In light of recent world events, many retail businesses have needed to adapt and migrate to online operations in order to stay relevant. With B2B buyers’ expectations significantly influenced by their B2C experiences, it’s crucial for B2B companies to make this shift as well in order to stay competitive.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, total online sales averaged an annual rise of 65% between March 2020 and January 2021. With the increasing prevalence of online sales for retail businesses, B2B businesses can’t afford to fall behind and miss out on these major growth opportunities.
The segment is witnessing unprecedented growth across the globe, with McKinsey research indicating that 75% of B2B buyers preferring the online route to in-person sales. Additionally, only 20% of B2B buyers plan to return to in-person sales in the post-COVID marketplace.
In the long run, having your own dedicated B2B e-commerce platform is an investment that will pay off.
What is a B2B E-Commerce Platform?
A B2B e-commerce platform is a comprehensive software solution for enterprises, typically aimed at manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, and other B2B organisations. They handle all aspects of selling products or services to other business organisations, including inventory management and payments.
A major advantage of many modern B2B e-commerce platforms is the inclusion of self-service functionalities for buyers, helping businesses to manage marketing and sales strategies efficiently across many channels. B2B e-commerce platforms play a major role in delivering superior customer service.
Competitive Advantages of B2B E-Commerce Platforms
Many advantages of online B2B platforms are related to the changing preferences and expectations of the modern B2B buyer. The reasons behind this are evident – at a personal level, B2B buyers are also online retail customers and a growing percentage of them are millennials, a demographic accustomed to the convenience and comfort of shopping online.
Companies can no longer rely on basic websites or email marketing to attract and retain customers. In order to meet their growing expectations, a full-fledged B2B e-commerce solution is essential. But what are its key competitive advantages?
1. Catering to New Online Buyers
Even in the US, home to one of the world's largest B2B e-commerce marketplaces, online sales account for less than 20% of the total B2B segment. However, this number is steadily increasing and the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the trend.
In Australia, which has historically lagged behind other developed nations in adopting online shopping, the pandemic has created a new reality. Out of necessity, millions have been forced to go to online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay.
This includes a significant proportion of baby boomers and Gen X consumers. Inevitably, many members of the latter generation may also be involved in making B2B purchasing decisions in their professional lives. A B2B vendor offering a convenient online shopping experience will hold a competitive edge among this demographic.
Unfortunately, one cannot hope for the situation to go back to pre-pandemic levels in the post-COVID marketplace. Only a small minority of B2B buyers have expressed willingness to return to traditional in-person B2B buying experiences.
2. Adapting to Rapidly Shifting Buyer Expectations
While the older generation is more resistant to engaging in digital experiences, the opposite is true in the case of millennials. As more of this generation enters senior roles of management in business organisations, this will start to have a major impact on B2B buying decisions.
As a tech savvy generation, they are comfortable with online buying – over 60% of their shopping is carried out on e-commerce platforms. Traditional marketing and outreach campaigns will not work on these buyers, as their expectations are considerably higher and evolving constantly.
As B2B buyers, they seek interactive and authentic content from sellers. Instead of relying purely on marketing information, they actively seek out additional information online. To meet this demand, vendors have to focus on omnichannel marketing, with a special emphasis on mobile.
In fact, the vast majority of B2B transactions now begin with a basic mobile search. Speed and convenience are of the essence here – the modern buyers value vendors that are flexible enough to deliver services on demand.
Traditional offline B2B channels are not equipped to meet these buyer expectations but B2B e-commerce platforms are designed to deliver all these features and more.
3. Increased Emphasis on Digital Experiences
The modern B2B buyer puts a premium on the overall buying experience. Instead of generic, cookie-cutter marketing strategies, B2B sellers have to focus on more personalised services – uniquely tailored to the needs of individual buyers.
Consistency is key here and the interactive content has to be seamless across multiple channels – apps, websites, social media, desktops and mobile screens. Across the entire buyer journey, all interactions should be smooth, hassle-free, and uniform across all channels.
B2B firms should also pay special attention to feedback from buyers, constantly tweaking and improving the system to deliver better experiences. All this requires a tightly integrated platform that brings marketing, sales, CRM, and IT teams all on the same page.
Uniting Marketing, Sales and IT Teams on a Single Platform
In business, it is more important than ever to establish and build connections with your customers. Building lasting client relationships is more common and rewarding in the B2B segment.
Digital experiences are often a critical factor that make the difference between a lead and a sale. A digital experience platform (DXP) is a software solution focused on nurturing deep relations with clients.
For example, Liferay's B2B Commerce solution is particularly powerful in comparison to pure play e-commerce platforms due to Liferay DXP’s ability to unite content, commerce and portals to serve the B2B customer journey. This helps to bring your marketing, sales, and IT teams on a single online platform, encouraging better coordination between teams as they serve your customers.
1. Marketing – Improved Customer Satisfaction
The system has a plethora of tools that allow marketing teams to deliver content-rich product catalogues and immersive product discovery journeys for your buyers. At the same time, marketers can tap into advanced audience analytics, helping deliver targeted and personalised marketing content to prospective buyers.
2. Sales – High-Value Interactions On-Demand
While self-service channels have become increasingly popular, B2B vendors often have complex catalogues that can confuse some buyers. With built-in B2B sales tools, DXPs often give sales teams the ability to step in to take action on behalf of accounts when required, without interfering with other channels. With advanced insights, sales teams can act as on-demand experts or consultants who assist B2B buyers in need.
3. IT – Lower Maintenance and Increased Value Creation
In many traditional e-commerce platforms, IT teams are often too busy handling basic requests from sales and marketing departments. This reduces the time and resources available for critical tasks like network security, optimisation, and feature development.
DXP solutions empower marketing and sales teams to handle the daily tasks with relative autonomy, allowing IT teams to focus on creating business value. DXPs bring commerce-related customer data onto one platform which can be integrated with your existing customer-facing systems, helping to provide consistent user experiences.
The Future of B2B E-Commerce
The impact of the recent world events on B2B e-commerce has been far-reaching and many changes are likely to stay. As more buyers experience the convenience of online purchasing, B2B firms will have to adapt and improve their e-commerce capabilities.
A B2B e-commerce platform is a necessity in this ‘new normal’ for B2B organisations. To take this one step further and to achieve maximum ROI and scalable growth, consider how a DXP can help unite content, commerce and portals to serve the entire B2B customer journey.