Getting started with B2B eCommerce
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Just as the business-to-consumer (B2C) market has moved online, B2B has rapidly developed to follow suit. People are used to doing almost everything online—from shopping and banking to researching, entertainment, and more—and B2B buyers are ready to bring the “online first” attitude to their work.
In fact, 70% of buyers fully define their needs on their own before engaging with a sales representative, and 44% identify specific solutions before reaching out to a seller (CSO Insights) This underscores the importance of allowing B2B buyers learn and engage with your brand at every step of the journey.
And yet, 49% of B2B companies don’t have a mobile strategy in place. The truth is that the capability exists to move the B2B market online. The B2B merchants who have already shifted their operations to the digital side are enjoying tremendous cost and time savings. Still, there are significant challenges retailers can face when entering the B2B eCommerce market.
Traditional B2C retailers moving into the B2B market might be surprised at how few of their existing systems and processes can translate into the B2B space. But the greatest challenge they’ll face is cultivating the requisite relationships to build and sustain a wholesale business. Your B2B buyers still need to have a trusted relationship with their suppliers. And that makes the relationships you foster even more important, especially considering the heightened level of competition in the B2B space. Retailers entering the B2B market experience challenges trying to scale to meet the increased demands of a wholesale business. Because B2B customers typically purchase in greater quantities and with a larger order value—and because they often repeat these bulk orders— B2B suppliers also can’t afford to jeopardize these orders by understocking.
The impact of mistakes is far greater than in B2C sales given the volume of purchases and ongoing revenue from repeat orders. Your B2B buyers still want to have a trusted relationship with their suppliers. B2C retailers making the leap into B2B can apply their knowledge of the digital experience for consumers to their new operations. In fact, eCommerce is a relatively new concept for the vast majority of the B2B market. While that doesn’t mean traditional B2B sellers are doomed to failure, it does leave consumer-focused retailers with certain advantages as they have built up their eCommerce business knowledge in the B2C space
You’ve already cultivated the relationships that are the foundation of any successful wholesale business, but with the market increasingly moving online, it’s important for the way you sell to do the same. The greatest challenge will likely be the roll-out of your eCommerce solution. Not only is it important to deploy a digital platform that offers a user-friendly experience, but also that you encourage adoption even among your more traditional B2B buyers who might be hesitant to change. It’s important for wholesale retailers to ensure their digital processes and workflows are set up properly so the transition and user experience is a positive one. Not only does the technical solution need to work now, it needs to scale and adapt as your business grows and your needs change.
The B2B eCommerce market is poised to grow exponentially. In fact, various Deloitte reports say that B2B eCommerce is expected to enjoy year-over-year growth that’s 19% faster than its B2C counterpart. That means adopting a digital strategy for your business today can position you as a wholesale leader in the future. As with anything worthwhile, there are challenges; here’s how to overcome them.
The relationships with your B2B customers are the foundation for your entire wholesale business—especially when it shifts into eCommerce. Businesses already in the B2B space should pay extra attention to supporting their existing buyers and hearing any concerns they may have in going digital. This can help you become a trusted advisor to your buyers, ensuring they have the support they need to adopt a new digital purchasing platform. Businesses new to the B2B market should additionally focus on projecting a sense of legitimacy and authenticity when building a customer base. This means working hard to foster a personal and authentic relationship with each buyer. A sense of legitimacy not only makes you appear as a real player in the market, but helps buyers feel confident in your ability to become a successful partner. Professionalism is important. Consider employing a branded buying experience and a price list that is customized for each buyer. This helps buyers feel as though they’re getting preferential treatment. The ability to pay online makes the entire process efficient for your B2B buyers and, because they’re used to digital transactions, further legitimizes your business.
Since B2B buyers often enjoy significant discounts on higher volumes of product, the per-product margins on B2B sales are smaller. This can be frightening for businesses entering the B2B market. B2B businesses simply need to run a tighter ship, ensuring there is no time or money wasted in any unnecessary or cumbersome processes, workflows or tools. Ensure your inventory is always up-to-date and your stock levels are such that you can always fulfill these repeat bulk orders. Automating as many workflows as possible can help reduce needless time often put into tasks like order fulfillment and payment processing. And an online shopping portal greatly reduces the amount of time sales representatives need to spend on the phone or the road visiting customers.
A successful B2B eCommerce operation hinges on your customers’ actually using the online order platform you choose. Traditional B2B buyers might be hesitant to adopt this kind of technology, making it even more important for wholesale merchants to optimize the experience. Consider using incentives to encourage your B2B buyers to make their purchases online—offer discounts on online orders or first access to new product lines. These incentives can also strengthen your relationship with your customers. The online platform itself should present buyers with the same smooth and coherent experience they’re used to as B2C buyers. Many platforms can even be customized to present each buyer with a personalized dashboard that showcases their order history and unique pricing. Of course, all B2B retailers should still readily offer in-person or over-the-phone support should a customer need it. It’s also important to include rich descriptions for each online product listing. These descriptions will effectively replace most face-to-face sales, so it’s important to provide all the information buyers need to make an informed decision. These descriptions can also help to temper any apprehension buyers may have about switching to an online portal. Finally, consider deploying email campaigns to drive adoption. A marketing automation or email delivery tool can send both bulk and individual emails that encourage adoption, answer common questions, and help existing and prospective B2B customers get started on your eCommerce platform.
An organized business is a successful one. Selling to B2B customers involves more complex processes, so ensuring that your workflows and processes are as streamlined and efficient as possible is crucial. It starts with an analysis and a strong grasp of your inventory—across both your B2B and your B2C channels. It’s important to understand whether you have the appropriate stock levels to fulfill both the bulk wholesale orders and the transactional consumer purchases. These inventory levels also need to be readily accessible and updated with data from both your B2B and your B2C eCommerce platforms. You likely already have an order fulfillment and shipping process in place— whether for your online B2C customers or for your traditional B2B buyers. Applying these processes on a larger scale to online wholesale orders adds an extra layer of complexity: there are more channels on which to control inventory, there are unique price points between channels—possibly between customers— and increasing the volume and shipping bulk orders presents its own set of challenges. Having the right software—and integrated tools—is vital to streamlined workflows and effective processes; and that’s integral to a successful B2B eCommerce business.
Your existing processes and workflows will be tested as your business scales. As you foster strong relationships with your buyers and grow your B2B business, you need to ensure your tools can keep up with those buyers’ demands. Managing these demands is challenging in and of itself, but can be made easier through automation. You can develop custom price lists based on buyers’ locations or preferred currency, and you can create custom tax types so your wholesale customers get the big-picture numbers they need to place an order.
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