What is B2B eCommerce?
In a word, “essential.”
If you run a B2B business, it’s never been more important to ensure your company has a profitable online presence. Rest assured that most – if not all – of your competitors already do.
And according to Gartner, 80% of B2B transactions between buyers and suppliers will occur online by 2025!
So, whether you’re just getting ready to launch a website or you already have one but aren’t happy with its results, it’s essential that you understand what B2B eCommerce is and everything it entails.
What Is B2B eCommerce?
The simple definition is that B2B eCommerce refers to any transactions conducted between two companies online.
We’ll get into some specific examples a bit later, but this could mean anything from a business that buys their supplies from another company to a company that purchases supplies from a seller to companies that buy their leads or pay for marketing services from – you guessed it – another business.
While social media has been credited with connecting people from all over the world with other people, the Internet has had a similar impact in the business world: making it easier than ever for companies to connect, partner, and conduct B2B transactions.
Understanding B2B2C eCommerce
It’s also worth mentioning B2B2C (business-to-business-to-consumer), a unique business model where one company collaborates with an intermediary business to tap into their customer base.
Easily the most popular example of a B2B2C company – and arguably the company that popularized the concept – is Amazon.
The famous company essentially sells space in their gigantic store (and often in their global warehouses) to other companies (B2B), which then in turn sell their products to customers (B2C).
One of the big advantages of Amazon's B2B2C model is that it allows other businesses to tap into a much broader audience than they could possibly reach on their own. By leveraging Amazon's expansive platform and customer base, manufacturers and brands gain exposure to a vast pool of potential customers, expanding their reach and increasing sales opportunities.
Countless online companies now employ B2B2C business models, including popular names like:
- Uber Eats
All of these companies offer strategic alliances that allow their customers (other companies) to tap into a larger audience than they would likely be able to reach on their own.
How Does B2B eCommerce Work?
As we already covered, B2B eCommerce revolves around one business selling its products or services to another business online.
Typically, there's a dedicated group or department within the buying business that needs these products or services. For example, a company’s accounting department may be purchasing accounting software, even though the rest of the employees will never use it.
But other arrangements exist, too, which may impact how you operate your B2B eCommerce company.
For example, it could be that just a single employee is the one making the purchase for a product or service that’s solely for themselves. For example, a customer may need a laptop for their role, even though their employer will be the one paying for it.
On the other side of the extreme, companies sometimes buy products or services for all of their employees. An example would be when a business buys office furniture for all of their employees or pays for the phones they use.
Understanding these distinctions is how you’ll better understand how to market your B2B eCommerce business and sell your products or services.
RFPs, SOWs, and Negotiations
Another important way that B2B eCommerce differs from B2C is that prices aren’t always upfront – or firm – when you’re selling to other businesses.
Sometimes, the transaction is initiated by answering an RFP (Request for Proposal), which means the customer is actually proactively telling other companies, “Can you offer me this product or service and, if so, how much will it cost and how long will it take?”
After a business catches this initial company’s attention with their response, the next step is often an SOW (Scope of Work). An SOW is a contractual document that defines the specific scope of work a project will require. So, for example, if Business A says, “How much will an eCommerce website cost?” and company B’s answer gets them to the next phase, the following step would be an SOW that lays out the specifics of the work involved, the costs, and when the finished product can be expected.
Not surprisingly, then, B2B eCommerce often involves a lot of negotiations. While you probably can’t contact a vendor on Amazon to see if they’ll lower their price or offer you a discount for purchasing in quantity, this is the norm in many B2B industries.
The 3 Big Advantages B2B eCommerce Companies Have
Maybe you’re a B2C business owner who’s considering adding a B2B vertical to your model.
Or maybe you’re an entrepreneur still considering your options and trying to decide between B2B and B2C eCommerce.
OR maybe you own one of those B2B businesses who simply hasn’t taken the jump to an online presence yet.
Whatever the case, let’s review the major benefits of pursuing B2B eCommerce.
1. Limitless Customer Potential
Depending on what they sell, B2B companies can target a wide range of companies from a wide range of industries. As we mentioned earlier, one example would be businesses that sell office furniture. It doesn’t matter the industry, if a company has an office, they’re a potential customer.
At the same time, many B2B eCommerce companies decide to hyperfocus their marketing efforts on specific businesses – like small businesses or Fortune 500 companies – or particular industries, like companies that service the auto industry or restaurants.
2. Order Management Systems
Cloud-based eCommerce platforms come with the convenience of built-in order management capabilities.
They seamlessly integrate with backend systems and order management systems, so B2B sellers don’t have to do anything effortlessly synchronize order inventory and customer data across all channels.
This ensures a cohesive and streamlined experience for businesses, enabling them to effectively manage their operations and serve customers across multiple touchpoints.
3. Customer Loyalty
Finally, B2B loyalty can be a very real thing if for other reason than it can be harder to switch from one seller to another. It can represent a serious business risk, especially if you do an amazing job with customer service and the aforementioned negotiations.
On the other hand, B2C buyers are far more likely to jump from one seller to another based solely on price. If they find a better deal, they’re gone – a serious problem for online B2C stores.
5 Important Challenges That B2B eCommerce Face (And How to Overcome Them)
Alright, now let’s talk about some of the unique challenges that face B2B companies in the eCommerce space and, of course, cover some of the ways to overcome them.
We’ll start with two that are the exceptions to advantages #1 and #3 above. So, you definitely want to understand them in case you find that your B2B company doesn’t enjoy those benefits when you start exploring the eCommerce space.
1. Keeping Long-Term B2B Customers
First, once you lock in a B2B client, they TEND to be more loyal, but this isn’t always the case.
Unlike in the B2C realm, where individual consumers may make frequent purchases, B2B buyers tend to engage in more considered and complex decision-making processes.
Building trust and delivering exceptional value are crucial in persuading B2B buyers to choose a particular vendor repeatedly.
This requires that you provide consistent product quality, reliable customer support, and tailored solutions that address specific business needs.
Furthermore, maintaining open lines of communication, understanding evolving customer requirements, and offering competitive pricing and incentives can play a pivotal role in fostering long-term relationships and securing repeat business in the B2B sphere.
How to Keep Your eCommerce B2B Customers Happy
The name-of-the-game is definitely customer service, but aside from the obvious methods, there are some specific steps you need to take with your B2B website if you want buyers coming back again and again.
Chatbots are one super easy way to keep buyers on your site until they finish their transactions. They are especially important on your checkout page as it’s your last chance to keep customers from abandoning their carts.
But requisition lists are another fantastic way to keep your clients coming back for more. In short, your B2B customers can create a list of products they need, place their order, and then come back at a later date to place that same order again – without having to go through the hassle of manually adding them all to their cart.
For busy B2B buyers, this can make all the difference. It’s a no-brainer to just return to your site, click a few times, and get back to work. And, of course, they can always add or subtract items from that list.
You can also take things a step further and give your employees the ability to put together lists of items on your shoppers’ behalf.
Again, this is a great way to keep busy B2B buyers coming back again and again. It will also keep others from getting a “wandering eye” that may lead them to your competitors.
2. LOTS of Competition
While B2B companies have the opportunity to cater to a wide range of industries, the overall size of these individual markets is much more constrained than most B2C versions. This inherent limitation can pose a massive problem, particularly for small and midsize B2B organizations and any trying to break into a new market.
Operating within a restricted pool of potential customers increases the risk factor for these businesses. They face the daunting task of capturing a share of the market while contending with larger competitors.
Navigating the complexities of the B2B landscape requires strategic planning, targeted marketing efforts, and innovative approaches to differentiate themselves. Overcoming these inherent risks is essential for small and midsize B2B companies to thrive in a competitive business environment.
How to Overcome Competitive B2B Markets
Obviously, we’re a little biased here, but we truly believe that the right B2B eCommerce strategy can be an unbeatable competitive edge and any company’s secret weapon for entering any industry.
That said, the exact strategy you’ll need to follow will depend on your business, your market, your product/service, and your competition.
This is why B2B companies can’t just apply some cookie-cutter eCommerce strategy and expect to see results. Even companies within the same industry going after the same customers may often pursue significantly different strategies because of other factors.
Also, we’re always available for free eCommerce strategy consultations if you’re ready to think about going after customers online.
3. Longer Sales Cycles
B2B buying cycles tend to be significantly longer than those in B2C.
This is because B2B decision-making usually involves multiple stakeholders with diverse roles and responsibilities.
Collaborative efforts are required to align perspectives, address concerns, and reach a consensus. Additionally, B2B purchases often involve substantial investments and long-term implications, necessitating thorough research and careful evaluation. The complexity of the decision-making process prolongs B2B buying cycles. B2B companies must recognize this reality and adapt by fostering effective communication, relationship-building, and nurturing throughout the extended decision-making journey to secure successful B2B transactions.
What to Do About Longer Buying Cycles
Once again, the most important solution to longer buying cycles is taking an aggressive online marketing approach so that you’re constantly bringing buyers to your website. You won’t notice it takes them six months or longer to make a purchase if you’re seeing transactions every day because of all the traffic your site attracts.
The other vital step is to make sure you understand how B2B analytics differ from B2C. You’re likely to see higher bounce rates and what appears to be lower conversion rates. This is because numerous people from the same company will probably visit your website before one of them is finally approved to make a purchase.
And assuming that person is just following the link one of their subordinates sent them, that visit will get credited to Direct Traffic.
Unless you understand how this will affect your analytics, you may make the mistake of thinking a successful B2B eCommerce marketing strategy isn’t actually working.
We covered this topic in more detail in this video:
4. Price Negotiations
As we covered earlier, B2B prices are often up for negotiation.
This is why many B2B companies don’t even list their prices on their websites. It’s often to their advantage to keep these prices a secret, so they can charge different amounts to maximize their profit margins.
At the same time, this can also make conversions a real challenge sometimes.
How to Handle Price Negotiations with B2B Customers
We always encourage companies to list their prices as much as possible on their eCommerce websites. If nothing else, when you use rich snippets, Google will show the price in their search results (the same can be done for your reviews), which can increase your clicks and, therefore, your conversions.
But we get it.
That’s not always possible.
This is another time when chatbots can make a huge difference to your bottom line. They make it easy for customers to immediately speak with one of your reps to get a quote.
Of course, your reps can’t be manning those chatbots 24/7, which is why every single B2B company must have a request-a-quote feature on their websites. Not only is it the easiest possible way to engage your customers in the negotiation process right on your site, but it also means you get their email address, so you can follow up with them in the future for further conversions.
5. Complicated Supply Chains
Many B2B companies face a significant challenge in managing complex supply chains when multiple partners are involved, all requiring access to the same information. Miscommunication at any point in the supply chain can cause slowdowns and disruptions.
Successfully coordinating activities such as procurement, production, transportation, and inventory management demands careful planning and execution.
What You Can Do About Complicated Supply Chain Issues
This one’s tough and, to be honest, there’s not a whole lot your eCommerce website can do to help with supply chain issues.
But there are a couple steps you can take to at least mitigate the damage these problems can cause when they leave you with products that are out-of-stock.
The first is to make sure that your eCommerce platform is able to seamlessly sync with your inventory management system, so that any changes to your product levels are accurately reflected on your site. You never want to accept money from a B2B shopper and then fail to deliver because you don’t actually have the product they ordered.
And then similar to the “request-a-quote” feature we just mentioned, you want to let your B2B customers leave their information, so you can contact them ASAP when the product they want is back in stock.
While it’s more common in B2C, you can also use product recommendations on your product pages to show customers similar items they may be interested in if the one they came for is no longer in stock.
The 4 Types of B2B eCommerce Business Models
Just like B2C, B2B has four distinct business models, which affect how these companies approach eCommerce success.
As with other concepts we’ve covered so far, many companies operate in more than one business model. This has become especially common as more and more of these businesses have found footholds online. eCommerce has made overlap the rule, not the exception.
Manufacturers combine parts and raw materials to produce finished goods on a large scale, which they then sell to other manufacturers, suppliers, or wholesalers.
Technology industries are full of prime examples. For example, manufacturers create individual parts – like circuit boards, batteries, and screens – then sell them to computer companies that assemble them to create computers they then sell to consumers.
According to the “2023 eCommerce in Manufacturing & Distribution Report”:
- 63% of manufacturers reported they are increasing their spending in digital technology this year.
- 59% of manufacturers are using digital marketing tools and EDI to increase conversions and leads
Just like the B2C world experienced “the Amazon Effect’ years back – where customers began demanding EVERY company have user-friendly sites like the eCommerce giant – manufacturers are now seeing the same expectations from wholesalers, distributors, and channel partners.
To meet these evolving demands from their markets, manufacturers must embrace digitalization and provide enhanced buying experiences for their B2B customers.
Once a product is manufactured, there are two options for the next phase.
If the manufacturer wants greater control over the selling process, they can opt to sell directly to the end customer (B2C). However, this entails assuming responsibilities such as order management, packaging, and marketing.
But manufacturers can also collaborate with distributors to handle product sales (B2B). In this scenario, distributors work closely with manufacturers to promote and increase the visibility of their goods, aiming to enhance sales and facilitate product movement through the distribution channel.
In this eCommerce model, the sales logistics occur online, typically through an ecommerce platform, offering significant growth opportunities. Like other B2B models, distributors strive to reduce the time from sale to delivery and create exceptional customer experiences that exceed expectations.
Amazon, Alibaba, eBay, Target, and other online marketplaces demonstrate the immense potential for distributors to capitalize on online sales and achieve remarkable growth.
Notably, the adoption rate of ecommerce distribution saw a significant 26.3% jump from 2019 to 2020.
To capture and retain customer attention, distributors must embrace more advanced ecommerce technologies, following in the footsteps of Amazon's automated and personalized experiences. Fortunately, this is becoming easier and easier to do thanks to the rapid development of user-friendly AI tools for eCommerce companies of all sizes.
Businesses frequently engage in bulk purchasing of goods at lower prices and subsequently sell them at retail value. These goods are typically procured directly from manufacturers or distributors, constituting the wholesale form of B2B eCommerce.
Wholesale B2B models are popular amongst a number of industries, including retail, food service, construction, and healthcare.
In the realm of wholesale eCommerce, everything is digitized through B2B ecommerce platforms. These platforms enable wholesalers to showcase products more effectively, facilitating a seamless buying experience.
The expansion of the B2B ecommerce market is partly driven by the transition of B2C businesses. However, adapting to this shift entails a learning curve. B2B transactions typically involve larger volumes compared to B2C purchases, often relying on long-standing vendor relationships to foster successful sales.
4. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) stands as a prominent business-to-business software model initially introduced by Salesforce.
Since then, it has rapidly emerged as one of the most dynamic B2B business models for technology companies specializing in digital commerce.
Under the SaaS framework, businesses offer licenses and software access to other businesses. In return, these businesses pay a recurring monthly or annual fee to maintain access to the software.
This subscription-based approach enables businesses to continually benefit from the software's functionalities and updates, fostering a mutually beneficial relationship between the software provider and the subscribing businesses. SaaS has revolutionized the software industry, providing scalable and cost-effective solutions that cater to the evolving needs of B2B enterprises.
A Primer on B2B eCommerce Marketing: 3 Essential Tips
A lot - A LOT - goes into effectively marketing your B2B company. As we've touched on numerous times, what works best will depend on your unique business.
That said, here are three important tips that every business can utilize to see results fast.
1. Create Buyer Personas and Then Give Them Lots and Lots of Content
To effectively scale your strategic content and target buyer personas, it is crucial to personalize your approach and create content that resonates with your important customer segments.
A one-size-fits-all strategy falls short in B2B, as buyers prefer industry-specific content. Publishing informative articles, guides, and videos that address the specific needs and questions of your target customers boosts your SEO content marketing efforts. By producing content at scale tailored to different industries and use cases, you attract more relevant organic traffic, resulting in increased conversions.
If your clients span multiple verticals, you must acknowledge and address their diverse needs. Rather than attempting a generic approach, direct your content to different customer segments and structure your website accordingly.
This kind of targeted approach requires extra effort, but the rewards are worth it, both in terms of SEO for organic traffic and conversions. Identify your audience segments by analyzing your current traffic sources, conducting surveys, and performing keyword research.
Leverage this insight to optimize your pages and create strategic content that aligns with each customer base's unique preferences, questions, and intentions. Testing your content with paid ads can also help you find out what works best ASAP.
2. Optimize Your Site Design and Speed
Optimizing your eCommerce site's design and speed across devices is critical for success both with Google and your B2B buyers.
With mobile-first indexing as Google's default, prioritizing both desktop and mobile experiences is crucial.
Improving your website's mobile user experience is particularly important since many users start their shopping journey on mobile devices and may switch to desktop for the final purchase. Even though most B2B buyers probably use desktops while at work, that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t searching for products on their mobile devices after hours. So, if your initial mobile browsing experience is subpar, they may not return to complete the transaction on desktop.
To ensure mobile optimization, utilize Google's Lighthouse tool. It conducts comprehensive audits of your site's pages, assessing performance, accessibility, SEO, and more. By following Lighthouse’s recommendations, you’ll enhance your mobile performance, provide a seamless buying experience, and increase your chances of retaining customers across devices.
3. Build Out Your Site’s Backlinks
Obtaining backlinks to your eCommerce website can make your competitors a distant memory.
While links to your website bring a whole host of benefits, here are the four most important onces for your B2B business:
1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Backlinks from reputable and relevant websites signal to search engines like Google that your website is trustworthy and authoritative.
Search engines consider backlinks as a vote of confidence, which can positively impact your website's search engine rankings. Higher rankings can lead to increased visibility, organic traffic, and potential customer acquisition.
2. Increased Referral Traffic
Backlinks act as pathways for referral traffic, which can be HUGE for B2B companies.
When other websites link to your eCommerce site, their visitors can click on the link and land on your website. If these visitors are from relevant industries or have a genuine interest in your products/services, they can become potential leads or customers.
3. Brand Authority and Credibility
Backlinks from industry-leading or reputable websites enhance your brand's authority and credibility.
When other websites endorse your content or products/services through backlinks, it builds trust among your target audience. This trust can positively influence their perception of your brand and increase the likelihood of engaging with your business.
4. Networking and Partnerships
Building backlinks often involves outreach and collaboration with other businesses and influencers in your industry. This process can foster relationships, partnerships, and collaborations that go beyond backlinks. Networking with relevant entities can open doors to potential joint ventures, co-marketing opportunities, and access to new customer segments.
Embracing B2B eCommerce in 2023
Well, that was a lot, but you’re now a full-fledged expert in all things B2B eCommerce.
Use this information to take your B2B company to new heights in 2023 by making the most of your company’s website.
Even if progress is slow at first, the long-term benefits of investing in your business’s online presence will include lower cost-of-acquisition costs, higher conversion rates, and increased average order values – a recipe for more profits than ever before.
Need help getting started?
We’re always available to talk. Feel free to contact us to learn how we can make your most ambitious B2B eCommerce goals a reality ASAP.