All sellers have watched the tremendous growth of eCommece. It’s now believed that if you want to be a successful seller, then you must have an online presence. When we think of online selling though, we traditionally only think of B2C.
That’s no longer true. B2B sellers have a large opportunity, even predicted bigger than B2C, to profit from eCommerce. But, selling online isn’t easy. In a competitive market, you have to deliver using best eCommerce practices.
In this post, we’ll discuss some eCommerce best practices specfically for B2B sellers. Learn how you can be successful when selling online.
Growing B2B Market Size
In the United States, Forrester Research expects B2B eCommerce sales to reach $780 billion and represent about 9% of all B2B sales by the end of 2015. They also predict that B2B eCommerce will exceed $1.1 trillion and comprise 12% of all B2B sales in the U.S. by 2020.
And that’s just in the US. Globally, by 2020 the B2B eCommerce market will be twice as large as the B2C market, $6.7 trillion vs $3.2 trillion, according to research provider Frost & Sullivan.
With numbers like these, it’s a no-brainer that B2B sellers should undertake an eCommerce strategy.
Where B2B Can Sell Online
There’s two places where B2B sellers can sell online: webstores and marketplaces. B2B sellers can own their own website where they sell direct to buyers. Or, they can join marketplaces specific for B2B. Both Amazon and Alibaba offer these types of selling environments.
Just like B2C sellers, there are advantages to sell on one or the other, or even both. If you’re just testing the waters of eCommerce, marketplaces can be an easy way to jump-start your eCommerce business. But, if you’re building a brand and want to create a more customized experience, then a webstore is the best option.
What you decide just depends on your business goals and what model fits best for you. Either way, selling online will be a new challenge. You’ll have to apply basic eCommerce best practices, most of which are borrowed from B2C selling.
Top B2B eCommerce Best Practices
The B2C shopping experience is paving the way for what’s expected from B2B eCommerce. B2C sellers have already narrowed down what works best online. Consumers who find this type of shopping experience become repeat buyers.
If you want be successful at B2B eCommerce, you’ll have to adopt some eCommerce (seemingly B2C ) best practices. These are the top B2B eCommerce best practices you should be paying attention to:
1. Customer Experience
Sellers who “win” online are the ones that provide the best customer experience. But, you can’t sell online like you do in-store. Trained employees can’t interact with customers to procure a sale and customers can’t physically touch what they want to buy.
Even though you’re selling to other “businesses,” your buyer is still a consumer purchasing on behalf of a business. Just like a B2C buyer, they’re going to need a lot of information and a certain user experience before they commit to buy online.
Providing a stellar customer experience is made up of various best practices.
Whether you’re selling through your own webstore or on matketplaces, buyers needs to know that the product they’re looking at is the right one. Unlike in-store, customers can scrutinize the product by touch or feel, or read the packaging.
Instead, they rely on you to provide all the product information they need.
Rich product information helps customers research and find the products they’re looking for, both on your webstore and on marketplaces. The word rich entails that the product listing includes an image, proper description, sizes available, quantity available, color options, etc.
It makes for a good customer experience when buyers can easily decide that the product meets their needs. Without this type of info, buyers won’t be confident to buy online.
But, rich product information can be hard for B2B sellers to provide.
You’re used to your extensive catalogs that don’t have market-ready descriptions for online buyers. You might try to get by just using the product data you already have on hand. That’s not going to cut it (read why Product Information Management (PIM) is vital for B2B selling).
For this reason, B2B sellers can greatly benefit from an investment in a Product Information Management application (nChannel offers their own PIM solution). A PIM can help you transform your catalog product data into rich, market-ready product listings, without all the extra effort.
Better product information management leads to easier online site navigation.
Product information best practices allows you to build product listings based on item attributes (i.e, color, size, style, etc). The more attributes you have, the easier it is to categorize and organize products on your site. The result is easy site navigation for your buyers.
For example, let’s say you sell pens. At first, you might be prone to just list your pen on your site as a pen with black-ink. When someone searches for pens, either on your site or on a marketplace, the buyer is going to be shown hundreds of different types of pen.
This is overwhelming. Your buyer will either stop searching or pick whoever accurately describes their products (not you).
But, let’s say you instead build your pen listing with rich product information that includes lots of attributes. Your pen is described now as Bic, ball-point, black-ink, and rubber grip. Your buyer is now able to search for these attributes specifically. They can narrow down the hundreds of pens by either brand, ink color, grip or no grip, or whatever else they’re looking for.
These attributes are how you can build filters/menus that are often seen on B2C sites. Websites with these types of navigation provide a better customer experience for buyers. Think of how easy it is to shop on Amazon. You can easily define and then drill down to the exact item you’re looking for.
Online selling takes the human interaction out of selling. But, that doesn’t mean that buyers no longer want that type of special treatment.
Buyers still seek out sellers who go the extra mile to make them feel important and special.
While it’s trickier to provide this type of personalization and attention online, it’s still possible through technology.
Ideas of personalization include:
- Product recommendations based on past purchases or recently viewed items
- Email marketing specific to expressed buyers’ interests
- Coupons based on past purchases and buyers’ interests
These types of personalized interactions go a long way with buyers. See why Gartner analyst Gene Alvarez thinks personalized web content is crucial for B2B sales.
Once buyers search and find the product they’re looking for, it must be fast and painless to check-out. Cart abandonment is the biggest culprit for loss of potential online sales. Many of the reasons why shoppers abandon their cart at check-out have to do with processes that slow down the process.
For an easy check-out, buyers are looking for these types of things:
- Upfront about all costs, including shipping and handling fees
- Fast loading check-out pages
- Minimum number of steps to go-through to final order placement
- Different payment terms available – Credit card, credit company account
- Ability to easily add and delete products in cart while shopping
- Remembering payment information from previous purchases
There’s a lot of factors that go into the ease of checking-out. Don’t plan on skimping on any of them.
2. Sync Inventory in Real-Time
Every time you add an online sales channels, the more complicated it gets to keep track of inventory levels. Incorrect inventory availability is a hassle for you, and the buyer. Nothing’s worse than having to inform a customer that you don’t actually have an item that they thought they bought.
It’s important then to sync your inventory levels across all your sales channels in real-time. Therefore, when someone buys an item on your website, then your inventory levels are decimated across both your other online and offline sales channels.
Real time inventory updates can be more critical in B2B than B2C because your customers are often buying in bulk. This means one customer can purchase large amounts of your inventory at once. When the next person goes to purchase, it’s a much bigger deal when you have to tell them that you don’t have 100 highlighters of their original order of 150.
This is a great service to your customers. They’ll know that you have in-stock exactly as much as they need.
3. Back-Office Integrations
When you implement new front-end sales channels like an eCommerce webstore or a marketplace account, it’s important to integrate those with your back-end systems right off the bat. You’ll want a seamless integration so you can provide the best services to your customers.
If you wait until after the fact, you’ll have a lot of work to make-up. Data will need to be re-entered and you might have to change your business process. It’s time-wasted and it hinders your success.
If you’re looking to learn more about multichannel integration, learn how nChannel can integrate your back-end systems with your front-end ones.
What to Do Next
As a B2B seller, you have a huge opportunity to grow your business with eCommerce. When doing so, there’s a lot you can learn from B2C to be successful in online selling. It’s hard to sell online, but with these top B2B eCommerce best practices, you can make eCommerce a vital part of your sales.
Whether you’re selling on a webstore or marketplaces, keep in mind top practices that deal with customer experience, real-time inventory syncing, and back-office integrations. When you do, you’ll win at eCommerce.
Check out these other articles to keep reading about B2B selling: