New services. More personalization. Fresh redesigns. Entirely new platforms. When it comes to eCommerce, is it possible for B2B distributors to have it all?

In the past, you’d probably say no. eCommerce solutions in B2B used to be limited, and compromises on features and functionality were inevitable. These days, newer platforms offer fully-featured solutions that let B2B distributors uplevel their experiences in some interesting new ways.

Of course, with any eCommerce integration, there will always be some decisions made about where investments should go. It’s a question of priorities. What should distributors keep in mind when reviewing possible eCommerce platform investments? Budgetary limitations are always a concern, and sellers need to prioritize investments that offer the best returns on functionality and efficiency.

Distributors and wholesalers can’t afford to miss out on the commerce features that give them a competitive edge. In our view, the following five priorities should remain top-of-mind during your decision.

Priority #1 – Increase Sales

A clear priority for any B2B seller is boosting those top line sales. And the good news is that things are trending up. Things are trending up. Research indicates that as many as 17% of all B2B sales will be generated digitally by 2023, reaching a total value of $1.8 trillion.

It’s an obvious goal, right? More sales equal more revenue. But there’s more to it than simply building out your marketing pipeline and capturing more leads for your funnel. If you skip ahead and look below, two of the other eCommerce priorities are focused on improving customer service and driving repeat business – both representing after-sales goals. 

The overarching idea here is that distributors can best increase sales by driving repeat business and selling more to existing customers. Not that new customers should be neglected – only that B2B sellers should maintain a clear customer focus that lets them better serve both established and fresh buyers.

In terms of eCommerce investments, are there key initiatives you can implement quickly to help increase top line sales and show an ROI on the investment? Assess your business for opportunities. If you’ve noticed any technical limitations or integration gaps in your current eCommerce system, that’s a good place to start. 

Look for ways to provide more to your customers and keep them invested in what you’re offering. Many distributors think they’ll gain new customers simply from launching an online storefront, but this isn’t the case. You’ll need to work on your customer relationships and build brand loyalty over time, whether you’re selling in-person or online.

Priority #2 – Improve Customer Experience

Another easy target is your customer service – a particularly valuable goal for eCommerce, given that B2B companies see digital interactions as two to three times more important to their customers than traditional sales interactions.

And while “customer service” is an oft-thrown-around marketing term, you can also look at it as customer efficiency. How can you invest your resources to make it easier for customers to shop with you? Consider your eCommerce experience from end to end:

Think about these issues and lean on your customers for further insights. Identify one or two of the top service requests you most commonly receive and consider the role of technology in the equation. If you were to use technology to alleviate these requests, what kind of impact would it have on your business? 

The customer experience is a foundational element of eCommerce. Most likely, solving these customer service issues would help provide solutions for your other priorities as well. For example, if you could respond to customer quotes faster, would that result in an increase in sales? (Referring back to priority number one.) Keep the big picture in mind as you plan your investments.

Priority #3 – Generate Repeat Business

Of all the types of commerce out there, we’re continuing to see big interest in subscription ordering for B2B companies. Recent projections forecast that the subscription eCommerce market will grow to $478 billion by 2025, with an impressive compound annual growth rate of 68%. In other words, big opportunities for eCommerce businesses.

As consumers become more comfortable with subscription-based purchasing in their personal lives, they’re becoming more willing to integrate it in their business lives as well. The convenience is a win-win for buyers and sellers. 

Aside from how subscriptions modernize your commerce experience, don’t forget that subscription ordering supports simple repeat orders as well. It’s as simple as duplicating a previous order and allowing the customer to modify or adjust before placing it, making it easy for them to keep buying with little effort.

This push for repeat business is a trend that’s here to stay. In one survey, B2B manufacturers were asked about their main strategic objectives for after-sales customer outreach: 

Noticing a theme? B2B companies are increasingly investing in solutions that offer simple repeat purchases, better satisfaction, and higher efficiency across the board. Look for ways to serve your existing customers with new products or services on your storefront. Marketers often place significant focus on how to acquire new prospects, but it’s usually easier to drive additional business from those who already work with you. 

Priority #4 – Improve Sales Efficiency

One of the most common concerns we’ve heard from companies is how potential eCommerce investments will affect their sales representatives and teams. Will it detract from their sales? Replace them altogether?

Remember, a significant part of the buyer’s journey happens well before any contact is made with your sales team (over half of the research process, in fact). As such, you should direct your eCommerce investments towards functions that augment your sales teams’ efforts. 

For example, if you set up simple subscription ordering packages that replenish a customer’s supply of low-cost component parts, your team won’t need to worry about facilitating those low-value transactions. They can let the platform do the heavy lifting while focusing their resources on larger opportunities that require an in-person touch.

Note that one isn’t replacing the other – both the digital experience and sales teams work together to support one another. You’ll likely find that there are certain types of transactions that are better suited to your storefront and some that are better handled by in-person staff. Smaller transactions and one-off purchases are the domain of your online storefront. But when you have higher-value purchases at stake, or when prospects need more information and support before committing, it pays to have a sales team ready to respond.

Priority #5 – Product Investment

If anything can be described as “sexy” in B2B eCommerce - it’s not product data. 

We’ve seen too many companies fail to invest the time and effort to add their complete product catalog online due to the hassle of data management. And if they do, the products they’ve added may lack critical information. If customers don’t understand the capabilities, features, and differences of your products, they’re going to shop elsewhere. 

Research by Gartner shows how important having the right information on hand is to the buying cycle: Customers who found the information they received from suppliers to be helpful for decision support were 2.8 times more likely to experience a high degree of purchase ease, and three times more likely to purchase bigger solutions with less regret.

Investing more in your product data is the answer here. This investment can take the form of product information, such as technical documents, specifications, or even videos. These become more necessary for bigger ticket items, which usually require more research. A simple product image won’t cut it. 

Aside from the content, consider investing in other services that help you create more dynamic content, such as copywriting. Strong product copy is an important part of describing the value of your product, making your pitch, and driving ongoing business across your product line. 

If your eCommerce platform supports rich merchandising and dynamic listing pages, investing in both additional pages and the content to explain and promote the products can be helpful too. If measured, these pages drive additional traffic and conversions by addressing possible product gaps and displaying products as the customer thinks of them. 

Your Top Priorities for B2B Commerce Investment

If your company is serious about taking your B2B eCommerce efforts to the next level, chances are that your company identifies with some, or all, of the priorities above. Getting the entire team on board and agreeing to those priorities is the first important step to growing your digital commerce business. Without this buy-in, you’ll have a hard time implementing long-term changes that drive value. 

At Slatwall Commerce, we specialize in helping B2B companies explore and integrate eCommerce solutions for business value. From small optimizations to fully-featured platform builds, our team can assess your system and help you identify which investments will produce the best ROI for your efforts. 

If you’re ready to get serious about B2B eCommerce, contact us today to learn more.