B2B eCommerce Guide: Streamlining Business Operations
B2B eCommerce Guide: Streamlining Business Operations
B2B eCommerce involves building relationships with leads and customers with the goal of creating long-term partnerships. According to Salesforce, 54% of B2B marketers say they feel “empowered to collaborate” with their sales teams. Collaboration between all team members in a B2B environment is critical for generating leads, managing inventory and maintaining customer relationships.
What Is B2B eCommerce?
B2B eCommerce, or business-to-business electronic commerce, is when businesses sell products or services to other businesses via the Internet. Examples of B2B operations include selling wholesale or to retailers, distributors, organizations or resellers.
B2B eCommerce differs from business-to-consumer (B2C) or direct-to-consumer (D2C) because it involves selling products in bulk to businesses. Unlike B2C or D2C (which involve selling directly to consumers with no middleman), B2B eCommerce helps businesses sell in high-volumes and purchase large quantities of inventory. From there, the business that purchased the inventory resells the goods to the end user.
Selling to businesses comes with many benefits: increased reach, streamlined customer interactions, better sales engagement and more. If you’re currently selling directly to consumers and are considering B2B, then you’re in the right place! Conduct some research prior to making a decision, and continue reading this guide for B2B best practices, marketing strategies and more.
Expected Growth of B2B eCommerce
Statista reports that global retail B2B eCommerce sales are expected to reach $1.1 trillion in 2021, moving the global market substantially upward. With more B2B businesses transitioning from brick-and-mortar to online, it’s important to consider the typical B2B buyer and their expectations.
We’re seeing an increase in Millennial B2B buyers, with 73% of them involved in purchasing decisions. Since the Millennial generation is the majority of the labor force, their buying decisions and processes are impacting B2B operations.
Plus with the uprise of Generation Z, we’re expecting to see B2B eCommerce transform into more of a do-it-yourself shopping experience - eliminating the need for salespeople. This is where investing in a B2B eCommerce platform will really pay off in the long run.
BigCommerce: B2B eCommerce Modernized
With younger generations rising into decision-making roles, B2B companies must optimize their approach to meet these new and changing expectations. BigCommerce, an open SaaS eCommerce platform is designed to help companies of all sizes, build, innovate and grow their online stores. BigCommerce provides merchants sophisticated enterprise-grade functionality, customization and performance that caters to retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers and distributors.
Advanced Technological Features
Leverage BigCommerce to automate customer and pricing segmentation, punch out, purchase orders and net payment terms, user roles, and integrations with major ERP, OMS and CRM systems. No matter the tool your business uses, BigCommerce integrates using pre-built, one-click integrations. Even customize your automation with the BigCommerce APIs.
With advanced search and punchout, BigCommerce’s platform provides faceted search and custom field support for refined searching. BigCommerce partners with other tech tools, like Searchspring and PunchOut2Go, to provide advanced features that elevate their customer's online stores and processes. Searchspring for example, allows online stores to elevate their search, merchandising and navigation capabilities while providing the insights to make data-driven decisions. eProcurement platform, PunchOut2Go, helps automate punchout catalogs and exchange of procurement data.
Meet Modern Customer Experience Expectations
The technical and strategic account management expertise from BigCommerce helps to solve your toughest eCommerce problems, so you can meet your customers where they are. Unlike traditional B2B buying, BigCommerce’s platform empowers companies to build unique and creative website designs for large catalogs, with customer and pricing segmentation down to the SKU level.
With quote management and bulk pricing, BigCommerce makes it easy for businesses to prepare personalized quotes for their customers. Its native CSR generated quote management combined with bulk pricing broken down at the SKU level for each customer or customer group helps sellers meet the needs of their customers.
Also, offer approved customers payment by purchase order and enable a broad spectrum of flexible payment methods and credit authorization. In a BigCommerce survey of over 500 international merchants each relying on other B2B companies for part of their revenue, they found that payment options are a vital part of the B2B eCommerce sales process, with checks and POs heavily used and mobile wallets on the rise.
The same survey found that credit cards are used the most for online payments (94%), while checks (51%), terms (53%) and purchase orders (50%) remain essential for B2B buyers. Mobile wallets, such as Amazon Pay and Apple Pay are on the rise at 26%.
Tips For Getting Started With Selling B2B
B2B eCommerce stores face some technical challenges when planning for success. To help overcome these challenges, be sure to follow these three tips to better manage your inventory and create a positive buying experience for your customers:
- Balance online & offline purchases
- Use order forms
- Offer bulk ordering
Balance Online & Offline Purchases
Balancing the orders placed by your sales team and online transactions is an important component of managing inventory and running your business. When customers place orders online and through salespeople, managing inventory can get tricky.
That’s why we encourage using an ERP system to enable real-time inventory tracking, so your customers can see what’s available (or unavailable) at the moment they’re shopping. The ERP system works by calculating both online and offline purchases, and syncing inventory availability so that your website displays the correct amount on product pages.
Let’s pretend you have a customer interested in purchasing a large quantity of a product, but you only have a limited quantity left. In this case, your ERP system would automatically list the product availability on your product pages, and you’d be saving your customers’ time by not requiring them to call to find out how much is in stock. Your business benefits, too, with an ERP system by ensuring that your popular items don’t run out of stock.
Use Order Forms
If you want to save your sales team a lot of time, then we encourage you to use order forms. If your sales team does not have direct access into the ERP to place an order, they’ll need to either write it up or call it in - which is very inefficient and time consuming. Sales representatives that do place the order themselves are not directly wired into the current status of inventory levels or ship dates because it is so analog.
The solution is to implement order forms which will make your sales team’s efforts much more efficient and make the lives of the customer service team much easier by letting them focus on other priorities. Plus, it will help to “dummy proof” the ordering process and allow for an even more precise accounting of inventory, since the updates will be happening in real time.
Wiring an order form into the seller’s website allows the seller to not only get orders placed but also provide the order numbers and confirmations to their customers in real time. This allows the company to share expected shipweeks for when customers can expect their purchases.
Giving the sales team access to these order forms helps the company submit a sale quicker, and in turn, allows the ERP system to be as up to date as possible. It frees the customer service team from having to enter orders and, rather, allows them to focus on more crucial aspects of their job. That being said, though order forms aren’t the most eye-catching feature when it comes to B2B eCommerce, they do have a significant impact on businesses - allowing for more efficient order processing.
Offer Bulk Ordering
Rather than buying a few items like the average customer, B2B buyers are businesses that need to buy in bulk to sustain their business operations. To accommodate your customers’ needs, we recommend offering bulk ordering so that your customers can purchase as much as they need.
Some businesses gate information, like pricing and quantities, to capture email addresses and ensure the business is a qualified customer. Unlike the days where buyers used a catalog to mail in a purchase order, bulk ordering makes it easy for the buyer to purchase. Requiring zero interaction with the sales representative, this empowers customers to purchase directly from your online store.
Plus with a bulk ordering integration, buyers can customize their orders based on sizes, colors and more. Unlike direct-to-consumer shopping, B2B buyers purchasing in bulk may need to customize various items in their order so that they purchase the exact quantities of each item that they need.
Some B2B sellers even offer their sales team’s skills so that buyers don't have to do it themselves. When a salesperson logs into a customer’s account on behalf of the buyer, the salesperson can easily add products to the cart and place the order for them so that the buyer doesn’t need to deal with it. Whether the buyer chooses to interact with a salesperson or not, businesses benefit tremendously from buying in bulk.
B2B eCommerce In Practice
Perform Group: Using ERP To Manage Inventory
One of Groove Commerce’s clients, Perform Group, uses an ERP system to help the company better keep track of their inventory and orders. Perform Group uses an AS400 ERP to basically run their entire business. This means that every order - whether placed online or through their sales team - is somehow communicated and input into the AS400 ERP.
For online transactions, we transform Perform Group’s order data from BigCommerce into an XML file. That file is then sent via Integrator.io (Celigo) to an Amazon S3 server where we then send those files to the ERP system to be processed. When the processing is complete, it means an order has been placed, inventory has been updated and the fulfillment process will begin.
For offline transactions, Curtain Call - one of Perform Group’s industry leading brands - has their sales team call or fax in a handwritten order where someone on the customer service team will directly enter that order into the AS400 ERP for processing.
Since Perform Group sells entirely B2B, one of their most important objectives is to make their customers’ lives as easy as possible. B2B eCommerce has allowed the company to not rely on their sales representatives and, rather, be directly connected to their customers.
Perform Group’s business is extremely seasonal, so providing their customers with as much accurate information as possible is essential. B2B eCommerce supplies Perform Group’s customers with a direct look inside their ERP by showing them everything they need, such as negotiated discounts, number of inventory available today, order history, a virtual catalog and so much more.
B2B eCommerce Best Practices
In addition to using order forms, managing inventory properly and offering bulk ordering, we encourage B2B companies to follow these best practices to ensure a positive customer experience:
- Provide great customer service
- Optimize your store for mobile devices
- Create a frictionless ordering, delivery and billing experience
- Provide an in-depth catalog
- Leverage eCommerce site search
Provide Great Customer Service
Both B2B and B2C businesses want to drive repeat customers; however, businesses that sell B2B are at a much greater disadvantage when their customers fail to return. Drive revenue and sell more online by providing great customer service to all of your customers.
Establishing solid relationships with your customers (who in this case, are other businesses) is important for the long-term success of your business. Build a strong rapport with numerous people throughout the company to show that your business can be trusted, and improve the customer experience by staying in regular communication with your customers.
Optimize Your Store For Mobile Devices
According to a survey conducted by Google, 59% of consumers say that shopping on mobile is important when making purchasing decisions, and 39% of those with a smartphone are more likely to shop on mobile because it is convenient. Follow this Mobile eCommerce Checklist to ensure you’re following best practices, optimizing the checkout experience and leveraging the tools you need to stay ahead of the competition, like SMS and smart search.
Create A Frictionless Ordering, Delivery and Billing Experience
Automate your order management and product distribution process to create a streamlined B2B buying experience for your customers. Save time and fulfill more orders faster by automating processes like order allocation, warehouse routing, shipping updates, inventory updates and more.
As your B2B sales increase, you’ll want to use an automated order management system to keep track of everything. Improve organizational efficiency with an order management system (OMS) or enterprise resource planning software (ERP). An OMS is great for centralizing order data and managing inventory, while an ERP is used for both of those things as well as financial management, purchasing, CRM, warehousing and logistics and more.
Provide An In-Depth Catalog
Since B2B eCommerce involves scheduling bulk and recurring orders, it’s crucial for buyers to know every detail about the products they’re purchasing. Though your sales team should be available to answer any customer questions and inquiries, try to provide all necessary information up front, so your customers are satisfied with their purchases.
Use a digital catalog or leverage on-site search, so buyers can easily search for and find the items they’re looking for. Don’t forget to optimize your product page design to include high-quality photos and videos of the products as well as installation instructions, reviews and whatever else you feel is necessary.
Leverage eCommerce Site Search
An intuitive search experience is essential for any online shopper, but perhaps even more so for the B2B customer. Visitors who use your search bar are not on your site to browse; rather, they’re trying to locate a particular product, or set of products, quickly. Forcing them to refine and sift through multiple pages to find the relevant item is a recipe for shopper frustration. Your site search should deliver them to the correct set of results instantly, without multiple subsequent clicks.
To really tailor the search experience to your B2B clients, it’s important to understand who the customer is and how they interact with your store. This can include their demographic, why they chose your store, their preferred language, and what search terms they use. Advanced analytics will provide insights on your most common search terms, which attributes are most important to your customers, and how their overall buying journey unfolds as they progress from generic to specific searches. Reports such as “zero results” are also critical to identify where shoppers are encountering “no results found” in response to certain search terms.
With this knowledge, you can tailor the search experience to your B2B shoppers. Create landing pages, link synonymous terms, ensure the filter options are usable and accurate, and leverage boost rules to elevate the right sets of products. This will ensure your customers are still able to find their way to relevant items, even if they are unfamiliar with your product terminology or use vague language in their search terms.
Predictive search is another useful feature to offer in these scenarios. As a visitor begins typing in your search bar, a drop down box with autocomplete suggestions can help them track down the right product in even fewer clicks. This is particularly useful when shoppers don’t know how to spell a specific product name, allowing them to find results by entering just the first few characters.
One particular aspect of B2B search that differs significantly from the B2C experience is the prevalence of SKU-driven terms. Native search functionality usually doesn’t stand up to these types of searches - particularly when it comes to parent-child relationships. Other brand-related and product-type search terms are also more common on B2B sites, making advanced, customizable search functionality essential to cover all of the B2B bases.
B2B eCommerce Marketing Strategies
Additionally, we encourage all B2B companies to implement the following marketing strategies to drive engagement, conversions and repeat purchases:
- Use exciting creative and messaging
- Use social media to humanize your content
- Use gated and ungated content
- Offer customer group discounts
- Use pricing promotions and promote limited-time offers
- Suggest recommendations based on past purchases
Use Exciting Creative & Messaging
The way in which you portray your content and distribute it is just as important as the content itself. Consider the color themes of the social media platforms you’re posting content on. Use contrasting colors to ensure your ads and organic posts stand out from the rest of the newsfeed, and use one clear call-to-action (CTA) within your post to guide users to make the next move.
Use Social Media To Humanize Your Content
If the products or services that you’re selling lack zest, don’t worry. Just be sure to create a social media branding strategy that engages and entertains your target audience. When people notice that your content sounds like it was written by a robot, they’ll immediately lose interest and begin searching for someone else to do business with.
Humanize your content through social media to engage more people and drive more traffic. Ensure your posts are congruent with your brand’s voice, and don’t be afraid to optimize your messaging for various platforms. For example, the way you might word an offer on Twitter vs. on LinkedIn may look very different - and that’s totally okay.
Statista reports that LinkedIn is the second-most popular social media platform used by B2B marketers, ranking only behind Facebook. We encourage B2B companies to leverage LinkedIn as a primary social media tool due to the professionalism associated with it. At Groove Commerce, we primarily use LinkedIn, along with Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, to promote our B2B eCommerce services.
Use Gated & Ungated Content
When selling products or services B2B, we recommend using gated and ungated content throughout your site. Gated refers to content that requires a form submission - like first name, last name and email address - while ungated content refers to information that is accessible to anyone and doesn’t require submission of personal information.
At Groove Commerce, we use gated landing pages for our webinars and guides to capture interested prospects and assist our marketing efforts. We also use ungated pillar pages for our eCommerce resources, like our downloadable guides.
Additionally, Perform Group uses both gated and ungated information throughout their site. For example, customers can’t order a product until they sign in with an account. Once they’re approved as a customer and signed in, they can then take full advantage of bulk discount pricing. However, those who don’t have an account with the company and are not registered customers are not offered bulk discounts.
Offer Customer Group Discounts
Using customer groups when selling B2B is highly beneficial for segmenting customers. Segment customers based on their interests or behavior, like previous purchases, quantities ordered and various other factors that are relevant to your business.
Customer groups are an asset for Perform Group because they allow the company to set up negotiated discounts for customers. When a new customer applies to be a Perform Group customer and gets accepted, they’re assigned a global discount based on their expected purchase volume (determined by the sales representative).
Once this has been decided, the customer is assigned a customer group which has been set up to display pricing with that discount in place. Offering discounts to different customer groups enhances the shopping experience for buyers since the prices displayed include the discount already.
Use Pricing Promotions & Promote Limited-Time Offers
Create a sense of urgency and drive more sales by offering pricing promotions and limited-time offers. Push more shoppers from the consideration stage into the decision stage of the buyer’s journey by incorporating deadlines into your offers.
Entice new customers to purchase by offering things like a “first-time offer” or “starter value,” and persuade existing customers with an additional offer or contract renewal. Using pricing promotions and offering limited-time deals helps your business by increasing revenue and helps your customers by providing them with a great deal.
Suggest Recommendations Based On Past Purchases
We encourage B2B brands to suggest product recommendations to customers and/or customer groups based on past purchases, just like how B2C brands cross-sell. Whether you want a member of your sales team to handle this or want to leave it up to your ERP system, the decision is up to you.
Take advantage of important customer data, like demographics, geo-location, abandoned cart history and more to determine relevant products that your customers may be willing to purchase. Plus, product recommendations help customers navigate through your various products and find things that are beneficial to them based on their interests and past purchase behavior.
Streamline your B2B operations and optimize your store to meet modern customer expectations by focusing on these best practices and marketing strategies. If you need additional help solving technical issues, like managing inventory in one place, we encourage partnering with an eCommerce agency like Groove to create intuitive shopping experiences for your customers and convert more traffic into customers.
About Groove Commerce
Groove Commerce is a full-service eCommerce agency with 13 years of experience helping mid-market retailers design, build and grow their eCommerce websites. As an Elite BigCommerce Partner Agency and Diamond HubSpot Partner Agency, Groove Commerce follows an inbound methodology and delivers bespoke, white-glove service to convert visitors into repeat customers.
BigCommerce (Nasdaq: BIGC) is a leading software-as-a-service (SaaS) eCommerce platform that empowers merchants of all sizes to build, innovate and grow their businesses online. As a leading open SaaS solution, BigCommerce provides merchants sophisticated enterprise-grade functionality, customization and performance with simplicity and ease-of-use. Tens of thousands of B2B and B2C companies across 150 countries and numerous industries use BigCommerce to create beautiful, engaging online stores, including Ben & Jerry’s, Molton Brown, S.C. Johnson, Skullcandy, Sony, Vodafone and Woolrich. Headquartered in Austin, BigCommerce has offices in San Francisco, Sydney and London.
Searchspring is on a mission to give ecommerce teams superpowers. We are giving the worlds’ most creative online brands the user-friendly search, merchandising, personalization, and analytics tools they need to increase conversion and curate unique shopping experiences. Learn more at searchspring.com or visit the websites of some of our most heroic customers like Moen, Fabletics, Volcom, Wildfang, or Alternative Apparel.