B2B Ecommerce For Distributors
Why it matters to your distributorship and where to start
B2B e-commerce is the mechanism by which you market products to other businesses online.
The goal of B2B ecommerce is simple: you want to expand your ability to reach customers, reduce your cost of serving customers, and make it easier for your business customers to do business with you.
Ultimately, your goal is to drive more revenue while optimizing and lowering costs to serve your business customers.
How B2B ecommerce works
When you hear the term "B2B" e-commerce, it refers to the process of two businesses buying and selling goods and services online. B2B sales vary extensively from B2C sales in that a B2C model typically sells direct to end users (consumers) whereas a B2B model sells to other businesses. Those businesses might be wholesalers, resellers, factories, etc. Most B2B transactions involve sales between a wholesaler and a retailer, or a manufacturer and a wholesaler. These sales often use a portal approach for the buyer so that they have tools at their disposal to help them purchase more quickly and easily. For example, it is typical in a B2B sales transaction that customer-specific pricing and inventory is shown so that the buyer knows exactly what their cost is for a product and if it is available or not. This sales portal provides a unique experience to the B2B buyer while still giving them the ability to be efficient in the transaction. Most often B2B ecommerce systems are integrated with an ERP system such as Epicor Profit21 which provides many of the details the B2B seller shares with the buyer.
B2B ecommerce is one of the fastest growing sales paths. Statista indicates that in the US, approximately 12 trillion dollars of ecommerce volume is up for grabs.
Recent technology advances have helped provide B2B platforms with more robust and useful features to help simplify the business transaction process and drive the B2B sales movement. In the past, B2B sales involved a lot of manual labor and marketing. Using digital commerce and processes, B2B businesses increase efficiency and reduce the cost of doing business through various forms of automation.
It is common to find that B2B sellers work in the following areas:
- Large Retailers
- Light Manufacturing
- Large Organizations
- Buying Groups
Using the latest B2B technologies, buyers and sellers can easily interact, manage orders from mobile phones, and get the information needed to manage their accounts and budgets at the speed of light.
What B2B E-Commerce customers say
Advantages of a B2B e-commerce strategy
B2B ecommerce has many advantages including:
- Simplified sales processes between businesses, distributors, suppliers, and manufacturers
- Reduced costs of doing business
- The ability to reach more customers than are possible manually
- A 24/7 presence that is omnichannel and branded for maximum market impact
- Stronger relationships with business partners
- Higher buyer satisfaction
During the recent work-from-home movement, it has become clear that having a platform available 24/7 that is not bound to any geographic location is a powerful stood. The COVID pandemic forced many changes in the way B2B commerce is enacted. Moving into a B2B ecommerce world may seem intimidating, but those that make a move find that their customers are better served, their costs are more controlled, and their futures are more predictable. B2B ecommerce can offer not only a streamlined buyer experience, but new revenue streams for the seller providing a path to growth.
The future of B2B e-commerce
According to DigitalCommerce.com, B2B ecommerce sales increased 17.8% to over 1.6 trillion dollars.
B2B e-commerce is the mechanism by which you market products to other businesses online. B2B commerce represents a major online sales channel for business customers. It appears buys in the business community are becoming more and more comfortable with doing business through online purchasing portals. The popularity of systems such as SAP Ariba and other buying groups has further increased B2B e-commerce adoption. Successful B2B e-commerce platforms will require support for cXML punchout technology and similar methods of enabling business-to-business interaction.
No doubt, phone calls, emails, personalvisits, and sales reps will continue to have a place in the B2B transaction. However, that trend will likely continue to change over time toward more digital forms of procurement. According to Forester, 73% of Millenials are involved in B2B purchasing decisions now. This generation has grown up with technology and is extremely comfortable working in an online environment. The lack of a digital option for interfacing with the Millenial generation and beyond will likely represent the lack of ability to serve them effectively. B2B e-commerce is no longer a nice-to-have, but has become a necessity.
B2B e-commerce featuring personal sales portals, self-service functions, AR visibility, online and mobile ordering will continue to bolster the B2B e-commerce sales process and increase the selling opportunities for businesses that capitalize on this opportunity.
In other terms, B2B e-commerce provides the following benefits:
- You reach more customers with fewer resources
- You can offer personalized experiences that deepen relationships at scale
- Your customers can be delighted with new self-service opportunities that offer maximum convenience
B2B e-commerce isn't a trend that will fade as we emerge from the COVID period. It is a trend that will continue to grow into the foreseeable future.
B2B vs. B2C E-Commerce
B2B vs. B2C E-Commerce are VERY different concepts. In a B2C world, it is common that customers 'shop' online. Users often browse looking for a broad need, with many options that can fulfill their requirement. In a B2B environment, it is more common that customers 'procure' online. This means that typically, they know what they need and have some detailed requirements. They aren't typically looking for "something" that will work, but are typically in need of a specific item, brand, or part number.
Find your B2B ecommerce type
Supplier-focused businesses tend to have many buyers, but a limited number of suppliers. This is common in many industries including Industrial Supply.
It is common that a business may represent only one vendor for a given line of products and they may enjoy territory protected sales.
- What makes their vendor superior
- What drives customers to their vendor(s)
- The value proposition of their vendor vs. the market
- Targeting their particular region and/or territory
Market-Focused businesses tend to represent the products needed to serve a target market or markets. A common incarnation of this type of business is an HVAC supply company, a hose business, or a janitorial supplier.
- Things that drive the markets they serve
- Specialized knowledge that is useful to their market
- The latest trends in their market
- Unique aspects of their customers in the market
Broadly-Focused businesses tend to represent a large variety of suppliers with a large variety of products so that they can serve many different vertical industries at once. It is common for broadly focused businesses to specialize in getting 'hard-to-find' items for their customers. These businesses are expert at sourcing products and getting them to the customer as quickly as possible.
- Sharing their ability to get difficult-to-find items
- Advantages to customers of a one-source location
- Communicate the variety of items they can source
- Their ability to simplify the customer's purchase
Knowing your business focus can help you ensure B2B e-commerce success. Focusing on the right drives for your business and your business customers will help ensure high satisfaction, continued customer engagement, and increased profit margins.
B2B Ecommerce platform must-haves
Unlike many retail-oriented online stores, a B2B e-commerce platform must have specific things to make it perform.
For customers, the site must be focused on performance. This doesn't just apply to page load speed, but also tools and helps that allow users to get what they need quickly and efficiently. Things such as ordering lists and previous purchase items help the site be more useful to the B2B customer.
A B2B site also likely requires integration with a back office ERP. E-Commerce platforms such as WebAlliance offer integration to a variety of ERPs including Epicor Prophet 21, TrulinX, and Acumatica to name a few. This integration allows real-time communication with the ERP so that customers can see inventory, pricing, history, order tracking and more. It also allows efficiency to be driven by having orders placed online automatically imported into the ERP solution reducing work and improving accuracy.
B2B ecommerce best practices
B2C treatment - Even though B2B users are unique, a good solution will focus on providing a user-friendly experience that is embellished with the B2B tools..
Fast website - B2B users are especially conscious about the time they have available to complete a task. The site must be fast and efficient both technically and from a usability point of view.
Excellent on-site search - The search experience a user receives on your site will likely determine their impression of your site. Search needs to be fast and effective guiding customers to the item that is most appropriate for their needs.
Guided product selection - This is a key area where an effective site must provide tools that help a customer find their needed product. Often this can be in way of parts breakdowns, curated product lists, effective categorization, or other methods depending on the type of products being viewed.
Personalize the user experience - Effective sites personalize the experience the user receives based on knowledge of the user. Items such as search suggestions tailored to the user, product solutions that are shown based on history, and the ability to see an online representation of their account with the distributor aide in personalizing the customer experience.
B2B E-commerce - Why it matters to your business
B2B e-commerce is the mechanism by which you market products to other businesses online. As a B2B e-commerce in the wholesale business, it is of key importance to make life more efficient, more effective, and simpler for your customer. It is critical to understand that most B2B transactions are related to procurement vs. shopping and focus with relentless intentionality on making that process as quick and efficient as possible. B2B customers often look for the best place to do business in total. This means that price is only a part of the equation. Partners that save time, are more likely to have the procurement needs available quickly or in stock, or who can reduce the barrier to procurement have an advantage.