What is B2B E-Commerce: Definition, Tools, Trends & More
What is B2B E-Commerce?
B2B E-Commerce, or Business to Business Electronic Commerce, encompasses the online – through an online sales portal – sale of products and services between companies. This is as opposed to B2C (Business to Consumer), which describes the online business transacted between a business and individual customers (not a business entity).
Where B2C E-Commerce transactions are relatively simple, B2B transactions are much more complex. In B2C, prices are generally fixed, shipping is straightforward, and quantities are low. In contrast, B2B transactions prices are highly variable, relying on a number of pricing variables throughout. Because business are much larger entities (than individual consumers), the volume of products and services are much higher – and have much more complicated shipping requirements. In addition, B2B E-Commerce markets generally have to deal with much more complex tax and regulatory impediments. The complexity of the B2B E-Commerce market makes the solution requirements and implementation processes very demanding.
Why is B2B E-Commerce Software Important?
Companies not investing in digital channels today are rapidly falling behind their competition. Without a move into digital commerce, companies will lose customers, struggle to compete, and see their margins shrink. Failing to invest in a B2B E-Commerce platform can end up being a costly mistake, and potentially have your business losing out on millions of dollars in revenue. Today, businesses are seeing their customers purchase more online than any other channel. Based off of Forrester Research’s iconic paper The Death of a B2B Salesman, 74% of B2B buyers indicate that buying from a website is more convenient than buying from a sales representative, and 93% prefer to buy online when they have already decided what to buy. This is only set to increase as the millennial generation, one that has whole heartedly embraced the E-Commerce business model, takes over the workforce. Again according to Forrester, B2B E-Commerce is expected to become a $1.1 Trillion industry by 2020. If you don’t think this will affect your business, you are wrong.
3 Categories of B2B E-Commerce
1. Volume Products
E-Commerce solutions around volume products focus on making the ordering process easier. The products represented here are simpler, lower priced items that are often ordered in large quantities. These products are common in CPG, apparel, hardware and automotive supply businesses. For this model of E-Commerce, the value is in enabling customers to place orders in the fewest amount of clicks.
2. Subscription Products
With the growth of the digital age and SaaS, more and more products are offered as a service, and are therefore purchased on a reoccurring basis. Purchasing plans can vary, but it is most common to see the plans set up in a monthly or yearly reoccurring bases – for the tenure of the contract. Instead of purchasing and checking out their products, in this model customers sign up for a service. As a result, E-Commerce solutions must support a unique purchase flow and process.
3. Configuration Products
Examples of these are numerous, but can include networking products, manufacturing equipment, medical devices, or telecommunications solutions. These solutions may be dependent on other offering, and as a result need be bundled together with other products. In this instance, because the offerings are generally of such a high price, customers usually want to get a quote before purchasing.
B2B E-Commerce is set to double the market size of its B2C counterpart. Download this free Ultimate Guide to learn the reasons for this paradigm shift and top considerations for companies going forward.
6 B2B E-Commerce Trends to Watch in 2017
1) B2B E-Commerce Twice that of B2C market
This just comes down to the projections. According to Forrester, by 2020 the B2B E-Commerce market will be worth $1.1 billion. That is opposed to the B2C market at $480 billion. Again, if you don’t think this will affect your business, you are wrong. B2B E-Commerce solutions can sell any product no matter complexity. If you don’t join this wave, you will fall behind.
2) Integration with Configure Price Quote (CPQ) tools
According to Gartner, “by 2018, 40% of B2B digital commerce sites will use price algorithms and configure/price/quote tools to dynamically calculate and deliver product pricing.” Pricing, configuring, and selling B2B products and services is exceedingly complex – and many of the traditional B2C vendors cannot make the transition. Enabling dynamic pricing (through the use of a powerful CPQ solution) can drastically increase deal velocity. In addition, CPQ tools can help provide customers with a more personalized experience, with the opportunity to configure solutions to their personal needs.
As companies continue to automate their Quote-to-Cash process – the numerous processes that stand between a company’s CRM and their back-end ERP (configuration, quoting, contracting, order management) – through 2017, they will increasingly incorporate B2B E-Commerce solutions into this mix. When they do this, companies will have a truly end to end cart-to-cash solution – underpinning a true omni-channel B2B commerce experience. There is massive benefit to be had from connecting an E-Commerce solutions throughout the Quote-to-Cash process, as it allows the seamless transfer of information and the creation of a single view of the customer.
4) Conversational Commerce
From Uber’s integration into Facebook Messenger, to Amazon’s Echo being able to order products through voice command, conversational commerce in B2C is obviously slated to expand dramatically in 2017. What is less obvious is that such trends in Conversational Commerce are expanding into the realm of B2B. Applications such as Max (the world’s first Quote-to-Cash intelligent Agent), are providing B2B companies the technology to take advantage of the conversational trend.
5) Consumer-like Expectations growing
The B2C expectations of instant service are permitting into the B2B space. B2B buyers are expecting the same service from their B2B companies, as they are from B2C companies such as Uber and Amazon. These companies have set a very high bar, and customers now expect this service out of every company they interact with – they won’t do business with anything less. Born in the Cloud E-Commerce solutions have the potential to deliver such an omni-channel, individual experience to their customers – much more easily than legacy, backend E-Commerce solutions.
6) Smart Personalization
Examples of personalization are as follows: products and solutions configured to meet precise business needs, contract pricing presented on the e-commerce experience, automated presentation of the right components and replacement parts based on previously purchased solutions.
Companies are starting to leverage machine learning in the cloud to deliver smart B2B personalization, turning data into insights that drives the best outcomes, even for very complex situations—for example, optimizing a quote for price, discounting and sales compensation based on similar customer and deal profiles. Optimizing across this set of variables is incredibly complex, but, when done right, can result in a major competitive advantage for today’s B2B enterprise.
What to Look for When Evaluating a B2B E-Commerce Solution
Can the solution accommodate these business models?
– Moving from physical sales to a subscription model
– Altering focus from enterprise to SMB customers
– Offering Complex, highly configurable products
Find out if it will:
– Ensure a seamless customer – Omni-channel – experience across touchpoints
– Provide all users with a single view of the customer information
– Generate automatic and accurate invoices
– Allow customers to start a transaction online, but finish with an AE or sales rep – while seamlessly passing the needed information between each
– Allow collaboration with partners and resellers
How to Develop an Omni-Channel Strategy
1. Evaluate Product Portfolio for Complexity
An age old concern of B2B E-Commerce solutions was their ability to handle complex products and solutions. This is no longer the case. Now that it is possible to handle marketing more complicated product bundles and allowing online product configuration, there are new possibilities for selling for selling more complex offerings online. The first step in developing a strategy is to categorize products based on sophistication. It is important to gage which products will always require a professional sales person, and to weave them into the process.
2. Map Customer Journeys
Map the journeys of your customers: their buying behaviors, how they utilize different selling channels, etc. By understanding the commonalities in buying journeys, you can create significant advantages in prioritizing sales and marketing programs for different channels.
3. Match Buying Phases with Channels
Determine the best channel by buying stage. Understanding the moments at which customers progress along their buying journey will help directed efforts to increase conversion rates. Look at how prospects and clients are browsing and researching products, how they use online reviews, when a live person in leveraged, and how renewals and reordering are handled. By knowing this information, companies can better direct prospects towards the channel best suited to closing deals.
4. Address Channel Conflict
Put in place the right rules in place to curtail uncertainty among partners and sales. Partners need to be assured that they will not be under cut, and sales needs to know that they will not be encroached upon – and that their quotas won’t be hurt if the prospect doesn’t go to them. To help remedy the situation, consider heightening lead quality, and having reordering activity count towards the quotas of sales reps, when customers are getting shifted online.
For more information on an effective omni-channel strategy, check out this 4-step action plan now to help drive you to success.