool to defend and extend customer relationships. Personalization happens in a variety of ways, such as:
- Offering Amazon-like recommendations to introduce customers to additional products
- Providing options for product bundles to facilitate upselling
- Giving buyers the ability to make repeat purchases quickly and easily
- Recommending personalized content that helps buyers easily access needed product information
- Offering contextualized real-time pricing, competitive price matching, and the ability for priority customers to reserve the best pricing
- Alerting customers about stock levels of frequently purchased items, including informing them of restocking schedules
The key to success here is to use your data to personalize the customer journey. This, in turn, will go a long way toward building stronger relationships and cementing brand loyalty.
Don’t Let Off the Gas Pedal
If we look at 2021 as the year of acceleration — a year where the shift to digital was fast-tracked — its importance in the B2B space is beyond doubt. E-commerce has firmly established itself as the primary purchasing channel with more than three-quarters of buyers and sellers preferring digital self-serve and remote human engagement over face-to-face interactions.
This leaves 2022 as the year of distinction and differentiation. Organizations that proactively work to prioritize online relationships — not just transactions — will find themselves well on the way to helping their web store customers overcome challenges (and frustrations). Doing this well will be a win-win for everyone involved in the online transaction, resulting in happier customers and a healthier bottom line for sellers.
About the Author
Tim Beyer is global COO of technology scale-up Sana Commerce, an ERP-integrated B2B e-commerce solution provider and certified partner of Microsoft Dynamics and SAP.
As a highly coveted guest lecturer and e-commerce keynote speaker, Beyer has presented at prestigious educational institutions and companies in the Netherlands and abroad, sharing insights on topics including international entrepreneurship, cross-cultural management, market entrance and ecommerce growth strategies, scaling up, and the Rockefeller Habits.