The B2B buyer’s journey looks more like its B2C counterpart each year, and e-commerce solutions are the newest trend helping B2B marketers create streamlined, consumer-like experiences.
Early e-commerce adopters such as Motoral Oy, a wholesale trade services provider, have been able to provide buyers with a self-navigable channel for easy purchasing and reordering, as well as gather greater insights into buyer behavior and remove the heavy lifting off their sales teams. The company now drives nearly half (45%) of its revenue from the platform.
“Before we started using e-commerce, our business was so dependent on sales reps physically visiting our customers and taking their weekly orders, which was a very costly process,” said Henri Ström, Development Manager at Motoral Oy, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “We wanted to develop a self-service channel for our repeat customers… [And now], we can pull customer data out of the system and utilize that for sales strategy.”
The B2B e-commerce market is growing rapidly, and Forrester predicts it will reach $1.8 trillion by 2023 and account for roughly 17% of all B2B sales in the U.S. According to BigCommerce, the most in-demand e-commerce features from buyers include:
- Easy site navigation (71%);
- Various payment options (47%);
- Bulk ordering options (45%);
- Custom quotes (40%); and
- Product information (37%).
“Keep in mind that 93% of B2B customers would prefer to shop online,” said Manish Dudharejia, Founder and President of E2M Solutions in a contributed byline for Demand Gen Report. “Be sure that your website is supported with a comprehensive, international e-commerce platform that provides these important features and focuses heavily on the CX.”
B2B companies across a variety of industries, such as wholesale, healthcare and financial services, stand to benefit from implementing e-commerce. Cook Medical, a medical device provider, said e-commerce is something they are heavily considering in the future.
“It's something that we've talked about being a future avenue that we can see some of our products going down,” said Abby Adams, Manager of Global Program Marketing at Cook Medical, in a statement to Demand Gen Report. “People just aren't interested in having to jump through organizational hoops for products that they're buying en masse or having to place orders frequently. We all want our purchases to be available at the push of a button.”
Enabling Sales To Better Identify & Serve Customer Needs
In addition to enabling a smooth customer journey via easily accessible information, e-commerce platforms can also help sales teams by removing the manual labor required to take orders and manage the purchase process.
“It helps with a lot of the reupping,” said Steve Casey, Principal Analyst at Forrester, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “If it’s a simple matter of reordering supplies for an existing customer and there’s really no negotiation that needs to take place, then those are perfect applications for e-commerce.”
“We have to get out of that mindset of ‘this is binary and either going to be digital or it’s going to be human,’” said Casey. “Don’t view these things as distinct and in competition, but as complimentary… There are lots of products that people will ultimately purchase through a digital channel, but that doesn’t mean they’ll never speak with a sales rep along the way.”
As a result of shifting the burden of order-taking at Motoral Oy from the sales team to the Episerver e-commerce platform, the company has been able to refocus its salesforce on closing deals and providing customer support.
“We don’t want our human resources to be too tied up in order entry,” said Ström. “We want our human resources to be there for support and to boost sales.”
In addition, Ström says that at a company like Motoral Oy with more than 50,000 products available, it is impossible for the sales team to be knowledgeable on and prepared to pitch them all. Therefore, the e-commerce platform provides an optimal channel for the sales reps to look up product information and prepare for customer calls. It also offers analytics on which customers are self-sufficient and active on the portal, as well as which are not, so the sales team can prioritize outreach accordingly.
Motoral Oy now brings in 45% of its eligible revenue through the e-commerce channel. Ström says it has also helped the company cut down and refine its salesforce, resulting in nearly $500,000 of annual labor cost savings.
“It has really revolutionized the way that we do business,” said Ström. “It’s made us so much more agile than what we were before, and we feel we’re only utilizing maybe 30% to 40% of the [e-commerce] ideas that we could.”
Using E-commerce To Support The Entire Customer Journey
According to Casey, the rapid growth of e-commerce in B2B can be attributed in part to the fact that it offers the seamless experience buyers are growing accustomed to in their B2C lives and now demand in B2B.
“What people love about e-commerce is that it’s frictionless — it’s 24/7 and you can access the information you need whenever you need it,” said Casey. “It’s really a matter of meeting buyer expectations and their experiences today. If you’re not meeting that, they’ll find someone else who is.”
Casey said the value of e-commerce platforms extends beyond just the purchasing phase of the buyer’s journey. Instead, e-commerce solutions such as Oracle, SAP and Episerver enable B2B companies to provide customers with crucial product and pricing information throughout their journey.
“E-commerce is another mechanism for supporting the buyer journey,” said Casey. “It can facilitate, promote and deepen that relationship with the customer, so think about it throughout the entire buyer journey.”
Motoral Oy began using e-commerce in 2014. The company offers roughly 50,000 products, but according to Ström, the average customer only purchases about 200 to 300 of them.
“The mix of customers and the mix of products is really wide,” said Ström. “The e-commerce system supports that and creates a catalogue navigation that is personalized, so different customers see a different version of the catalogue.”
The catalogues include stock levels, product information and imagery, as well as unique pricing. Customers can access the information at any point in their journey by logging into the commerce portal. Ström said the platform also uses AI to recommend products based on user interests and purchase history. Even customers who prefer to buy from other channels still find the e-commerce portal useful, he added.
“We see that a lot of our customers that are not buying from that channel still use the e-commerce channel for product discovery and information lookup,” said Ström. “It’s providing a lot of value for our buyers… The range of our products is so massive, and we have stuff coming in and going all the time, so the e-commerce channel is actually the best possible channel to get the details on everything we have.”