Though the growing importance of e-commerce for B2B is well known, many manufacturers and distributors are still weighing the pros and cons of moving their B2B channel to a digital solution in 2019. The appeal of a digital commerce solution ranges from offering a much better customer experience to cutting overhead on traditional sales processes. But as those tasked with modernizing the B2B channel know, there are several cons, included security issues, inadequate tools to manage B2B complexity and concerns that user adoption of the new channel won’t justify the investment.
Regardless of where your company stands today, the decision may be made for you in the end. Analysts have predicted that B2B e-commerce market growth will continue, exceeding one trillion dollars in sales by 2023. Failing to adapt to changing customer expectations will give you little ground to stand on compared to competitors that make the move to digital.
Below are common hurdles and actionable steps you can take to overcome them, as well as some of the major benefits you can expect if you succeed.
Con of B2B E-Commerce #1: Poor User Adoption
One of the biggest concerns most companies wrestle with is user adoption. What if you invest months of development, dollars and staff time into building an e-commerce website that your customers never use? Some long-time accounts may be so used to shooting off an email to their account manager whenever they have an order that they won’t see the benefit of using the website.
However, consider the pro: if you are able to move the majority of your customers to an e-commerce site, you can empower them to manage orders on their own, freeing up your sales team to focus on closing new deals or expanding existing business.
If user adoption is your main concern, here’s an important question to ask: Why wouldn’t your customers use your e-commerce site? Today, 74 percent of buyers research their purchases online and 93 percent want to make those purchases online.
If your site has poor adoption, it likely means that it isn’t making customers’ lives easier. A solid B2B e-commerce site should make it easier to research products, schedule recurring orders, monitor order status and keep up-to-date on important product news. If you stay focused on making your customers’ jobs easier and more efficient, then user adoption will follow.
Con of B2B E-Commerce #2: Inadequate Support for Complex Buying Processes
Many of today’s most popular e-commerce platforms started as B2C solutions and expanded into the B2B space. Because of this, some companies are concerned that these vendors don’t fully understand or account for the unique needs of the B2B experience. Given today’s analyst coverage and the evolution of digital commerce platforms, this shouldn’t be a major blocker for your move to digital.
The rapid growth of B2B digital commerce means that vendors are heavily invested in creating success for their B2B customers, and analysts like Gartner and Forrester (among others) regularly cover the highest priority capabilities and trends that these vendors must account for. With a careful vendor review, you should be able to identify a platform that provides out-of-the-box functionality for features such as contract pricing, multiple buyer roles within accounts, purchasing workflows and enterprise scalability to support the growth of the channel.
In addition, leading digital commerce platforms will provide more than core commerce capabilities. With the complexity of products and the need to provide better content resources to buyers, partners and sales teams, many companies are looking for software that can integrate content and commerce in one seamless solution.
The pro here is obvious: by bringing these capabilities together and automating solutions, you can generate new revenues with lower operations costs and higher net margins, all while providing an exceptional online ordering experience to your customers.
Con of B2B E-Commerce #3: Lack of a Human Touch
Because the B2B seller-buyer relationship tends to involve longer periods of time and investment, B2B buyers expect personalized service from their vendors. Self service digital solutions have been increasingly popular with buyers, but companies may fear that a one-size-fits-all approach will lower the quality of their customer service and distance them from their buyers. Luckily, moving to a digital first solution doesn’t have to mean giving up a human touch. A robust B2B digital commerce platform should provide a shared view for both the customer and the account manager. If there is any issue with an order, account managers can log in as the customer, see exactly what they’re seeing and provide support as needed. And, in case it’s not clear, the major pro here is that you get the best of both worlds. Customers are empowered to find answers and manage purchasing on their own time, but their account managers are only a click away when they need them.
Recommendations for Moving Forward
Hopefully, hearing the pros of e-commerce and practical ways to overcome the cons has spurred you to take the next step. If you’re implementing an e-commerce solution for the first time or replacing a homegrown system, here are some recommendations to consider.
- Perform your own research. Within B2B e-commerce, there is a wide breadth of digital maturity and what works for one industry leader might not be the right solution for your company today. Experts such as Brian Beck, Justin King and Andy Hoar regularly provide insights on B2B e-commerce best practices. There are also events like B2B Online and B2B Next that are designed to equip manufacturers and distributors with the latest information on succeeding at B2B e-commerce.
- Challenge vendors. For every digital commerce vendor you talk to, question and confirm their B2B capabilities, including both out-of-the-box capabilities and scalability for future growth. Some vendors may seem adequate while your digital channel is growing, but if you don’t choose a vendor that can support your business long-term, you’ll need to find a new solution sooner than you might like.
- Focus on customer experience. Success at B2B e-commerce isn’t just about technology; it’s about providing complete service experiences to your customers. Don’t leave traditional sales processes completely behind. Your overall goal should be to make these processes easier and the complexity of B2B means that sometimes you need both the digital solution and a human touch to accomplish that.
The Foundation for Great Commerce Experiences
With a customer-centric strategy, corporate buy-in and the right digital commerce platform, manufacturers are poised for incredible growth over the next few years. Get ahead of your competition today by moving away from traditional processes and delighting customers with smooth, easy online experiences.