17 B2B Ecommerce Companies Taking Advantage of a $6.7 Trillion Opportunity (+ How Your Brand Can, Too)
This article was written in collaboration with Gorilla Group, which contributed heavily to the 9 actionable tips you’ll read through below.
Gorilla Group is an award-winning ecommerce service provider – including 4 Webby Awards and 2 Interactive Media Awards – and BigCommerce Elite Partner. Their team works with category-leading brands looking to launch B2B as well as Direct-to-Consumer including Cargill, Citizens of Humanity and Dollar Tree.
By all the most recent reports, analysts have forecasted that global B2B ecommerce revenue will top $6.7 trillion by 2020. As of 2014, U.S. B2B ecommerce alone had already surpassed $5 trillion in revenue.
And yet, as of 2014, only 22% of B2B businesses in the U.S. were selling online.
That’s a lot of revenue for less than a quarter of the businesses in the market for it. So, what’s holding B2B businesses up? Well, a few misconceptions might be the culprit to begin with.
B2B Ecommerce Misconceptions
1. The belief they don’t sell “B2B” (i.e. What is B2B Ecommerce?)
The number one reason many brands say they aren’t selling B2B is because they don’t realize they are already doing it. Selling B2B is a variety of things, including:
- Distribution relationships with large or chain retailers
- Selling to organizations (schools, businesses, non-profits)
- Supplier selling to resellers
You do not have to be a supplier in order to sell B2B. Many online brands are both B2B and B2C –– one such brand is Flexfire LEDs, which receives 80% of its revenue from B2B sales –– and many of these brands even use their same homepage for each audience, segmenting into customer groups for individual merchant accounts.
Assurant’s MyWit site is a great example. Assurant launched a business-to-employee ecommerce website with BigCommerce, saw incredible growth and then used that same site to sell B2B and B2C.
Now, through customer groups, the site is segmented for Assurant employees, wholesalers and regular retail customers.
That said, many B2B sellers are indeed suppliers –– but that isn’t the only type of B2B business out there.
2. The belief B2B customers don’t want to order online
As the new generation comes to managerial and purchasing power age, their preferred method of purchasing (ecommerce) will surpass older processes.
- 72% of B2B customers want self-service access to accounts and orders
- 64% of B2B customers want scheduled deliveries
3. The belief ecommerce requires price transparency.
With low margins and fierce competitors looking to underbid a B2B business, many brands don’t want their prices available to the public.
This safeguarding of the supply chain is understandable –- and it’s why many ecommerce solutions offer price availability only after a customer logs in.
This means only your customers see the prices –– and that prices can be presented exactly as negotiated for individual customers.
You can also use your site to enable product visibility, but require customers who are not logged in to their customer groups (likely a prospect) to call in to get prices.
4. The belief online ordering is cold.
One of the best ways to make sure a customer doesn’t go to a competitor is by building a long-term, personal relationship with them. This is why so many B2B businesses are family-owned and operated. There’s a personal touch to being one of the family: phone calls, dinners, visits and trips.
An online store can seem cold in comparison, but it doesn’t have to be. With 24/7 chat technology that can turn an online chat on your store into a text on your phone, the new generation can communicate efficiently and effectively in their preferred communication channel: text, Facebook messenger or a variety of other options.
In fact, this type of customer service is not only easy to set up, it is highly desired by customers across the board.
See how JMC Automotive Equipment uses chat as well as a highly visible phone number to drive conversions on their site.
5. The belief an online store negates custom ordering.
With B2B customers and wholesalers, the possibility for custom orders is much higher than for a B2C site. And for many B2B businesses, they want to provide for the custom order (which helps with that personal relationship). But custom orders aren’t often an ecommerce norm –- or so many people think.
Thanks to custom quoting tools, unique variants and segmented customer groups, B2B businesses can allow customers to send in a PDF quote 24/7, then evaluate the quote and get back within regular business hours on if the unique order can be filled. If it can, the business can place that customer in their own unique customer group so that next time they order, they won’t have to go through the quote engine. They can just click and checkout the item that is made specially for them.
Here is how Spectrum Audio has set up their quoting tool using Quote Ninja.
No matter what your hesitation is to launching your B2B ecommerce store, know this: nothing needed for a B2B business to prosper online cannot be done.
- Have customers who need bulk ordering? Done.
- Have customers who need specific sizes or materials? Check.
- Have customers with on-going accounts or pre-negotiated rates? Taken care of.
It’s time for your business to take a pie of the $6.7 trillion dollar pie. Here’s how to market to your B2B customers to grow your online sales, streamline your business and focus on what you do best: getting product into the hands of your customers.
B2B Ecommerce Marketing 101
Trending Topics in B2B Ecommerce
1.Educate customers on products, features, and promotions
The concept of an online strategy interweaving content and commerce has a very practical application. If a user is not presented with all of the information –– from sizing charts, to ingredient lists, to how-to guides –– they will seek it elsewhere.
That exploration often results in the consumer entering another purchasing funnel outside your organization’s digital commerce channel. B2B user experiences have transformed from green screen-like portals with limited information into educational avenues that push product and promotions to your buyers.
Why? Because this is the way the online value ladder works.
You prove your value to customers for free through educational content, and then you close the deal once they trust you. Companies using a B2B business model have long done this with conversations over phone or drinks. Now, you need to do it to drive traffic and close sales online.
A great example of how this can be done is over on Bright Agrotech’s site. Bright Agrotech sells to both established and aspiring farmers –– and they provide all possible education to help customers at each stage of their farming business to succeed.
This is only a small subset of all the educational material Bright Agrotech offers. For any offers that are free, of which they have many, the team puts the content behind a gate to drive email leads which they can nurture into customers.
2. Migrate customers from offline to online channels
The number of B2B customers that prefer to speak to a sales rep in person or using phone, fax, or even email will continue to decrease at a rapid pace as Millennial buyers gain more decision-making and purchasing power within their organizations.
Forrester Research estimates that 93% of B2B buyers prefer to buy online when they’ve already decided what to buy.
If your team is implementing a new ecommerce channel, be sure to communicate early and often with your customers. Some companies have been successful in inviting their core customers into beta testing to train, educate, and gain valuable feedback.
Regardless of how you introduce the digital channel, anticipate questions and concerns, and, most importantly, highlight the benefits of migrating to the new platform.
Create FAQs, how-to guides, and interactive navigations to ensure customers can use the platform efficiently.
The Knobs Co does this well by pointing B2B customers to a dedicated landing page from the homepage and clearly stating the benefits of their online purchasing program.
Once you land on the Trade Professionals page, you get further information on why you might want to join the program and purchase from them.
A few things The Knobs Co does really well:
- On Screenshot 1: Information describing what those who fill out the form can expect, from customer service to quality of the product.
- On Screenshot 2: A dedicated form to drive leads so they can immediately contact anyone interested.
- On Screenshot 3: Additional resources at the end of the page so customers can browse other areas if they aren’t yet ready to buy.
3. Use technology to solve ongoing customer challenges
One very large B2B Manufacturer in the Food & Beverage industry used ecommerce to migrate to customer self-service, and was able to decrease error rates by more than 80%.
B2B fulfillment errors are typically exponentially greater than those associated with B2C or direct-to-consumer shopping, due to the nature of the type and quantities of product ordered.
Mistakes can result in truck or trainloads of product being impacted. In addition to the obvious bottom line impacts, the Food & Beverage company was able to consistently deliver the right products on time while meeting expectations.
Instead of dealing with customer service challenges, refunds, and apologies, the company has been able to develop new relationships and introduce ancillary services.
So, how did they do it? It’s about visibility.
Automatic Inventory Management from a Customer Viewpoint
Setup rules to alert customers to inventory counts and show out of stock without having to do a single thing.
Order Dashboard Visibility for the Fulfillment Team
A clear order dashboard is available for your fulfillment teams. You can also use APIs to send order information to an ERP for a real-time sync.
From this view, you can also clearly see the fulfillment process –– what has been sent out, what is pending and why.
Further, beyond an orders dashboard, you can drill into each individual order to see fulfillment stage, order details, PO numbers and more.
To see how all of that looks on the front end, go ahead and visit Restaurantware’s website.
4. Roll out programs that spur loyalty, higher order values, and increased purchasing frequency
After the platform has been deployed, look to other initiatives to continually turn the needle.
Likely, if you are a B2B organization, you supply products that are consumable or will need to be continually maintained and replaced. Allowing for both subscription-based and traditional one-off purchases can lock in buyers, yield higher customer lifetime values, and simplify doing business.
Furthermore, the data can empower your sales team to present and offer complementary products, as well as understand when a customer might be ready to buy.
Industry behemoth Amazon has already begun to implement these programs. For instance, certain products, such as this air filter, can be purchased in regular (monthly) increments.
Example of a recurring billing option on a BigCommerce store.
5. Align business processes and teams to scale
Organizations often find themselves working inefficiently due to resources being in the wrong roles, or process silos that negatively impact momentum.
These obstacles occur either because the digital channel was built as an ‘add-on,’ and not cohesively structured within the organization, or because organic decisions over time have morphed into a structure (i.e. solely Marketing or IT “owning” the ecommerce software) that no longer has an effective foundation for cross channel cohesive growth.
Review your current organizational structure. Re-align your roles and resources. If need be, look outside the organization and hire. Once that structure is in place, have a charter over budgeting and management decisions that impact this digital team.
6. Reduce back-office costs and sunset legacy systems
As commerce platforms become more robust in functionality beyond just a “shopping cart,” their reach and influence within a company’s existing technology landscape is widening.
Lines of traditional applications are blurring as large software companies are acquiring and integrating smaller, specialized software at a rapid pace.
When undergoing a digital commerce initiative, it is important to understand the selected commerce technology platform’s roadmap and what that signifies in terms of capabilities. This knowledge could allow you to trim license and maintenance costs on overlapping technology and reduce technical bloat.
How to Find a Company’s Road Map
Because of competition, many ecommerce platforms do not release their road maps publicly. BigCommerce customers can join in on monthly Town Halls to get updates. For prospects, it is wise to talk to partner agencies which are experts in the B2B space, like Gorilla Group. They will direct you to the ecommerce platform right for your business and explain how all of your needs will be built-in on budget.
7. Ensure ecommerce complements all other sales channels
Internal Channel Conflict is a common pain point for B2B organizations. With industry analysts predicting the demise of the B2B salesman, the online channel is recognized as a legitimate threat.
Organizations that successfully overcome internal anxiety communicate early and often with the individuals that could be affected. The digital teams, alongside sales leadership, should showcase the benefits of customers leveraging technology-based customer self-service and how it can actually help sales members retire and exceed quotas.
For example, in the telecommunication space, B2C-like ecommerce sites often exist for SBMs to order hardware, upgrade their plans or increase their services. Only if and when that customer becomes complex does an actual sales representative take over the account. This approach allows the team to focus more on selling and less on order taking.
See here how NutreeVit follows this approach. They offer a subscription model for self-service customers, and allow for support outreach or a customer portal in order to upsell or cross-sale customers as needed. There is also a clear Chat Box in the lower right-hand corner.vu
This type of model also builds a hot lead list for your salespeople.
One-Click Chat Box
BigCommerce integrates with multiple Live Chat services. Here are just a few of your options:
8. Creating Value for the Human Side of the Transaction
Usability is an essential element in creating value for customers. This does not necessarily mean creating “consumer-like” ecommerce experiences centered on visual and interactive elements. Instead, focus on factors like:
- Site performance
- Robust search, i.e. faceted search
- An efficient purchasing funnel
- Detailed product content
- Simplified checkout to create a “business-like” commerce experience
Check out BuySwings.com’s simplified checkout process that enables various B2B checkout functionalities not seen on B2C sites.
Usability also means empowering customers to take control and complete goals on their terms. Including responsive design as part of the ecommerce software frees customers to research, complete transactions, and manage their accounts, regardless of device. This cross-device enablement can also make sales representatives in the field far more productive and efficient.
Here is CleanAir’s desktop site, with their responsive mobile site beneath.
In terms of engagement, migrating customers to the ecommerce channel should not come at the expense of creating deeper customer relationships.
Enable customer service integration to provide customer service agents with a complete view of the ecommerce system, allowing them to resolve issues in real-time, and act consultatively to recommend cross-sells and upsells when appropriate.
See below how BulkBookstore enabled this feature for their customers.
Best Access Doors does this by showcasing their phone number as well as enabling chat.
B2B customers don’t necessarily interact with the website in the same way consumers do, yet it is important to educate customers and present them with highly relevant information about new products, services, and promotions. Offer targeted content in places it will be seen, like order confirmation pages and within the My Account section.
Here is a good homepage example from Telephone Man Telecom Supply.
9. Creating Value for the Business Side of the Transaction
No two customers are the same. Customize the ecommerce channel to cater to the way they do business and become an indispensable business partner.
This starts by building one-to-one relationships. Use segmentation to present customer-specific catalogs and pricing, as well as introduce incentive programs that reward customers for loyalty and the volume of business they transact.
Then, develop workflows that align the ecommerce ecosystem with the way your customers do business to remove any friction from the process.
For instance, if customers require a multi-step order approval process, the underlying ecommerce platform should be built to support this. On many ecommerce platforms, this is done with a Quoting tool.
Here is what an on-site quote builder looks like for your customers.
Here is what you see on the backend.
The same goes for payments. From enabling Purchase Orders, to checking credit availability and enforcing purchasing thresholds, ensure the ecommerce system conforms to customer needs.
For wholesale brands which need customer financing options, look for ecommerce platforms that integrate with Klarna and AfterPay.
Keep customers in the loop by being transparent with data. Proactively notify customers of backordered items and low inventory counts for products they purchase to minimize any potential disruption to their business.
BigCommerce automatically emails customers their invoices when an item is ordered and a shipping update when it is shipped out. Merchants can use the Orders channel on the BigCommerce backend to dive into any specific area, resend invoices, manage returns and refunds, etc.
And though it’s only applicable in a subset of B2B use cases, enabling punchout to allow catalog feeds and ordering directly through the customer’s procurement system can make the ecommerce channel a powerful tool for building lasting value. That’s why BigCommerce integrates with hundreds of ERP systems, syncing information back and forth in real-time.
25 Experts on B2B Marketing and Ecommerce
Beyond getting set up as a B2B online seller, it’s important that you market yourself appropriately as well. There are crucial differentiations between how B2C and B2B customers want to be marketed toward. That said, those differentiations are becoming more and more alike every day.
It can be hard to keep up pace. We caught up with 25 industry experts to get their take on how B2B brands should market to their customers.
Karl Pawlewicz, Head of Communications, Olark
A 2015 Forrester report by Andy Hoar (“Death of a B2B Salesman”) states: “The data is very clear that B2B buyers now favor do-it-yourself options for researching products and services. By a factor of three to one, B2B buyers want to self-educate versus talk to sales representatives to learn about products and services.”
With this shift in preference in mind, use a CRM to capture every customer conversation and review that data often. For example, if you’re using chat to talk to customers on your website, review your transcripts regularly and look for FAQs. Use this insight to bolster your self-serve help center to make it as useful as possible.
Steve Deckert, Co-Founder, Smile.io
The customer lifetime value of B2B clients is so high that you need to invest in retaining these clients. Over 50% of your budget should be dedicated to keeping them coming back, since they can have CLVs in the range of thousands of dollars per year.
Reward them for their patronage and loyalty. Remember that some B2B buyers CANNOT receive gifts due to internal policies, so when you’re offering rewards give them the option of receiving a discount or a gift.
Krista Fabregas, Founder + Startup Consultant, Fit Small Business
Too many B2B vendors still treat websites as a catalog and take orders via phone or fax. Business customers like to access wholesale pricing and volume discount levels online, and many like to purchase online, too. Implement a full cart checkout experience for B2B buyers, complete with freight and volume shipping options.
David Wiltshire, Founder, Patchworks
Your ecommerce site for wholesale should offer the same level of service you would expect from the traditional method of an account manager on the phone. Consider your customers wants and needs and make it as simple and easy to use as possible.
Integrate your systems for the precise data flow. There’s nothing worse than a customer placing an order for stock that isn’t available.
Ransom Carroll, CEO + Founding Partner, Cart Designers
Use a theme that is built for B2B style interactions or hire an agency to retool your existing theme into a more ‘wholesale’ friendly experience for your customers. B2B customers know what they want more so than B2C, so cross selling and displaying ‘featured’ items might require less focus.
Marcel Munoz, CTO, Thanx Media
Take inspiration from B2C ecommerce, but remember that there are differences. Traditionally, B2C has lead the way for innovation in the ecommerce industry, and B2B sellers can learn a great deal from watching B2C retailers, but the two cannot be treated the same.
One key difference is that B2B tends to involve longer relationships, both before the initial purchase, and as additional or repeat purchases are made. This can be particularly useful for personalization, as more data can be found with a longer buying cycle, but this may require more attention from a traditional sales team and lead to channel conflicts.
Overcome channel conflicts by integrating ecommerce with traditional sales techniques for a positive and effective experience.
William Harris, CEO, Elumynt
Start thinking like a B2C brand. People who make purchases for B2B are beginning to expect your site to operate as easily as Amazon does. You need a better UI, easier navigation, improved product descriptions and more.
Shayla Price, B2B Content Marketer + Writer, Entrepreneur
Segmentation is an essential part of a B2B marketing strategy. Tailoring your brand message to fit the unique needs of your target audience encourages the customer to learn more about your brand and products. So focus your efforts on speaking to specific pain points and benefits that only they will understand.
Johnathan Dane, CEO + Founder, KlientBoost
Consider that depending on the product you’re trying to sell, some visitors will never buy it ecommerce style, but would rather talk with a person. Depending on the customization and nuances your product has, you might find that you’ll do better with a lead gen type of approach.
Jessica Thiele, Marketing Manager, Virtual Logistics
Whether you’re B2B or B2C, consumers are expecting the B2C experience in terms of how they interact with your business online. If you think about it, this makes complete sense: your customer experience expectations as a consumer don’t change when you walk through your business’ front door for a day of B2B buying (or selling).
Make sure the experience is slick and does not violate any preconceived expectations your consumers might have. And when in doubt, use the Amazon customer experience as a benchmark. After all, this is the benchmark experience many consumer unconsciously compare your customer experience to.
Drew Sanocki, Founder, Nerd Marketing
Think B2C. Businesses are just made up of individuals, and they are on Facebook and other consumer channels. Don’t disregard these.
James Thomson, Partner, Buy Box Experts
Understand your unit economics very well so you can create effective volume discounts for B2B customers.
Matt Phillips, President, Phillips & Co.
B2B brands should invest in SEO, as job one is simply being found. Next, make sure your offering is clear and simply organized. Because the web provides so many options that are just a back button away, making sure your site answers a potential customers answer quickly is paramount.
Talia Wolf, Founder & Chief Optimizer, Get Uplift
Make it about the customer. While most brands focus on showcasing their products, pricing and features, what customers really care about isn’t the what it’s the WHY.
There are hundreds of competitors out there competing for your audience, why should they choose you? The key is getting to know your customers, understanding their challenges and telling their story –– not your own.
Most marketers address their customers as numbers, geographical locations or type of browser and completely forget that behind those browsers and screens are people with real challenges, searching for a solution for their problem.
Specifically with B2B products, these challenges are usually more in-depth and require a greater sense of understanding. These shoppers aren’t just buying for themselves, they have a team, a manager and other responsibilities to consider that B2C clients may not have.
If you understand your customer’s real challenges, concerns and needs, you can optimize your site for them, address those concerns first-hand and build an experience that solves their problems and as a result grow your sales.
Alex Birkett, Growth Marketing Manager, ConversionXL
Businesses are still made up of humans, so your messaging still has to be human, too. Don’t think that because you’re a “brand” you have to sit behind this wall of jargon and distracting design.
Text emails with personality convert well. Authentic messaging and content still works on B2B. Don’t sacrifice what makes your brand unique because you think it’s necessary to do so only because you’re B2B.
Jason Dea, Director of Product Management, Telus Health
While B2B buyers are also influenced by branding and vision, more than individual consumers B2B buyers also care about practicality. Make it easy to do business with your brand.
Logistics can often be an especially tricky topic in B2B, so if you aim to target that segment make sure all your shipping, receiving, accounting and return logistics are in place, streamlined, and well communicated to buyers.
Ben Cahen, CEO, WisePops
For B2B businesses, being known as value-additive is critical for sales. First and foremost, value-additive content content ranks well in SEO, which is a huge B2B acquisition channel. Secondly, the buyer’s journey for B2B is different than B2C, and the product will likely go through more vetting. Being associated with value additive content improves your perceived ROI.
Emil Kristensen, CMO & Co-Founder, Sleeknote
I would recommend abandoning the traditional B2B sales methods. Creating a personal relationship with your customers (business or consumer) has become much more important than a great sales pitch.
B2C communication has increasingly become more personal, and I believe that it’s the way to go for B2B communication as well.
Pekka Koskinen, CEO, Leadfeeder
When it comes to B2B sales, the deals are bigger and fewer than B2C sales, so it’s all about making the most of your opportunities. You need to over-deliver on your prospects’ expectations, so they’ll remember you and feel good about teaming up with you.
And you need to be active on as many marketing channels as possible, so that wherever your prospects are, you are available to help them out with useful advice.
Meenal Malik, Head Sales & Customer Relations, Outfy Inc.
For B2B sales, price and product USP are the most important aspects to be highlighted. Promote your products with detailed descriptions, and the product’s unique features highlighted.
Grant Thomas, Marketing Manager, Justuno
The B2B sales process is generally longer and requires multiple marketing touches which means you need to start with leads before you get customers. The best way for B2B businesses to capture more leads is with a lead magnet, also known as gated content. This is a piece of downloadable content that visitors must enter an email to view.
The most effective lead magnets are relevant to the business and to the content of the landing page. For example, if I’m selling software for inventory management and a high traffic landing page talks about the big costs associated with inaccurate inventory counts, I’d present visitors with a guide on how to reduce inventory costs in ecommerce.
Roy Aftab, Founder + CEO, Web Ecommerce Pros
My top piece of advice for brands selling B2B online is to reach their audience with social advocacy. The ROI there is more than any other form of advertisement. The fundamental reason this works is that social advocacy relies on the action and feedback of real people for buying decision. This conversational form of interaction added trust and value to your brand.
Followers are willing to pay high prices when they see influencing personalities using the product. The investment on social advocacy gets you the currency of trust by your customers.
Alexei Alankin, Founder + CEO, Eventige Media Group
Focus on creating a user experience just as powerful as you would expect to have on a B2C-focused web presence. Usability, content, and customer experience are just as important in the B2B environment, as they are within the B2C.
The key difference is that brands are only recently starting to realize this. Many have successfully pivoted, and are already reaping the rewards.
Vishal Wadher, CEO, Atmosol
Know your demographic. We have seen clients that “sort of” understand who their demographic is. They come to us saying, “Millennials are our core demographic,” but we soon find that is not the case, but that Gen-Xers are more apt to purchase.
Make sure you pay attention to the digital tools that you use like Facebook Insights or Google Analytics to make sure that you are marketing to the right groups.
Jonathan Anderstrom, Founder + President, Creed Interactive
Don’t rely solely on your B2B store. Leverage existing relationships and salespeople to help guide and drive customers through your store. Target existing customers to upsell them through the store with more selection, easier ordering, and increased responsiveness.
All in all, it is a misconception that the ecommerce world cannot support the needs of B2B sellers and brands. It is not a misconception, however, that your brand may not be ready. Be sure to allocate the appropriate funds to your B2B site launch –– including work with partners and agencies to build the unique tools you need.
Even though you may need to make an investment, the increase in revenue you can potentially expect vastly outweighs this initial expenditure.
An ecommerce platform like BigCommerce is more than extensible enough for what you need, and some basic SEO techniques for B2B sellers will set you on the path to success. But like any good investment and growth opportunity, there will be a small capital investment upfront.
Don’t worry though. Average launch time is three months –– and sales start pouring in immediately.
Need some examples of B2B businesses putting these strategies to work? Check out our post on 13 B2B brands changing how businesses buy.
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