With estimates putting the value of the global B2B e-commerce market at $6.7 trillion by 2020, there’s no question that the future of B2B is digital, and B2B enterprises all over the world are working hard to transform themselves from traditional retailers into accessible, responsive, and sophisticated digital organizations. Naturally, however, making this leap is more challenging for some businesses than others. Companies without sufficient resources or expertise often find themselves focusing too much on only one or two digital strategy elements, while ignoring others whose importance has not been fully realized. And that’s unfortunate because—when harnessed correctly—these frequently overlooked, yet vitally important, points can provide a significant boost to a company’s B2B digital success.
Specific digital strategy elements that B2B companies should take into consideration include:
One major criticism that has been leveled at B2B e-commerce overall is that it all too often leaves the human element out of the equation. Yes, B2B marketing involves buyers who represent an entire company, but at the end of the day, it’s still only one person purchasing from another, and that person—just like a B2C customer—wants to be treated like an individual.
So why don’t businesses do this? Oddly enough, many B2B businesses fear that the personalized elements that their customers are seeking—such as a light, casual tone in business communications—make them seem too amateur or unprofessional. Instead, they fall into the opposite trap of filling their communications and online platforms with industry jargon, meaningless technical phrases, and stock images: all the things that make a business seem faceless and out of touch rather than a place where people are there to help and support their customers.
And businesses that think that all of this talk of personalization is nothing more than a “touchy-feely” marketing gimmick should take note: Gartner, Inc. estimates that by early as 2018, B2B companies that are effectively personalizing their e-commerce sites will be outselling their competitors who lack personalization by 30%.
Many B2B e-commerce sites are so focused on drawing customers to their websites and helping them to easily find what they want to order that they don’t pay nearly enough attention to how those orders are fulfilled and shipped. This is despite the fact that shipping—the B2B buyer’s last step in the purchase transaction—is frequently the one element that can make or break not only that particular conversion, but the overall long-term future of customer relationships.
A 2013 case study on online shopping from UPS bears this out. According to the study, which looked at survey data on more than 14,000 frequent online shoppers around the world, “unexpected shipping charges” are the number-one reason why shoppers abandon their carts, with 61% of survey respondents stating that they had previously abandoned their cart due to higher-than-expected shipping costs, and 50% reported abandoning their cart because their order total ended up below the free shipping threshold.
With such a strong customer preoccupation with shipping charges and processes, this is clearly an area that B2B e-commerce businesses need to take seriously, particularly given the unique challenges—such as international order fulfillment or the multiple touch points of drop shipping—that face shipping procedures in the wholesale market within which most B2B models operate. In order to meet customer expectations and ensure business growth, companies need to place a priority on finding a shipping company partner that is affordable and reliable; monitoring shipments properly; and ensuring that the right documents for customs clearance are correctly filed. Many smaller companies that lack the resources to provide Amazon-style customer fulfillment are turning to outsourced shipping options to help them meet these objectives.
You can’t have personalization without segmentation, which is why this overlooked area of B2B e-commerce is so important. Segmentation means separating your customers, leads, prospects, and overall market into different categories according to factors such as demographics, business needs, specific products, the size of the business and typical order volume, or length of the relationship. Another common set of segmentation criteria focuses on why B2B buyers make the purchases they do. Price, timing, and relationship are all easily divisible motivating factors. When existing customers and prospects are sorted into distinct groups in this way, it’s much easier for B2B businesses to create tailored, personalized experiences for those people in each category.
And how exactly are businesses developing these tailored experiences? One strategy that is becoming increasingly widespread is multiple storefronts: e-commerce platforms that operate via a centralized back end, but which allow for virtually everything on the front end to be unique and segmented: user logins; SEO, URLs, and IP addresses; product lines; pricing structures; and even design and layout. It’s a practice that makes perfect sense. B2B businesses can take advantage of consolidating product catalogs and customer resource management within a single admin console, while at the same time keeping key B2B elements, such as discounts or volume pricing, completely customized. This solution is especially popular among businesses that serve both B2B and B2C customers.