The definitive guide to B2B ecommerce

A B2B ecommerce professional

B2B ecommerce has not been left out of digital transformation. Buyers now expect to complete many B2B purchases online, and businesses that can’t facilitate ecommerce are starting to lose to the competition.

Learning about B2B ecommerce will help you expand business, improve visibility and brand awareness, create better customer experiences, and close more deals.

This post will discuss what B2B ecommerce is, different types of B2B ecommerce, the benefits of using an online platform for B2B, and how to get started using ecommerce for your business.

What is B2B ecommerce?

Business-to-business (B2B) ecommerce is the online sale of products or services between two businesses. The goal of B2B ecommerce is to improve the customer experience (CX) and facilitate more sales.

Selling online is no longer optional for B2B companies. Customers expect an ecommerce option when shopping for products and services and will turn to a competitor if you don’t offer it. The pandemic spurred a flurry of increased activity in both B2C and B2B online sales and the momentum is still growing. According to Gartner, 80% of all B2B sales transactions will be conducted online by 2025.

Types of B2B ecommerce

Different types of B2B ecommerce include manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, B2B2C, and SaaS businesses. Your business may fit in one or more of these types of B2B ecommerce models.

Manufacturers

Manufacturers work with raw materials and parts to create products in volume. They typically have a manual labor workforce and use large machinery to complete many tasks. Manufacturers sell their finished goods to wholesalers, retailers, or other manufacturers.

Car parts manufacturers are a good example. They produce pieces for various car brands and models to sell to other manufacturers who assemble the entire vehicle.

Ecommerce allows manufacturers to reach a wider business audience and to sell directly to consumers — in a D2C model — in some cases. More manufacturing firms are opening up their customer base by selling online. The increased visibility offers a way to build their brand reputation as well.

A B2B ecommerce manufacturer professional

Wholesalers

A wholesaler is a company that purchases products in bulk and then sells large quantities of a single product at a low price. Wholesalers are often a convenient step between manufacturers and retailers.

An example of a wholesaler would be a company that sources coffee beans from farmers and roasters to sell in bulk to retailers or distributors. The buyers then package the beans and sell them to grocery stores or directly to consumers.

Historically, wholesalers have conducted business via phone or paper orders. But B2B ecommerce allows wholesalers to showcase and sell products online using digital platforms that manage everything from inventory and sales to discounts and advertising.

Wholesale operations generally rely on long-standing relationships with customers and vendors. But B2B ecommerce opens up avenues for wholesalers to connect with more potential customers and vendors. It also offers buyers a more streamlined, user-friendly experience.

Distributors

Distributors work closely with manufacturers to learn about their products, bring visibility to them in the marketplace, and promote sales. Manufacturers that don’t want to worry about selling, processing orders, packaging, and shipping rely on distributors to handle the promotion, advertising, sales, and order fulfillment aspects for them.

For example, a distributor would be the company that buys raw materials like coffee beans, packages them into specifically sized bags, and then prints and affixes labels. A distributor would then sell them in volume to grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, and other retailers.

Distributors use B2B ecommerce platforms to make the entire process easier — from managing inventory to advertising products and managing sales. They aim to deliver goods to customers as quickly and efficiently as possible, and a solid ecommerce platform helps them do it.

B2B ecommerce allows distributors to shorten lead times from order to delivery. It also makes it easier to reach a wider audience of consumers while also creating a more personalized customer experience.

B2B2C

Business-to-business-to-consumer (B2B2C) is when two companies provide complementary goods or services to the same end consumer. This partnership often exists between one business that creates products or services and another business that handles the customer transaction.

For example, online retailers and marketplaces like Amazon or app stores are a channel from the business that created the product to the consumer who purchases it. Other examples of B2B2C models are partnerships between manufacturers and delivery service providers, like grocery delivery services.

B2B2C models only exist because of digital transformation and the rise of ecommerce. Manufacturers and wholesalers partner with digital marketplaces so they don’t have to build their own ecommerce tools. Retailers partner with third-party delivery providers with their own apps, to get their inventory in front of digital audiences.

A B2B ecommerce professional reviewing performance reports

SaaS

Software as a service (SaaS) is one of the most popular B2B business models. SaaS companies sell access to software products or services for a recurring fee. B2B companies subscribe so their internal teams can use the platforms and tools.

Most business software is now offered as a SaaS product. In the past, companies bought software on a library of disks that had to be installed on local hardware. Today, most payroll, HR, product management, and workplace software is online and accessed with a login.

The SaaS model works natively on various ecommerce platforms. Individuals and businesses can purchase subscriptions and licenses to use the software from anywhere in the world. SaaS software is sometimes sold, managed, and supported by resellers.

Software developers benefit by allowing solution providers to sell, maintain, customize, and support their software. Promoting SaaS solutions online expands the brand’s reach and lets them concentrate on programming new products, so they don’t have to worry about sales, support, or the customer experience.

B2B ecommerce platform benefits

B2B ecommerce platforms have unlocked significant opportunities for businesses and buyers. As buyers continue to move their business activities online, they expect businesses to meet them there. Businesses that do ecommerce well earn brand recognition, buyer trust, and more business.

1. Close more business

Modern buyers expect to be able to close deals and purchase online. They have come to expect the same conveniences from every company, and if you don’t offer ecommerce, they could buy from someone else.

Ecommerce also allows you to expand into new markets. A good ecommerce platform will include support for multiple countries, languages, and currencies, allowing you to sell globally. Some also offer tools for international shipping and cross-channel sales.

2. Expand existing accounts

B2B clients establish long-term relationships with suppliers and vendors, often preferring to work with them over other options. When you offer ecommerce options to existing clients, it makes it easier for them to expand their business with you.

Many buyers want the convenience of reordering products online rather than calling a salesperson. You could even set up subscription services to automatically process re-orders saving you and your customers time.

3. Improve commerce overall with better analytics

It’s easier to collect data with online purchases than in-store. You can then use this information to perfect your customer profiles, personalize and target marketing campaigns, and improve the overall customer experience.

Many of the top online B2B ecommerce platforms offer in-depth analytics to track customer behavior. These tools provide valuable insight to help you make strategic business decisions. Be sure to evaluate the reporting capabilities when choosing the right platform for your business.

4. Exceed buyers’ expectations

Buyers expect a seamless, individualized user experience (UX), and a modern ecommerce platform is the only way to deliver it at scale.

Smart ecommerce software can help you personalize the customer experience and tailor every stage of the journey to the specifics needs of each buyer. Personalized ecommerce responds to buyer behavior, demographics, firmographics, and more. Customer profiles should update in real time, so every email, social media engagement, or sales call can be hyper-personalized.

Personalized product recommendations are a great way to improve a buyer’s ecommerce experience. Modern ecommerce software uses browsing and purchase history data to show visitors additional products that they are most likely to purchase. They might be products that the buyer has considered in the past, additional options related to a previous purchase, or items that similar buyers have frequently purchased.

5. Manage accounts, quotes, and negotiations easier

The B2B sales process includes managing accounts, negotiating terms, handling quotes, and more. Integrating all these tasks into your ecommerce solution helps keep them organized and business moving forward.

Adobe Commerce (formerly Magento) is the industry-leading B2B ecommerce solution offering extensive capabilities to handle all your ecommerce needs in one package. Some of the features of Commerce include omnichannel support, a mobile-first platform, self-service convenience options, integrations, and customization.

B2B ecommerce examples

B2B businesses are embracing ecommerce to drive business forward. Every company takes a slightly different approach, based on their needs and goals. Some inspiring examples can help demonstrate all the ways that ecommerce is helping B2B businesses grow.

B2B ecommerce example: HP

Hewlett-Packard (HP) expands into Asian markets

HP manufactures computers, printers, and other consumer electronics for businesses and consumers. When HP wanted to expand its Asia-Pacific division with five new websites, the company needed a B2B ecommerce solution to handle the task efficiently. The goal was to implement a system that was scalable for the future but also had a “local feel” for each market.

HP needed an ecommerce platform to support multiple stores globally. Other features that were important to HP were security, easy navigation, and the use of design templates to make getting up and running quick and easy. Whenever a company launches online stores in different regions, it can run into language translation, content, and payment processing challenges. Selecting the right ecommerce solution allowed HP to overcome these obstacles and enjoy a seamless transition with a significant payoff.

The end result was a comfortable “local” feeling online store that inspired 26% of users to purchase their products online rather than in store.

B2B ecommerce example: Rubik's

Rubik’s improves global customer experience

Rubik’s Cube is the #1 selling puzzle game of all time and just about everyone in the US has heard of it. The toy giant decided to take its business online and sell worldwide.

Traditionally, Rubik’s customer experience was limited to a catalog-based website. After upgrading its ecommerce solution, Rubik’s increased sales and improved its customer experience by offering an interactive interface, extra options for toy distributors and resellers, new content, and a streamlined checkout process with a wide range of features.

The bottom-line impact was a 150% increase in UK sales and double the conversion rates within the first six months. Focusing on a holistic CX helped Rubiks exceed buyer expectations and streamline purchase decisions.

B2B ecommerce example: Intelligentsia

Intelligentsia upgrades with mobile UX refresh

Intelligentsia is an upscale coffee retailer in Chicago that imports coffee from Central and South America. The company sells premium coffee beans to consumers, distributors, and suppliers.

Because the coffee giant sold to both consumers and businesses, its staff spent a lot of time manually entering information into its enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Their ecommerce experience was also outdated.

Rather than patch individual problems, Intelligentsia overhauled the ecommerce experience. The new system was built on a platform that integrated with the existing ERP and could handle a large inventory without slowing down. Intelligentsia also prioritized the mobile experience, making dramatic improvements to the UX.

The ecommerce reboot was a big project, but it was worth it. Intelligentsia increased mobile conversions by 34%, mobile transactions by 16%, and mobile traffic by 40%.

B2B ecommerce example: Selco

Selco Builders Warehouse connects with vendors

Selco Builders Warehouse is a UK company that sells building materials to tradespeople and contractors. The building supply warehouse was looking to expand the business and try new avenues of advertising and promotion, and decided to improve ecommerce capabilities to reach those goals.

The company realized that its huge online catalog was difficult for buyers to navigate, so Selco developed the Project Tool App to help users locate exactly what they need faster. The Project Tool App also allows tradespeople to manage projects, find products, and collaborate with their teams globally. The tool adds value to the building supplier’s online store and to its target audience.

This feature increased site traffic by more than 600,000 visits per month and drove revenue up 139% year over year. The seamless all-in-one UX enabled Selco to increase inventory and sell more products online.

B2B ecommerce example: Vink VTS

Vink VTS builds a more agile solution

Vink VTS is a plastics retailer that offers a wide range of materials to construction companies, manufacturers, and automotive businesses — as well as companies in medicine, transportation, and other industries.

Vink VTS wanted to provide a better ecommerce experience for its clients. The growing company reworked the ecommerce solution to give customers a real-time view of deliveries, orders, and invoices. In the process of upgrading, they increased online sales and improved their customer experience, while providing internal teams with a flexible system that could scale with the business.

Rebuilding the ecommerce store gave Vink VTS more flexibility and resulted in 160% more orders. The change also shifted most of the company’s orders from sales calls to online transactions — freeing up staff for other work.

B2B ecommerce vs. B2C ecommerce

B2B and B2C businesses are both selling to online audiences, and those ecommerce strategies have some elements in common. Both B2B and B2C ecommerce require constant engagement with buyers, personalized communication, and omnichannel experiences. Business customers and individual consumers all expect an online storefront, a seamless buying process, and multiple support options.

But B2B and B2C business models, marketing strategies, and sales funnels also have some key differences that carry into ecommerce spaces. B2B ecommerce leaders need to understand how those differences impact decisions about ecommerce processes and tools.

The future of B2B ecommerce

As technology and markets continue to evolve, B2B ecommerce will follow. Statista predicts that 17% of B2B sales will be conducted online by the end of 2023 and that total B2B ecommerce sales will reach $1.8 trillion. Many B2B companies are shifting everything to digital sales in order to serve their audiences better.

Over the next couple of years, B2B ecommerce will continue to catch up to the digital expectations being set by B2C online commerce.

B2B ecommerce FAQ

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding B2B ecommerce.

How do I choose a B2B ecommerce platform?

Finding the right B2B ecommerce platform is essential. You need one that is flexible, reliable, and future-proof to pivot with the changes in the landscape down the road.

Selling to businesses is complex and will require customized product catalogs, granular product details, different payment options, and multiple support channels. For the best overall ecommerce experience, you need a flexible, scalable, and robust platform to handle B2B sales.

How does B2B ecommerce work?

B2B ecommerce is a business transaction between two companies that takes place online. A buyer from one company visits a B2B website to research products or solutions. That buyer may involve other parties to get opinions or help make the decision to purchase. The purchasing agent may use a chatbot or call to ask questions or negotiate prices. Once agreed upon, the buyer will place the order online, and the vendor will receive and fulfill the order.

How do I get started with B2B ecommerce?

Research ecommerce software options and choose one that will work for your business. Build your ecommerce presence and customize it for your specific industry and business model. Modify your online store over time as the market changes.

Adobe Commerce ecommerce platform

What is a B2B ecommerce platform?

A B2B ecommerce platform is cloud-based software that offers the tools and resources to enable online sales. Every ecommerce platform is not the same — each one will have different features and functionalities.

Most B2B ecommerce platforms handle inventory, sales, promotion, customer service, and support. Some are faster and more flexible than others, and some impose limits on how many products you can offer or how much bandwidth you can use.

Can B2B ecommerce facilitate custom quotes and negotiations?

Some B2B ecommerce platforms can allow users to create and edit custom quotes and facilitate negotiations. This is not necessarily a standard feature, so be sure to check before deciding on the platform that is best for your company.

Getting started with B2B ecommerce

A successful B2B ecommerce presence increases sales, allows expansion into additional markets, and improves data analytics for strategic business decisions. A robust, flexible solution can help you exceed buyers’ expectations and easily manage accounts, quotes, and negotiations in one place.

It’s time to get your B2B ecommerce experience up and optimized. Start by evaluating your current software to decide if it offers all of the ecommerce capabilities you need now and in the years to come. If not, it’s time for an upgrade.

Adobe Commerce has set the standard for ecommerce solutions with a flexible, scalable, and reliable platform that offers B2B and B2C businesses everything they need to get up and running fast and grow their online presences.

Take a product tour or request a demo for more details about how Adobe Commerce can help you get started with B2B ecommerce.