ARTICLE

The complete guide to B2B eCommerce.

The global B2B eCommerce market is growing. In fact, by the end of the decade, the industry is set to expand by 22.9% [1].  It now has a far larger market share than its B2C counterpart [2].

 

B2B customers are coming to expect the best of both worlds. The frictionless, engaging and agile service they get from their favorite consumer retailers, coupled with the specialist products, order flexibility and reliability of traditional business suppliers.

 

As a B2B organization, how do you navigate this new digital landscape? In this guide, we’ll talk you through B2B eCommerce and how to set up an eCommerce platform of your own.
 

[1] https://www.meticulousresearch.com/product/e-commerce-market-4644
[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/shamahyder/2020/01/02/b2b-ecommerce-heres-what-every-b2b-company-needs-to-know/?sh=3f33efa51271 


What you’ll learn.

 


What is B2B eCommerce?

Simply put, B2B eCommerce is buying and selling between businesses, online.

 

Imagine an office buying paper from a manufacturer, or a baker buying flour from a wholesaler. These transactions have traditionally taken place through catalogs, one-to-one sales, or in physical environments such as warehouses or retail spaces. Today, these corporate purchases are increasingly being carried out online.

 

So, what’s driving the shift?

 

Changing demographics.

As a new generation of business decisionmakers comes of age, buyers are expecting a user-focused digital experience more like B2C shopping sites such as eBay and Amazon, and less like ‘legacy’ B2B buying.

 

These tech-savvy millennials are taking center stage in the workplace. Their purchasing decisions and preferences have changed the way we think about eCommerce and B2B in a very short space of time.

 

B2B eCommerce statistics:

 

  • 73% of millennials are involved in purchasing decisions in their workplace – with 34% the sole decisionmaker, according to Merit. [3]
  • 44% of millennials prefer no sales rep interaction in their B2B purchasing, says Gartner [4]. 
  • 38% of B2B customers choose an online portal as a top criterion for choosing a new supplier, according to research by Sana [5].

 

The impact of Covid-19.

Covid-19 had a major impact in driving the world of B2B eCommerce sales online. Much like Zoom calls and working from home, this could be a practice that sticks around for a lot longer than the pandemic itself.

 

A recent article from McKinsey on the impact of Coronavirus illustrates just how much things have changed.

 

  • Only 20% of B2B buyers want to return to in-person sales.
  • 70% of B2B decision-makers are open to making self-service, remote purchases of over $50,000. 
  • 27% would be happy to spend $500,000 via an online portal [6].

 

In short, B2B commerce is moving away from physical interactions, towards digital platforms. But as a business, what’s in it for you?

 

The benefits of B2B eCommerce.

From streamlining your sales to managing your inventory, there are many advantages to shifting your B2B operation into eCommerce. Let’s consider these benefits in more detail.

 

Reach new customers.

With an online sales platform, your customers can be anywhere in the world – so you no longer need to prioritize in-person sales or local markets. Instead, use digital marketing techniques and social media to drive traffic to your site.

 

Search engine optimization (SEO) can push you above your competitors in website rankings. Interesting, useful website content can help establish you as an expert in your field – boosting brand awareness and credibility. Your B2B eCommerce platform should make it easy to optimize for keywords, and simplify content creation. 

 

[3] https://madewithmerit.com/reports/Millennial_B2B-Report-Merit.pdf

[4] gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/future-of-sales-2025-deliver-the-digital-options-b2b-buyers-demand/    

[5] https://info.sana-commerce.com/int_wp_b2b-buying-process-2019-report.html

[6] https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/these-eight-charts-show-how-covid-19-has-changed-b2b-sales-forever

 

Once you’ve driven a user to your website, a well-managed, visually appealing and user-friendly online store can help prompt an undecided buyer to make a purchase.

 

Look for a platform that makes it easy to design engaging, user-focused sites that drive sales. Simple design tools like a drag-and-drop function allow you to easily move components and buttons on the page – with no IT skills required.

 

Create great customer experiences.

Once your customers have made one sale, a good eCommerce platform makes it easy for them to make a second – and many more afterwards.

 

Features like quick order forms can help returning customers buy the products they need. They simply add individual SKUs to their order, rather than searching for items.

 

Requisition lists store previous purchases so your customers can make repeat orders quickly. Bulk and wholesale functionality is also essential for regular customers who want to self-serve.

 

You can take this a step further with customer-specific catalogs – which can display personalized products and pricing structures. A Tax/VAT toggle also places your customers’ full pricing in black and white.

 

Learn more about inventory management

 

Make your business more efficient.

Integrating your sales platform with your inventory and back-office ERP makes your operations far more efficient – and ensures orders never slip through the cracks. With plugins and integrations for shipping, payments and CRM, all your data is kept in one place.

 

Automatically adjust your prices.

Online platforms use AI and machine learning technology to adjust prices automatically across the site. This accounts for shifting market conditions, including cost and supply and demand.

 

As a result, your sales teams won’t have to manually input price increases, and you can adjust prices to match your competitors.

 

Scale up your business.

Your eCommerce system should grow with your business. A platform with endless customization and expandability will help you respond to new customer bases, cope with increased orders, and manage website traffic.

 

Even cross-border expansion can be made easy with localization, multi-language, international shipping and multi-currency support.

 

Analyze your data.

Tailor your B2B eCommerce website to your specific business goals, with detailed monitoring tools and business intelligence analytics . Use this data to forecast future sales and pick up any slack in your supply chain.

 

Optimize for mobile.

A mobile-friendly website is increasingly important for your business as more and more B2B buyers shop online. Choose a platform that easily shifts between desktop, mobile and tablet to ensure your customers can browse and buy on the go.

 

Types of B2B eCommerce.

There are many different B2B eCommerce models that operate in different industries. Let’s look at these in more detail.

 

Wholesale

Wholesalers buy products in bulk from manufacturers before selling them on to other businesses. This could be a retailer or another manufacturer. They make money by buying large quantities of goods at lower prices and selling them for higher.

 

This model is integral to B2B. You can find examples across retail, food, medicine and construction. Wholesalers rely on longstanding customer relationships and repeat orders. A solid eCommerce platform can make re-supplying customers far easier than in-person sales.

 

What’s more, in an increasingly dynamic market, wholesalers may find new sales avenues through a solid eCommerce platform. Likewise, retailers may decide to expand into wholesaling – a scalable platform can help them do it.

 

What to prioritize when looking for an eCommerce platform

 

B2B2C.

Business-to-business organizations which also sell to consumers are called B2B2C. To understand how this works, let’s use the example of a manufacturing organization.

 

Manufacturers are one of the most prominent varieties of B2B e commerce organizations. They use raw materials, machinery, and labor to create individual components, which are then sold to other manufacturers. These secondary manufacturers may then use the parts to build a consumer-focused product – such as a car or a household device.

 

However, some of these manufacturers may find a niche in B2C marketing too – selling direct to consumers who need spare or replacement parts for their own devices. This sort of distribution can cut out the middleman and appeal to both an established client base of industry manufacturers, and a new consumer market too.

 

For both B2C and B2B eCommerce, a reliable platform can help make an agile switch between business and consumers.

 

Distributors.

Distributors work with manufacturers, wholesalers and other B2B organizations. They often help with the marketing, retailing, sales, and logistics of products on behalf of other companies – sometimes crossing the line between B2B and B2C. A large store, for example, might distribute goods on behalf of a smaller manufacturer to help them reach new markets.

 

A B2B eCommerce platform presents major growth opportunities for distributors – helping them reach new customers and manage both of the supply chain.

 

Dropshippers.

Similarly to distributors, dropshippers are one-step removed from the manufacturing of a product – focusing instead on sales.

 

But dropshipping businesses don’t hold any stock themselves. Instead, they act as a shop window for products manufactured and stored elsewhere. Once they generate a sale, the goods are shipped by the third-party stockist.

 

This gives the dropshipper fewer overheads than most eCommerce businesses, but tighter margins too.

 

These agile businesses can benefit from the scalability and efficiency of a B2B eCommerce platform. This can help them handle higher numbers of orders, reach new markets and create new practices using data drawn from their existing customers.

 

Misconceptions of B2B eCommerce.

Making the jump from traditional buying and selling into the world of eCommerce can feel intimidating. Let’s go through some common misconceptions.

 

I can’t provide personalized customer service with eCommerce.

Traditional B2B commerce relies on close, in-person relationships between clients and sales reps. This makes sense – business purchases are naturally more complex, and the logistics and technical specs of certain orders need a hands-on approach.

 

You might think shifting your operation online will make customer service redundant. However, your sales team can still be on hand to manage orders and customer relationships via an online platform with integrated chat, call and email tools. This allows certain customers the traditional, in-person service they want, and others to have a more autonomous experience.

 

eCommerce leaves me open to competition.

Some customers will often switch between suppliers – cherry-picking the best deals. But many will prefer to buy from a single, trusted supplier. With an online platform, you can build trust and convenience into every transaction.

 

  • Bespoke user experiences, personalized pricing, and repeat order functionality make orders easy for new and returning customers.
  • A good content strategy can help set your brand apart as an authoritative, go-to supplier in your industry.
  • Offers and deals for loyal customers can keep them from switching to the competition – and incentivize sales.

 

Dynamic pricing can also allow you to tweak your price structure to get an edge over your competitors. It also provides reliable, real-time updates to reflect the market fluctuations.

 

It can also hide certain offers and pricing points for different users. So your competitors won’t have access to the same pricing data as your customers. Personalized pricing is hidden behind a login.

 

International sales are difficult to manage.

Managing overseas tariffs, taxes and customs duties can seem an intimidating prospect – and language barriers make them even more complicated.

 

With the right eCommerce platform, overseas sales are easy. Integrated plugins for international payments, language extensions and global shipping partners are all handled in one place.

 

My customers don’t use mobile.

82% of millennials think mobile devices are important to their product research3.  As the demographics continue to shift towards these younger B2B buyers, there’s no doubt that if your core customers don’t use mobile now, they will do soon.

 

Build a website that facilitates browsing, sales and personalized user experiences on mobile, tablet or desktop.

 

Setting up an eCommerce B2B site is too difficult.

Setting up a B2B eCommerce website is easier than ever. With extensive support available, including free, personalized demos, and full integration with your current back-office systems, you’ll be up and running in no time.

 

I need separate B2B and B2C sites.

With an engaging, user-focused site, there needn’t be any difference between B2B and B2C. Personalized user experiences ensure your customers see the content that’s relevant to them – from blog posts and products to pricing.

 

How to get started with a B2B eCommerce platform.

Starting out takes careful consideration. Here’s how to get your new platform up and running in six easy steps.

 

Step one: outline your business goals.

The first step towards making the shift to eCommerce is considering what you want to achieve. Think about short and long-term business goals – and what you want success to look like.

 

Specific goals could include:

  • Improving customer experience
  • Increasing your customer base
  •  Increasing sales efficiency

 

Once you have a good idea of your aims, you can start to consider strategy. Set KPIs and benchmarks for short and long-term milestones in six weeks, six months, one year and two years. These target increases could include web traffic, sales volume or average sale value.

 

Step two: research the market.

Your eCommerce platform should address customer needs. Think about the way you currently interact with your customers, and how this would translate to an eCommerce site. How do they buy products? What are their specific requirements? How could you provide a personalized experience?

 

Some wider market research is also needed. Look at competitor sites and outline what you think works, and what could be improved.

 

If you want to dig even deeper, you could ask your customers to complete a survey. You could also hire a market research company to get even-more-detailed results and actions.

 

Step three: get your team on board.

You’ll need help to implement your eCommerce strategy. Without support at all levels of the business, your platform might go unused.

 

Before you think about creating project teams or hiring new staff, you should get sign off at the top. Outline the benefits and efficiencies of B2B eCommerce with senior colleagues who you will ultimately report into on progress. Create a plan and projections to demonstrate the benefits clearly.

 

From there, you can build a core team that’s committed to the success of the project. If you have the resources, you could hire an eCommerce manager. For smaller operations, create a project team from existing employees who can balance the task around their main role.

 

After this, communicate your plans to the wider organization. Educate them on the benefits of eCommerce and tell them to contact you with ideas or issues. Make the project visible, transparent and popular – aimed at streamlining internal processes.

 

Step four: start getting technical.

Now you’ve got your team, it’s time to consider what you want from your platform. What will give your customers the best possible experience, maximize sales and smooth out internal processes?

 

Think about your must-haves for your first year. Make sure they’re realistic and address a key customer or business need in every instance. User testing can help you understand what customers want from your platform and help you structure the site.

 

Step five: prepare your site content.

Once you’ve outlined the contents of your site, it’s time to put it into practice. Before you start, identify a realistic timeframe to build the site and go live.

 

Next, think about what you’re selling and how it will be presented. Images, information, prices, categories, subcategories. Always consider the user experience first and put convenience and clarity center stage. Visit your favorite eCommerce sites and learn from your user journey.

 

ERP integration can simplify inputting product data – as it syncs with your existing digital systems. It can import existing images, prices, specs and descriptions directly to the platform.

 

Throughout this process, make sure to utilize support and resources to get the best from your platform. This can help you understand everything from budget to digital best practice, plugins to KPIs.

 

If you have budget, you can always hire a professional to do this step for you.

 

Step six: launch your site.

Once your data and content is in place, it’s almost time to launch the site. Before you launch, recruit your colleagues to test the website and flag any teething problems.

 

Remember to closely monitor your platform once it goes live to identify any snags. Promote your new eCommerce platform to your customers, and seek out new ones with digital marketing techniques.

 

Don’t forget – launching the site is the beginning, not the end. Scale your site to accommodate user needs and make sure it’s closely maintained.

 

Case studies.

Want to know more about how B2B eCommerce works? Find out more in these case studies.

 

Material Bank.

The design company’s cutting-edge eCommerce website is powered by Magento.

 

Material Bank empowers architects and designers to find the perfect materials from hundreds of manufacturers, in just seconds. Its unique selling point is simple: Samples ordered by midnight (EST) are delivered via FedEx the next morning in a single box. Samples can be returned at any time and reused, rather than recycled, eliminating waste. And most importantly - this service is free.

 

To power this unique platform, Material Bank chose Magento, powered by Adobe Commerce for its dynamic APIs and open architecture, which represented the best go-to-market solution.

 

“Magento allows us to scale by giving us access to a partner ecosystem and a network of developers all over the world, who can hit the ground running with our platform.”

Peter Fain, COO of Material Bank

 

Carrier.

Air-conditioning giant Carrier Enterprise used Magento to launch a convenient shopping experience across all devices and sales centers.

 

CE set about reinventing its digital experience for B2B customers. With a database that included over 300,000 SKUs, it needed a robust B2B eCommerce platform to house this vast amount of HVAC product information.

 

The brand also wanted to expedite its order fulfillment process for more than 200,000 B2B customers, and to streamline more than seven million annual transactions for better efficiency. They chose Magento for its industry-leading flexibility.

 

FAQs

What are some critical features of B2B eCommerce sites?

B2B eCommerce sites vary in features and complexity. However, you’re likely to find some key features across the board which set them apart from B2C platforms.

These include:

  • Personalized customer areas.
  • Complex pricing – reflecting everything from tax to customer discounts.
  • Minimum order quantities.
  • Bulk, wholesale, and repeat ordering functionality.

 

How do I choose a B2B eCommerce platform?

You should choose your eCommerce platform by doing market research into different products and measuring each platform against your business goals. Choose a platform which has the scalability, user-friendliness and versatility your business needs for its eCommerce operation.


Ready to get started?

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