Michael Nutley
Michael Nutley 3 April 2023
Categories B2B, Ecommerce, Research

How Ecommerce is Bringing B2B Sellers into the Customer-Centric Future

Ecommerce has become an essential tool for B2B businesses looking to contend with changing customer behaviour, technological development and economic instability.

A new report by London Research, in partnership with Contentful and VTEX, shows ecommerce can deliver three clear benefits to a B2B business:

    •    Enhanced customer satisfaction and reduced friction – driven by increased convenience and ease of use.
    •    Improved operational efficiency – based on the automation of routine tasks and the movement of staff from phone-based order-taking to business development roles.
    •    Increased revenue – ecommerce is now capable of delivering similar cross-sell and up-sell opportunities to those possible with sales representatives.

In addition, an appropriate balance between self-service and sales-assisted options allows staff to focus on serving the needs of high-value customers.

The report, The Transformation of B2B Commerce – The Customer is Now in Charge, also finds that B2B ecommerce needs to step out of the shadow of its B2C counterpart. Although B2B customers’ expectations of ecommerce continue to be driven by the world of B2C, the unique nature of B2B ecommerce needs to be recognised and addressed.

What’s Driving the B2B Commerce Boom?

B2B commerce has seen a dramatic acceleration in recent years, driven by two main factors. The first was the pandemic. Lockdowns and home working made online purchasing as much of a necessity in B2B as it was in B2C.

But the results revealed that this was what many B2B purchasers had wanted anyway. They preferred to do their buying at their own pace, in their own way, with as little pressure from salespeople as possible.

The second factor has been the instability of the global economy. This has increased costs for manufacturers, and forced them to look for efficiencies elsewhere, including in their routes to market.

The economic downturn has also put pressure on buyers, who need their purchase process to be as simple and streamlined as possible. The switch now happening from a sales-driven approach to one focused on the buyer is therefore a win for both sides.

And What’s Holding it Back?

The report found that there are still a number of challenges facing B2B sellers looking to make this change. The three most significant are:

1. Meeting expectations set by B2C

B2B buyers are people too, and are used to B2C ecommerce, even more so after the pandemic dramatically increased the numbers shopping online.

But the interviews carried out for this report revealed that inventory management and fulfilment are more significant challenges than the quality of the digital experience. Amazon Prime has set a high bar for delivery times, and it’s one that many B2B businesses are struggling to meet.

2. Legacy technology

Inventory management is just one area where legacy technology holds companies back. Others include the inability to share data across the organisation to create a ‘single customer view’, and the inability to respond quickly to changes in the market, or in customer behaviour.

3. Cultural change

Choosing and implementing new technologies is simple compared to persuading people to actually use them. As one report interviewee puts it: “You have to bring people on the journey, customers as well as employees.”

In addition, because ecommerce touches several aspects of the organisation, any strategy will at least require buy-in from other departments, and is more likely to mean dismantling operational silos to encourage cross-company collaboration.

The full report – The Transformation of B2B Commerce – The Customer is Now in Charge – can be downloaded here.

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