Building a Better B2B e-Commerce Experience
Digital transformation is an unstoppable force across a wide range of industries. It has the potential to affect virtually every department, from Operations to Marketing to Sales. And in the range of industries we work with, B2B e-commerce is one of the most impactful aspects of digital transformation. In the past, some B2B companies have been tentative, at best, in their e-commerce efforts. They’ve been influenced by their fear of disrupting traditional sales channels, and by long-term customers’ resistance to change or lack of interest in online buying options.
But many of those concerns have since been discredited and the rest are solvable, so B2B marketers no longer have any legitimate excuse to duck the issue. That’s a good thing, because B2B e-commerce is growing rapidly. Forrester estimates the U.S. B2B e-commerce market could reach $1.1 trillion and account for more than 12% of all B2B sales by 2020. Worldwide volume could surpass $6 trillion by the same year, according to projections from Frost & Sullivan. And B2B buyers are digitally savvy: 90% of those under 35 make company purchases online. B2B marketers have no choice but to up their e-commerce game if they want to remain relevant.
Common B2B e-Commerce Challenges
With revenue and customer retention at stake, B2B organizations need effective e-commerce options in place to remain competitive. However, many companies’ current e-commerce offerings create frustrating user experiences and fail to make a return on the organization’s investment. And many more companies have no e-commerce at all, because the complexity of the issue seems overwhelming. The problems that plague e-commerce systems generally fall into one of three categories:
- Usability: It’s too difficult for customers to find what they’re looking for, or the checkout process is too complicated. In either case, it’s easier to call a salesperson.
- Functionality: Buyers want information and control of how they access it. Researchers at Google found that nine in 10 search online during a B2B buying process, and almost three-quarters do so for more than half their purchases. They want an e-commerce experience that provides all the functionality they need to do their jobs — things like order history, custom order requirements, special pricing and product availability.
- Technology: There’s no end of technical issues that can hamstring the e-commerce experience. Slow page load times, awkward or nonexistent mobile experiences, and global access issues create friction for users and can make e-commerce even more frustrating than old-school transaction methods. Not to mention the organizational headaches in areas like data security, IT operations, integration issues with ERPs, accounting programs and other back-office systems — the list goes on and on.
B2B e-Commerce Solutions
Don’t fall into the trap of treating your e-commerce site like an Amazon clone. B2B e-commerce is a very different animal.
The key to solving usability and functionality problems lies in creating an online buying experience based on a clear understanding of the buyers who will use it, the products/services being made available, and the motivations that will get those buyers to make the leap from offline to online transactions.
Every project should start with a thorough consideration of the critical user experience (CrUX) — who is buying, why they’re there, what they expect, and what things that work offline need to work online. Will you need to adapt and personalize content to convert different visitors, or is the journey the same for all users? Should you provide some users an opportunity to speak with an expert instead of just purchasing? Make sure your site includes all the functionality and features your users want and need, or else you’ll end up disappointing them.
Solving technical challenges comes down to your tech-stack. Speed is critical, and many factors can affect your ability to deliver it, including where your customers are located, the devices they use, content delivery networks, local hosting providers, and deployment infrastructure. New projects should include a discussion of infrastructure and delivery requirements at the outset, and ongoing monitoring of relevant site performance metrics should be a permanent part of all projects.
Meet Buyers’ Expectations
Besides revenue generation, there are other important reasons B2B marketers need to optimize any e-commerce experience associated with their brands. A negative online buying experience will certainly tarnish the overall brand experience, and if customers can find a better e-commerce experience from one of your competitors, guess where they’ll head. And as mentioned previously, today’s B2B buyers are more tech-savvy, and have higher expectations around online experiences, than ever before. Even if you’re not currently considering a fully transactional e-commerce experience for your website, your site must be designed to help users move through the sales funnel right up to purchase.
Visually, an e-commerce site should be a natural extension of your online presence, not a weird offshoot or annex that looks and feels different from the rest of your site. It should communicate all the elements of your brand, with the addition of security, stability, and reliability.
Finally, understand that as you move into the B2B e-commerce world, the likelihood of making the right decision at every stage is pretty low. There are a lot of moving parts involved! Testing is critical, and you will need to adjust the experience over time in order to take advantage of what works and improve what doesn’t. If you need assistance, give us a call. We’ve helped many B2B clients find creative ways to optimize their e-commerce experience for customers. Whether you’re just starting to explore e-commerce or need to fine-tune your current online experience, we can help. Get in touch to schedule a discussion today.