B2B eCommerce sites could take
some notes from B2C stores.
Business-to-business commerce has long been a person-to-person process, with salespeople talking to clients over the phone or visiting their offices personally to take orders. As such, B2B websites have tended to revolve around content designed to generate sales leads. They were designed to set up conversations vs. orders.
In a world where more people are shopping online more than ever before, this is a counter-intuitive process. People have grown accustomed to ordering items online in their personal lives, so the expectations for B2B commerce have risen accordingly. B2B responded by making the shopping process on their websites more convenient.
B2B eCommerce expert Lance Trebesch recently spoke at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition about some of the difficulties business people face when they try to make purchases online
. They often can't find the exact items they want to buy because eCommerce websites revolve around trying to get them to fill in lead sheets instead of making an actual purchase right then and there.
"Instead, B2B sites should design online purchasing features that provide business customers with informative content and streamlined site search and navigation that help them quickly cut through the clutter and complete a purchase - but that doesn't mean B2B Web content has to be dull," Internet Retailer contributor Paul Demery paraphrased Trebesch as saying.
The key lies in helping customers get in and get out quickly, as is the case with most modern B2C online stores. For B2B sites, however, this is even more important – browsing through product images and descriptions is less important when making business purchases. Most B2B shoppers already know what they need when they get to the site, so the emphasis should be on allowing shoppers to find items quickly and make purchases.
The most successful B2B organizations are online
The importance of B2B organizations operating an online store should not go understated. According to a recent study conducted by Accenture, some of the most successful B2B merchants are making healthy use of digital storefronts and other Web-based properties (such as social media and cloud applications) to engage customers.
The report deemed these successful B2B merchants "masters"
and noted they were the category of B2B sellers that best understood how to serve their customers. By focusing on making shopping as streamlined as possible, they are better able to improve the overall experience. To that end, masters were found to generate an average 13 percent annual revenue growth, according to the study.
However, only roughly one-quarter of the B2B retailers polled qualified as masters, illustrating that there is still a gap between where the average B2B merchant is and where they need to be. "Business customers are acting more like consumers," explained Robert Wollan, global managing director of Accenture's sales and customer services practice. "They know more about the services on offer, expect more customized solutions and are more price sensitive.
"Companies say they recognize this but the majority are not designing and executing the necessary changes effectively. This creates a drain on profitability and missed opportunities," Wollan added. "Getting B2B customer experience right increasingly determines market success, but too many companies are 'playing not to lose' rather than 'playing to win.'"
Playing to win
Although there is no predetermined formula for success, it should be quite clear that a better B2B online presence constitutes one of the key ingredients. Everything from frontend design to backend operations must be aligned to deliver a transparent, compelling shopping experience to B2B buyers.