In 2013, B2B ecommerce in the US reached $559 billion, more than double the $252 billion spent on B2C ecommerce (Forrester Research).
What's incredibly interesting is that only a small percentage of B2B suppliers currently use ecommerce — If you own a B2B business and don’t currently have an ecommerce site, you are missing out on a huge opportunity.
Below are three benefits of having an ecommerce site for your B2B business:
Help new customers find you – Having an online store which ranks well in the Search engines is a great way for new customers to find your business rather than depending on word of mouth or outbound sales / marketing.
Make ordering easier for existing customers – If you can encourage your existing customers to switch to online ordering, the whole process can be streamlined, making life easier for them.
Cut costs – If customers are ordering online, you don’t need to pay staff to take orders over the phone or process mail / fax orders. Having an ecommerce website also allows you to pack the site with information and FAQs so customer service enquiries should be reduced.
Differences between B2B and B2C ecommerce sites
The main difference between B2B and B2C ecommerce is the type of customer purchasing from the store:
B2C customers tend to complete the whole purchasing process themselves, they start off by identifying a need for a product, then go on to research what products are available before selecting the product most suited to their needs / budget, they then search for the lowest price / best value before finally making the purchase. B2C shoppers are responsive to special offers and incentives such as free shipping and buy one get one free etc.
The B2B purchasing process may be split into several different stages, with a different person involved at each stage. One example could be a company who employ a researcher to search for and compare products, who then passes their recommendations on to a buyer to confirm and purchase the products. In larger companies, there may be five, six or seven different people involved in the buying process, which makes B2B ecommerce considerably more complicated than a B2C store.
It is important that you recognise what kind of customer will be purchasing from your B2B website so you can adapt your website and marketing accordingly.
Two Types of B2B Customer
Let’s keep it simple and split B2B customers into two main groups, brand new and returning.
Brand New - This person has never seen your website before, they will be researching your products and prices and are probably doing the same with several other websites, how can you make sure yours stands out? Offer the lowest price? This is not always the deal breaker, what about additional service? Guarantees, loyalty discounts, fast delivery etc.
Returning – This person liked what they saw on their first visit (or have been passed your site details by a researcher) and are now ready to move further down the purchasing cycle. They may now start adding products to their cart and / or ask you for a quote. At this stage you need to ensure your customer service is first class, you’ve passed the first impressions test, now it’s time to seal the deal.
How to Adapt Your Website for Different B2B Customers
The easiest way to differentiate between brand new and returning customers is to encourage first time visitors to your website to create an account, one way of doing this by making your catalogue available to registered customers only.
This would make the main goal of your site for a non-logged in (brand new) customer to get them to register an account.
Once they are logged in, you can change the focus of your website to assisting with the purchase. You also have the advantage of having the customers contact details so even if they don’t buy straight away, you can send follow ups further down the line.
Experiment with different methods to see what works best for your store and let me know about your B2B experience in the comments below.