eCommerce providers have known for a while that the quickest way to your customers’ hearts is through a great shopping experience. Customers consistently rank a website’s ease of use as one of its most important characteristics, regardless if they’re in B2B or B2C.
But there’s more to meeting your market’s needs than building a great web experience, particularly as B2B buying behaviors shift in the wake of Millennial influence. As digital natives, Millennials have different expectations from the B2B shopping experience, and as they begin to flex their substantial buying power, it’s more important than ever for companies to accommodate their needs.
Understand Where They’re Coming From
The most important step in addressing B2B buyers is understanding where they’re coming from.
Compare the typical B2B buying process to that of an individual shopper. B2B buyers are purchasing on behalf of their enterprises; they’re tasked with finding solutions, researching options, and presenting their findings to key stakeholders. Naturally, the B2B sales cycle is longer than B2C, with multiple phases of product research required for any decision.
This research encompasses far more information than a typical consumer needs, and includes crucial details at the product level: Dimensions, specifications, compatibility, and more. And when the decision involves a complex product like an eCommerce platform, companies need to anticipate the consumer’s needs and come ready to provide this data.
Most B2B buyers look for solutions that offer flexibility and simplicity. They need to be able to take a vendor’s solution and personalize it to their own brand in the short-term, while staying focused on the long-term picture. How will the platform scale? Can it be built out to address customers across different demographics or geographies? And how easy will it be to integrate with existing systems?
Each of these questions will need answers, so your first goal should be to provide these essential details through your web design.
Key Points to Review
- How long is the typical sales cycle? Are there some efficiencies you could build into the online process to save time or improve the close ratio?
- Are you able to segment customers based on where they are in the sales cycle?
- As the prospect moves through the sales cycle, how does their informational needs change? Which questions do they typically ask during the process?
- Are there opportunities to change up and alter the sales cycle using the website?
- Can additional information be delivered during earlier conversations?
- Are there information resources that haven’t been brought online earlier?
- Beyond acquiring new customers, how are you making it easier for existing customers to continue their relationship with you?
Optimize for Information Availability
Do you remember the days when you would need to call a company’s sales rep to find details about their services? So do we. But while the days of sales rep interaction are fading away, the customer’s hunger for information hasn’t changed.
This, more than anything else, is the key differentiator between B2B and B2C: The sales cycle. B2B buyers have more at stake in their decision and typically undergo lengthy evaluative processes for everything they buy. The structure of these deals are often quite different that what’s typically seen in B2C commerce, with bigger purchases and higher expenditures common across the board. Companies selling to B2B markets need to keep this in mind and structure their eCommerce experiences accordingly.
It starts on your website. B2B vendors have a vested interest in establishing themselves as industry authorities that know better than their competitors, and your web materials should reflect this. Build out your content assets by developing blogs, whitepapers, explainer videos, manuals, and other collateral to educate readers about your product.
Again, put yourself in the B2B buyer’s shoes. What type of information will he/she need? Obviously, basic product information, high-res images, and specifications are a must, but consider including more information from your other systems. This could mean offering visibility into warehousing and inventory levels (for physical products) or performing side-by-side comparisons of services across your biggest competitors.
While B2C shoppers might not put this much thought into what they buy, B2B buyers certainly do. Put together some credible materials that the B2B buyer can read and bring back to show other decision-makers in his/her company.
Key Points to Review
- Is all the information (pricing, shipping and delivery, etc.) available to the customer when purchasing, whether online or on the phone?
- When you scan through what your competitors are doing in regards to the sales and purchase process, are you competitive, or out of step?
- Does the research, shopping, and buying experience match the expectations of the B2B buyer?
Building Repeat Purchasing
B2B buying is a long process, and once a company finds the right partner, they’re typically invested in maintaining the relationship for as long as possible. Investing all your energy in capturing a single one-time purchase and failing to create a longer term relationship with a new customer is a big mistake.
Understand the difference in how a B2B buyer might make a repeat purchasing decision compared to a B2C customer. While both B2B and B2C shoppers are going to consider the value and price of the purchase, a B2C customer is going to look at intangibles like brand value and appearance. On the other hand, a B2B customer is going to look at other measurables like long term value, cost of ownership, support and more. In addition, you may be selling to a team of “buyers” rather than a single person.
So, how do you leverage your eCommerce platform to build up those repeat purchases?
It starts with the buying process and what you typically refer to as the “My Account” area of any store or marketplace.
Make sure your eCommerce platform integrates data like their previous contract details, order histories, contact information or preferences. You’ll need to tie your ERP and inventory management systems into your CRM and make sure things stay updated with every order, but once you have it down, you’ll be able to centralize all of their data and make re-ordering a breeze.
Key Points to Review
- Are you able to determine use-up rates on your products? Based on an order, can you estimate how long it would be until that customer would need to re-order?
- Are products mapped and connected with one another properly? Think about opportunities for cross-selling and upselling. For example, if your customer bought a mattress, can you assume they’re also going to need sheets, mattress covers, or new pillows?
B2B Usability Challenges
There are a number of complexities and challenges that comes with building a storefront and shopping experience that caters to the business buyer. You’ve probably noticed (or had to work around) companies that use purchasing departments, especially when making large purchases. Most eCommerce platforms can’t work with the concept of “company” accounts, where multiple users make purchases under one corporate umbrella.
In addition, consider the flexibility on payment terms that most business buyers expect. While they’re likely to be comfortable using a corporate credit card, they may not have the authorization to make a large multi-thousand dollar purchase.
Key Points to Review
- Are you able to customize the billing/payment and shipping functionality to meet your customers needs?
- What types of customer questions are they asking you post-purchase? Can that process be streamlined?
- Are shipping options sufficient? Are there additional shipping methods you should be supporting through eCommerce?
Marketing Opportunities Through Integration
When your eCommerce platform is flexible enough to integrate with any order management or CRM system, you can leverage data from both sources into new marketing opportunities. With all the order and account information available through integrations into the eCommerce platform, the customer data profile you’re able to construct takes on a new dimension. Now, when customers log into their account they can see the whole view of their ordering history. In addition, because your eCommerce platform has (or should have) an integration into an email service provider (ESP), you’re able to connect products purchased, recommendations and personal account information into a personalized and automated campaign.
Key Points to Review
- Have you connected your eCommerce platform to your emailing marketing provider to run automated order follow ups for reviews and re-ordering?
- For non-eCommerce transactions,are there opportunities for you to run follow-up email campaigns, or solicit feedback directly?
- Are you actively encouraging your customers to give you more information or to complete their profile?
- While there has been a period of rapid development and change among companies that focus on the B2C side of eCommerce, there has traditionally been less focus and innovation on the B2B side.
- Consumer-facing stores obsess over usability, design and new marketing technologies while B2B companies pay almost no attention to those opportunities.
- Given the differences in the sales process and sales cycle, invest in tools and web marketing that can supplement and support existing sales channels - both offline and online.
- While the audience, products and sales process are different, many of the marketing technologies that have been developed with B2C in mind can be applied to your B2B storefront-- and your customers are expecting those to be there.