Years ago, business-to-business or B2B companies wanting to establish an online presence could get by on having a website that shows a product catalog and sales contact information.
Digital was just another channel then; now, almost all business processes revolve around this space.
In a 2017 research into B2B customer experience, Accenture found that 61% of all B2B transactions start online. Three years and an increased worldwide use of the internet later, and we can probably guess that that number has only gone up since.
It’s clear that a B2B webshop in 2020 should be more than just a digital catalog, but in what way?
One domain that we can look to for inspiration is the business-to-consumer (B2C) industry.
Over the last decade, B2C has been breaking ground in e-commerce: utilizing the power of social media, adapting omnichannel strategies, going mobile-first, etc. to deliver novel customer experiences that now have redefined and disrupted the way we buy and sell—yes, even in the B2B context.
B2B decision-makers have always been B2C consumers in their personal lives.
As B2B moves into the digital sphere, the traditional B2B transaction model is being taken over by a digital model similar to what we experience in B2C. In fact, 82% of B2B buyers “want the same experience as when they’re buying for themselves” (Salesforce, “State of the Connected Consumer”, 2018).
As customers are seeking the ease and convenience of B2C online shopping in B2B e-commerce transactions, it’s worth looking into some best practices from the B2C e-commerce industry and identify how you can apply them in your B2B business.
B2B transactions traditionally involve multiple steps before finalizing a purchase.
Unlike in B2C where a customer can complete the buying journey from research to checkout without any direct interaction with the seller, B2B purchases go through quote requests and proposals, negotiations, and approvals.
This doesn’t mean, however that you can’t provide self-service features for your B2B customers.
According to Accenture (from the same 2017 research mentioned above), B2B customers are increasingly becoming self-reliant, with most of them already more than halfway through the buying process before meeting with a company representative.
Offering self-service features allows for your business to be considered by this significant percentage of customers early in their buying journey.
Self-service features that you can incorporate into your B2B webshop can range from simple aspects like enriched product information (which we’ll further explore below) to allow your customers to access data they need for deciding on a purchase at any time without waiting for assistance, to features like on-site search, workflows like quick reordering of products right within the e-commerce platform without the need for lengthy order forms, and displaying pre-defined custom prices to customers by grouping them into relevant customer groups, without the need to request for a custom quote for most transactions.
Personalized shopping experiences
80% of consumers are more likely to buy when a business provides personalized experiences for them (Epsilon, “The power of me: The impact of personalization on marketing performance”, 2018).
In B2C, personalization involves dynamically displaying relevant products and curated recommendations based on data about the customer, like demographics, location, previous order history, etc.
The same technique can be applied to B2B webshops, but instead of considering individual consumers, you can look at business-specific factors like the company size, industry, time of the year, key decision makers profile, and more.
Ironically, it is easier to “personalize” in a B2B setting, since you generally have more information about your customers. Unlike in B2C where guest check-outs and one-off purchases are common, B2B companies benefit from data gathered in ongoing or retainer-based relationships with customers. Most B2B webshops also require logging in before making a purchase, so you always know who (or at least which company) is shopping.
B2B customers also benefit from personalized experiences by lessening the time needed to browse through an entire catalog. Whereas B2C consumers usually shop at their own leisure, B2B buyers often work within a schedule, so seeing personalized recommendations in a B2B webshop helps simplify their buying experience. (And at the same time, helps in upselling and cross selling your products as well.)
Rich product content
With the wealth of information available on the web, it’s no surprise that customers don’t engage with a brand until late into the buying process.
According to Google, B2B researchers do an average of 12 searches before engaging on a specific brand’s site. 71% do a generic query first, seeking for a product or a solution and not necessarily the business to buy it from.
You’ll find many B2C e-commerce sites rich with product content—informative descriptions, customer stories, and high-quality images—often powered by a Product Information Management (PIM) system to entice customers who are still on the research stage, and to optimize for high rankings in search results. It’s time for B2B webshops to follow suit.
Even if your products can only be purchased by authorized or logged in customers, enriching your product content will open up your site to a wider set of audience (read: prospective customers) who may not have heard of your brand before. You can, for example, display suggested retail prices to visitors who are not logged in.
Getting your webshop found by your target customers has a lot to do with increased search engine visibility, and that starts with optimized site content (along with proper technical SEO implementation, like correct meta tags, schema, etc.).
B2B customers are used to the comfort and convenience of today’s digital transactions. The advent of social media, advanced smartphone features, and smarter search engines and digital assistants, have made it so that practically anything can be had at our fingertips.
In B2C, a seamless and connected experience across different channels is the new norm. Customers have grown used to researching on their mobile phones then continuing the purchase on their laptops without any hitch in the buying experience—and they’re expecting the same with transactions in the workplace.
Implementing a fully omnichannel strategy for your B2B business may take some time, but this is where the industry is heading, in one way or another.
You’d have to consider customer-facing platforms (social, mobile, online marketplaces) and prepare your internal systems (ERP, PIM, inventory) to ensure that no matter what touchpoint your customer meets you at, you’re always providing a consistent and coherent customer experience.
In B2B, this also includes integrating your sales or customer management platform, so that whether a customer directly shops on your e-commerce site or negotiates with a sales representative on a call, everything is aligned.
Leveraging social media
Following up on the previous item, social media is a key part of any omnichannel strategy—and one that’s largely untapped for most B2B businesses.
Today’s consumer is always on and always connected. While it may be unlikely for a customer to make a B2B purchase while casually browsing through social media, these platforms still offer great opportunities for branding and increasing awareness for your business.
More than that, 58% of B2B buyers use social media as a research content (Accenture, 2017). Supplement your webshop strategy with a focus on establishing your social media presence.
Another way to increase your online visibility and get high rankings on search results aside from enriching your product content is by publishing blogs and articles about industry-relevant topics.
Remember that B2B researchers often start with a generic query—at this point in the buying journey, an informative and relevant article can entice your customer better than a well-honed sales pitch.
Analytics and user behavior tracking
From basic traffic analytics that report visitor demographics to heatmaps that identify parts of the page with most engagement, and screen recordings that offer user experience insights on the individual level, there’s a lot of data that can be gleaned on an e-commerce site.
And B2B webshops are no exception.
At the very minimum, you should have a Google Analytics account with properly set up e-commerce tracking. If you want to go beyond the data reported here, though, you can explore user behavior analytics tools like Crazy Egg and Hotjar to gain deeper insights on your customer experience.
Despite their differences, both B2C and B2B involve marketing and selling to humans. Whether personal or professional, your customers have their own needs and desires that they’re looking to fulfill with the solutions you offer.
Now that we’re all increasingly shopping online, there’s been a growing intersection between B2C and B2B customer expectations. So, as it turns out, there’s a lot that B2B businesses can learn from the trends set by the B2C e-commerce industry.
In the next article, we recognize that despite this growing intersection, it’s still just that—an overlap between two separate business models. After taking a page out of B2C’s book, it’s time to delve into the unique features that make a B2B webshop, and opportunities not present in B2C that you can take advantage of in the B2B field.