B2B eCommerce: Challenges, Benefits and Best Practices

Over the better half of the last decade eCommerce has utterly transformed the landscape of the Business-to-Consumer (B2C) marketplace, forever changing the ways in which individual customers interact with brands and make purchasing decisions. And now the Business-to-Business (B2B) market is getting in on the action.

Until recently, the intricacies and logistical complexity of the manufacturing sector has prevented the industry from adopting B2B web technology into their business plan. But with the advent of highly efficient and cost-effective new technologies, many B2B models are now moving away from expensive and cumbersome legacy systems in favor of flexible and affordable online platforms. Which is leading many to think that the B2B eCommerce market on the verge of exploding. In fact, according to Forbes, B2B eCommerce could be worth as much as $6.7 trillion by as soon as 2020.

So Why is B2B so Far Behind the Tech Curve?

Quite simply, B2B businesses face some major challenges that you simply don’t see in the retail market. And this has contributed to their inability to keep up with the tech-savvy world of B2C business. Two of the most significant challenges are:

  •       Customer-Specific Pricing -As relationships with your buyers mature and evolve over time, your prices might grow to reflect a certain level of trust that has emerged between you and your most reliable partners. This means that a tech solution would have to have a built in system for handling multiple pricing levels.
  •       Logistics – Unlike the retail world which generally has to manage just a few items at a time, and customers with relatively flexible delivery schedules, B2B businesses deal in much larger shipment quantities and often come up against very strict, very tight deadlines. In the past, the complexity of these issues made switching to an eCommerce solution more trouble than it was worth.

How Can eCommerce Help?

  •       Flexibility – An online B2B platform gives buyers and sellers from all over the world a place to meet and exchange goods and services with little more than a few clicks of a mouse. And with flexible new tools available for manufacturers, B2B eCommerce makes it easy to manage all the variables of your diverse buyer/seller relationships by automatically updating and maintaining multiple payment options and pricing levels, as well as changing delivery schedules, ship-to addresses and general buyer information.  
  •       Scalability – The agility and updatability of B2B eCommerce systems allows your company to grow and change with greater ease than ever before. Whether you need to scale up quickly to meet demand, reach out to newly emerging market segments, or quickly open new sales channels, a good B2B eCommerce solution will better equip you to stay up to date with your customers’ needs and the demands of an evolving market.
  •       Customer Satisfaction – People are now accustomed to handling just about everything online, so why should B2B business be any different? Moving to an eCommerce platform provides your buyers a greater level of ease and simplicity when doing business. No longer will they be required to make a phone call in order to change an address, update an order, request product information or ask a simple question.
  •       Efficiency – All of these benefits essentially boil down to one thing: Efficiency. With flexible and responsive systems that allow buyers and sellers to interact and manage their transactions in real time, and easy-to-use tools that enable buyers to self-sufficiently handle issues that used to fall on the shoulders of manufacturers, eCommerce effectively streamlines the entire B2B business model, which means a smoother workflow for you and your buyers.

Best Practices for B2B eCommerce

Most companies need a bit of time to adjust to the new system after transitioning to eCommerce, so here are some quick tips to get you started on the right foot:

  •       Get on Mobile Early – As we know with B2C eCommerce, when companies go online, the next thing to follow is mobile. So it’s in your company’s best interest to make mobile a top priority from the very beginning. That way you won’t have to go through an expensive website overhaul later down the road.
  •       Compensate Your Sales Reps for Online Sales – Because they aren’t conducted face to face, it’s a common mistake to think that online sales just materialize out of thin air. But this simply isn’t the case, and your sales reps should still be compensated for online sales. Just because the relationship has moved online, it doesn’t mean your sales rep didn’t have to work to build that relationship.
  •       Customer-Specific Incentives – Buyers can sometimes be wary of a new system, so it’s important that you have a plan in place to support your existing customers and reach out to new ones. Implementing a customer segmentation approach to offer customer-specific promotions and incentives can help increase conversion rates, increase order value, and reward customer loyalty.

With B2B eCommerce poised to make a giant leap forward over the next few years, now is the time to start the transition to web. With the technology and the right approach, you’ll outpace the competition as you wade into this exciting and lucrative new market environment.