While B2B brands have been slower than their B2C counterparts in adopting ecommerce, they’re now increasingly looking for digital business models to drive sales. B2B ecommerce is growing fast, and the pandemic has accelerated many businesses’ move into digital sales even further.
The shift towards digital is spurred on by the changing demographic of B2B buyers. In 2020, almost half of all B2B buyers were millennials, which is nearly double the number from 2012. And as the “typical” B2B buyer persona is changing, so are the B2B sales processes. Millennials are digital natives, and as such, they expect the same personalized and seamless digital experiences, whether they’re interacting with B2C or B2B brands.
So, what can we expect moving into 2022? The global B2B ecommerce market was worth $12.2 trillion already in 2019, and double-digit growth is forecasted for B2B ecommerce sales in 2024. But the space is highly competitive, and deploying the right digital tools and technologies is crucial for companies.
Let’s look at some of the trends and tendencies we see, and how to best navigate and leverage them.
DIGITAL B2B SALES KEEPS GROWING
Most ecommerce vendors and distributors, when surveyed recently by Digital Commerce 360, said that they predict a continued increase in digital B2B sales in 2022. However, when asked about their level of digital maturity, less than half of the respondents said they are well-prepared to capitalize on the growth opportunity that digital commerce provides. Needless to say, that means there is a massive opportunity for the ones who do get their ducks in a row and are managing to accelerate their digital transformation.
According to the Digital Commerce 2021 B2B Distributor/Wholesaler survey, 40% of B2B distributors plan to overhaul their digital presence in 2022. The primary goals are to provide more personalized experiences and leverage more advanced technology analytics. This means that the race to offer B2B buyers consumer-grade experiences is intensifying and that all B2B vendors need to assess and evolve their digital maturity.
Related Reading: 6 Benefits of B2B Wholesale Ecommerce
THE RIGHT ECOMMERCE PLATFORM IS IMPORTANT
An ecommerce platform is the foundation of any ecommerce business operation. And while the market-leading platforms are not necessarily industry-specific, some of them are definitely better suited for B2B companies than others.
Navigating the different platforms can feel like a jungle, but it’s essential not to skip this step and thoroughly investigate the different options. Choosing the right platform will enable you to grow smoothly and deliver excellent customer experiences, while a less optimal choice could seriously cramp your style.
Some questions to keep in mind when evaluating platforms include:
B2B Ecommerce Functionality
The platform you opt for should have the functionality you need for B2B ecommerce, meaning, for example, features like bulk ordering and bulk pricing, account management, and multiple shipping and payment options.
Mobile Optimized Experience
As we’re all working more remotely and on the fly, an increasing number of B2B decision-makers today use their mobile devices to research and even purchase solutions. Making sure your site is mobile-optimized is an absolute must.
Data privacy is a significant concern for all ecommerce merchants, and this applies to B2B as well. To avoid unpleasant data breaches and the costly fines and penalties they can result in, it’s crucial that your ecommerce platform can accommodate GDPR, ADA, and any other mandatory regulations regarding user privacy and accessibility.
Having a digital presence doesn’t make much of a difference if nobody can find your website. Modern digital marketing requires modern digital marketing capabilities, so make sure you pick a platform with robust functionality for Search Engine Optimization (SEO), email marketing, and personalization.
Automation and Machine Learning
Automating certain tasks and communications is a must to grow your sales efficiently. Machine learning and features for automation will enable you to create more relevant and personalized user experiences at scale.
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BRANDING WILL BECOME AN EVEN MORE IMPORTANT DIFFERENTIATOR
So, the right technology is fundamental to ecommerce growth. However, having a more robust and mature platform in place will not be enough. It’s how companies then go on and leverage that platform in their sales marketing strategies that will decide the outcome.
One essential piece of this puzzle is branding. A strong brand will help you stand out in your category and enable you to sustain a more premium price point. It’s not uncommon that B2B companies underestimate the power of branding, and those who build and maintain strong brands will come out as winners.
In order to build strong B2B brands, several factors are essential to keep in mind:
Make your Brand Come Alive Through Storytelling
Sometimes, B2B companies forget that in the end, the buyer is always a person, not a company. And as people, we’re hardwired to respond to stories. Stories are how we understand and make sense of the world, and it’s through sharing your brand story that you can anchor your offering in a larger narrative.
Stay in Touch with your Customer
It’s not enough to target the people who already have buyer intent; you also want to stay top of mind with the audience who may warm up to purchase later down the road. Nurturing your audience through digital marketing, wherever they are in the sales funnel, is a key success factor in digital sales.
Focus on Creating an Excellent User Experience
Some B2B sites are not prioritizing the user experience on their websites, but not doing so can cost you a lot of business. B2B buyers have gotten used to the convenience that consumer brands provide online and will quickly lose patience if their experience with B2B brands is not on par with that of B2C.
Optimize your Site for Mobile
As stated above, more and more people work remotely so mobile responsiveness is essential in B2B ecommerce. It’s part of creating a great customer experience, and especially millennials tend to manage a lot of their research and purchases on the go. B2C sites have known this for a long time and continually optimize their websites across all devices and channels. This is equally important for B2B sites.
Related Reading: Reimagining the B2B Buying Experience
SELF-SERVICE IS GAINING GROUND
One of the most prominent trends in B2B ecommerce is self-service. Customers want to be able to find the information they’re looking for and complete their transactions without talking to a salesperson or having to wait for email replies.
Self-service models can also be very beneficial for the vendor, as they’re easier to scale, free up time, and drive more sales. In an Episerver survey, B2B buyers were asked to choose three ways in which B2B companies can facilitate their online B2B purchases. Second to pricing, self-service functionality was named most important, which is a clear indication that this is the way forward.
MARKETPLACES CREATE ADDITIONAL REVENUE STREAMS
Marketplaces are a relatively new B2B channel, and it’s snowballing. Consulting firm iBe has predicted that B2B marketplaces will reach a worth of $3.6 trillion by 2024, which means they’ll account for 30% of global worldwide sales. Marketplaces like Amazon and Alibaba are constantly expanding, with Alibaba alone claiming to have more than 10 million B2B buyers on the platform.
Marketplaces have many advantages for buyers and can facilitate both the research phase and the buying process. Filters allow buyers to easily browse and compare products, prices, and other aspects like delivery times between different suppliers. And the large marketplaces also bring an element of trust and reduce the friction of first-time purchases with new vendors.
Related Reading: The B2B Ecommerce Marketplace Opportunity
HOW VAIMO CAN HELP
B2B ecommerce business can be challenging, and the field is constantly changing and evolving. New tools are developed, platforms offer new capabilities, and search algorithm updates keep presenting digital marketers with new curveballs. Many B2B companies struggle to keep up with the constant and fast-paced, and as a result, they risk lagging behind.
Related Reading: Digital Experience Strategy: Customer Data in B2B Ecommerce
Partnering with an expert team will help you tackle these challenges. Running a successful B2B ecommerce business includes having a clear and defined strategy, the right resources and expertise, custom programming and development of new functionality and requires consistent and careful planning. Not to mention efficient and reliable execution.
Almost anything is possible today if you only hire the right experts to help you bring your vision to life. And if you’ve been told a particular functionality is not possible to develop or that a project is too complex, it’s worth getting a second opinion.
At Vaimo, we understand the complexities of B2B ecommerce. Reach out today for a consultation on how we can help you drive and scale your B2B business.