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Winning at B2B eCommerce Now and in the Future

Desktop, Tablet and smartphone on desk all with same ecommerce image on screen

B2B eCommerce is experiencing a sea change like never before. Once laggards compared to B2C, B2B companies are adopting digital transformation strategies faster than ever—in large part thanks to COVID-19. And B2B buyers are quickly adapting.

At the recent Digital Commerce 360 event, “The Power Hour: The Real Doers, Movers, and Shakers,” leaders in the B2B space discussed the evolution, current trends and the future of B2B eCommerce in a post-COVID world.

A New B2B Playbook: Create a Customer-Focused Organization

Today, offering B2B buyers easy, self-service shopping options any time and on any device is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s table stakes for companies to succeed in the current eCommerce landscape.

Winning over B2B buyers relies on creating a “customer-focused organization.” These initiatives center on prioritizing customer service, according to Barry Litwin, CEO of Systemax.

To execute this successfully:

  • ECommerce capabilities must be viewed as complements, not competitors, to traditional sales models.
  • Executive-level leadership should drive these initiatives from the top and get buy-in from the entire organization.
  • B2B companies need to invest in digitally savvy talent that can guide legacy leaders and secure skills needed to digitally transform.
  • B2B companies need to be sure they’re building an exceptional customer experience through the entire customer journey.

To guide the digital transformation, B2B companies need a robust, digital-first roadmap. Litwin says there are five keys to a successful roadmap.

  1. Personalization
    The more you personalize the experience, the better relationship you build with the customer.
  2. Video and content
    Customers want to learn through visual means. Using video that provides knowledge positions your company as a thought leader, which is attractive to customers.
  3. User experience
    Customers want easy, seamless ways to do business across all digital channels. Reduce friction by making navigation easy and straightforward.
  4. The digital supply chain
    Include digital communications such as text, email, proactive chat and instant messaging to inform customers about in-stock positions, order tracking, return confirmations and delivery time.
  5. Voice of customer system
    Implement and measure the voice of your customer using surveys throughout their customer journey. These will uncover friction points and quickly expose areas to fix.

There’s no question eCommerce is integral in B2B companies’ success today. Adoption is at all-time high. And opportunities to strengthen the go-to-market and service model is significant.

“Without eCommerce strategies, B2B companies won’t succeed,” Litwin said at the event. “Now is the time to stop following B2C’s lead and start becoming innovators.”

B2B eCommerce in 2021 and Beyond

The rapid acceleration of B2B companies adopting digital-first strategies is showing no signs of slowing, according to Mark Brohan, Digital Commerce 360 vice president, B2B and market research development.

While 2020 saw a sea change for B2B digital transformation, the trends established during the pandemic have now become mainstream. And the growth of B2B eCommerce seems to be here to stay.

Digital Commerce 360 predicts that in 2021 …

  • B2B eCommerce in the U.S. will grow as much as 15% or more as the economy gains steam.
  • Like 2020, when B2B eCommerce grew but that growth varied drastically by industry, B2B eCommerce growth rates will continue, but still varying widely by industry.
  • Challenges to B2B eCommerce growth, such as supply chain disruptions, will persist.
  • Amazon Business—a booming B2B marketplace—will account for significantly more B2B eCommerce market share.
  • There are now more than 250 B2B eCommerce marketplaces serving vertical markets and industries, and these will continue to grow.

How and Why Digital Commerce Wins Over B2B Customers

The pandemic seems to have set in motion momentum for B2B eCommerce growth that is only becoming greater. While more people were forced online to make purchases during COVID-19 in 2020, experts believe they’re here to stay.

According to the May 2021 Digital Commerce 360 Buyer Survey of B2B professionals, 83% of respondents said they bought online at least twice a month during-COVID, compared to only 65% before the pandemic.

At the event, Lauren Freedman, senior consumer insights analyst at Digital Commerce 360, offered up additional insights gleaned from the survey about how and why digital commerce wins over B2B customers.

Key insights include…

  • B2B buyers purchased more during the pandemic because they needed products quickly (65%), it saved time (52%) and it saved money (34%).
  • Shopping online was more convenient because it gave B2B buyers 24/7 shopping access (58%), more inventory transparency (23%) and alternatives to out-of-stock (23%).
  • Shopping online was preferable to B2B buyers who preferred not to interact with sales reps (26%).
  • ECommerce capabilities made it easier for B2B buyers to find sellers (46%), as well as find ample information about products and services (26%).

Additionally, 64% of B2B buyers said digital buying is a high priority—indicating that offering B2B eCommerce capabilities is critical and will remain to be in the future. In fact, 69% of B2B buyers said they will be doing more purchasing online in 2021.

Serving the Digital Customer

The event wrapped up with a roundtable discussion about what it takes to win at B2B eCommerce in 2021 and beyond. And all the participants agreed: It’s all about serving the digital customer.

B2B businesses that got out in front of the crisis—already had or implement automation of multichannel strategies—were the ones that succeeded during the pandemic, according to Ray Grady, CEO of Conexiom. They were better able to serve their customers because, “they could better deal with that unforeseen[RS2]  demand.”

Brian Walker, chief product officer at Grainger, said his company saw a huge spike in online customers who were scrambling to find critical supplies to stay safe during COVID-19. “That meant we had to be quick and nimble to serve best them,” he said.

During the pandemic, Grainger launch a search-by-image feature, which allowed its customers to take a picture of a part or piece of equipment they needed on a mobile device and conduct a quick search with fast results. “Our goal was to save them time and money while making experience more convenient,” Walker said.

Klaus Werner, chief marketing officer of Systemax said to best serve B2B buyers, it’s important for companies to go back to the basics. “Get the right product to the right customer at the right time,” he said. “Make sure your site is stable, customers can easily search products, and ensure your purchase and post-purchase experience is good. B2B companies need to be thinking about the whole customer experience journey.”

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