When most people think of eCommerce, they think of the consumer-facing variety. B2C eCommerce is often about catering to as many prospective customers as possible, and relaying simple benefits in broad strokes. B2B eCommerce, though, presents very different challenges.
The best B2B eCommerce experiences are carefully honed to meet niche requirements. They take aim at company-wide difficulties, typically for specific industries. And this type of in-depth approach is justified by the immense value of a prospective B2B customer. A B2B company can not only survive but also thrive with just a handful of customers — not so for its B2C equivalent.
But the more complex your approach to sales, the more you’re affected by the changing times. With so much money riding on each and every customer relationship, every B2B seller must keep their eyes on the future, and understand the obstacles they’ll need to overcome.
To help ease the process of adaptation, let’s take a look at the biggest B2B eCommerce challenges likely to face merchants throughout the rest of 2019:
Meeting demand for more useful product content
There’s always been a significant trust gap inherent to the online buying process. You can see product imagery, check dimensions, and read reviews, but you still can’t be absolutely sure that you’re looking at the right thing.
For the B2C buyer, this an annoyance, but not enough to discourage them from ordering. After all, what’s the alternative? Waiting for more well-rounded evidence, or going to a physical store — something that would be comparatively inconvenient?
But the B2B buyer is more discerning. Their needs are more vital, expensive, and practical. They’re not just ordering whichever products interest them. They have managerial demands to fulfill, shareholders to keep happy, and teams to support. This all means that they can’t easily trust to a listed product being the right one. They need to be convinced.
How can this be done? Through expanding conventional product content with modern flourishes such as AR/VR content and case studies driven by rich media. Imagine a B2B shopper looking for new furniture for their office, for instance: with AR content, they could fully preview certain products in their office, confirming that it suited the style before committing to an expensive buy.
Finding an edge over giants such as Amazon
Amazon casts an immense shadow over the eCommerce industry in general, but it isn’t the only cause for concern.
Large-scale distributors are posing problems for B2B sellers — sellers who focus on manufacturing can find it exceptionally difficult to compete with the convenience of the Amazon-style marketplace, while those who try to imitate that approach will pale in comparison.
Put yourself in the shoes of the typical B2B buyer. You might not particularly like huge distributors such as Amazon (you may even actively dislike them), but the onus is on you to make the most practical decision for your business, regardless of your personal feelings.
And buying from Amazon is a rigidly-practical decision, because it’s a known quantity with a reliable support and returns system and one of the best delivery models around.
Now imagine that you’re one of the many B2B sellers trying to get ahead in the current marketplace. What can you do to compete? In essence, you must find some type of unique edge: something specific that sets your business apart. This could be a special delivery scheme, or an unusual level of support commitment.
It also bears considering whether it’s worth using Amazon as a secondary storefront on the basis that it’s going to draw traffic away from you regardless and you can at least get something from it that way.
Creating personalized store experiences
The catch-all approach that’s so common to eCommerce designs is losing its potency as buyers get more used to complex personalization. This applies across B2C and B2B businesses, but it’s a much greater problem in the B2B world because shoppers are fully justified in having greater expectations of targeted experiences.
Why is this? Well, it simply comes down to customer value. A moderate-scale B2C business won’t attribute too much value to a single customer, because their model will rely on hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of customers (be they regular or appearing distinctly on a weekly/monthly basis).
But a B2B business can flourish with a core set of 10 big-money buyers, and a single customer can make a huge difference.
So when a prospective buyer with a huge budget to spend arrives at a B2B site, it’s far from unreasonable for them to expect a rolled-out red carpet when it comes to user experience. Forward-thinking B2B companies must invest in providing this for each type of buyer— putting the time and effort into creating targeted designs and content, selling through a customizable storefront using a B2B-suitable CMS, and assembling a top-notch sales team with the expertise, eagerness and permission to take initiative and find ways to impress.
Reaching out through all suitable channels
Online sellers of all kinds are recognizing the need to adopt omnichannel marketing — or at least make an effort to pursue it. Instead of simply selling through a store website, you can also sell through messaging applications, social media platforms, voice assistants, etc.
In short, a seller should aspire to sell wherever buyers might want to buy, taking a proactive approach.
I say “of all kinds” because this isn’t a B2C-only concept. The impact upon the B2B industry may have arrived at something of a lag (after all, it’s more typical of B2B buyers to use conventional channels — mobile buying for a business-scale purchase is still unusual), but it arrived nonetheless, and now merchants need to adapt to suit.
To an extent, the words “sell” and “market” blur together in this context, because it doesn’t so much matter when the purchase is completed. The point is that a B2B sales funnel must now encompass the entirety of the online world, drawing in potential buyers from all viable channels.
With every passing day, it becomes more common for a B2B buyer to be tech-savvy and inclined to carry out in-depth online research — and any business that doesn’t strive to be discovered in that research is likely to lose out.
Topics: B2B eCommerce