Increasing online sales is a top priority for essentially all businesses, regardless of size or sector. For those in the B2B e-commerce space, there are a few nuances to keep in mind. That’s what our webinar on B2B e-commerce strategies covered. And today, we’re covering nine tips condensed from the webinar.
Here’s what they would advise when it comes to driving e-commerce sales:
- B2B customers want a B2C-like online experience
- Your website should not replace your customer service team
- B2B customer connections are stronger so maximise that
- B2B businesses have the tools to get to know their customers better so use that to your advantage
- Lay out a digital roadmap that’s right for your business…
- …including an e-commerce solution that works for your sector
- Don’t forget to gain your team’s buy in
- Embrace automation
- A partner is there to enable you but you’re still the B2B expert
1. B2B customers want a B2C-like online experience
Attractive, intuitive websites are generally associated with B2C companies rather than B2B. But, regardless of the sector, website visitors are still users and they all want a user-friendly online experience.
“At the end of the day, the people using B2B websites to purchase are still users. They might be retailers, wholesalers and distributors but they have the same expectations when it comes to user experience as B2C customers,” says Nazanin Ramezani, Senior Product Evangelist at Episerver.
“People are starting to expect a much more streamlined user experience and the ability to fulfil many more things online.”
In other words, provide your B2B customers with an online experience that’s simple and straightforward enough to let them complete the activities they came to do and not need to reach out to your customer service team for support.
2. Your website should not replace your customer service
Although your customers may not want to reach out to your customer service team, they may sometimes need to. For example, if they need some help placing a particularly complex order or they have a complicated query that your website can’t help with.
That’s why you should never see your website as a replacement for your customer service. Your customer-facing representatives still play a vital role in providing a flawless customer service and experience.
Nazanin says: “An order placed on a website doesn’t compare with a rep on the ground who has been working with a company for 10 years. That’s never going to replace that rep.”
Instead, your website should be used as a way to enhance your overall service and experience. For example, your representatives can look at the profile of the customer they’re about to meet with. They can see what the customer has abandoned in their cart, their browsing history, how they’ve interacted with the assets on your website - all of that information can be used to make better informed decisions.
“Your website can be used as a tool for the rep,” stressed Nazanin.
3. B2B customer connections are stronger so maximise that
When it comes to customer relationships, B2B businesses tend to have an advantage over their B2C counterparts.
James Baker, Senior Digital Customer Experience Lead at Columbus, agrees - B2B customers tend to be a lot more invested because their buying journey is more complex while “B2C customers might shop at 15 different websites based on who has the product at the best price”.
He advises that B2B businesses should use that deep understanding to meet customer expectations. James says: “It’s what propels a B2B business forward - they’re ready to engage and discuss those complexities and make those things happen along the lines of what their customers actually want. Because that understanding happens to already be there.
“It’s not guesswork or analytics, they know what their customers are trying to achieve.”
4. B2B businesses have the tools to get to know their customers so use that to your advantage
As well as B2B businesses having stronger connections with their customers, they also have the tools to maximise their customer knowledge.
According to James, strong customer relationships will already exist but if you’re going to ensure you’re truly catering to your customers’ pain points, you need to talk to your customers. And B2B businesses have an advantage because they “tend to be equipped with good team members that will have that relationship and information”.
5. Lay out a digital roadmap that’s right for your business…
Digital takes time and planning. We’re not saying that you can’t do everything at once but it’s a good idea to take a more phased approach. For B2B businesses, this is particularly important because the sector is generally ‘newer’ to the digital landscape.
“Whereas for B2C, everyone looks up to the Amazons and there’s a roadmap laid out,” explains Nazanin. “It’s very important to look at your business to see where you are and then where you want to be and how to get there.”
6. …including an e-commerce solution that works for your sector
What works for a B2C business may not necessarily work for a B2B. And what works for one B2B business might not for yours. So, it’s important to find and invest in solutions that work specifically for your business needs. Look deeper than the sector.
As Episerver’s Senior Product Evangelist, Nazanin is responsible for growing the digital maturity of businesses in the B2B sector. She’s seen these challenges in action.
“I always say you need to get a solution that works for your business,” she says. “For example, if you have variable pricing and you’re selling different products at different prices to 20 different people - these are complexities that are inherently B2B. And the right solution is one that can address all these complexities and scale with your business.”
Nazanin also emphasises the importance of scalability and agility when it comes to your choice of e-commerce solution. “Even if your solution doesn’t answer all your needs now, the right one will fit with your current processes and still have the ability to grow with you over the next two, three or five years,” she says.
If there’s anything this year has shown us, it’s that even the best laid plans can be turned upside down and being able to rely on an agile solution helps. Think the ability to access marketplaces where you can continuously add on integrations as and when required in addition to the out-of-the-box features.
7. Don’t forget to gain your team’s buy-in
When you’ve got your roadmap and your ideal solution, the next step would be to roll it out. Right? Yes, but only if you’ve considered the change management aspect. According to James, “lack of engagement is a big killer” when it comes to innovation projects.
“If those teams on the CIO side or technical side aren’t not involved from the outset, you’ll have a hell of a bad time six months down the line when you start building something,” he says. “So, you need to engage with the people who will help you understand what certain things mean and how best to go about delivering it.”
So, whatever tool you decide to invest in and whatever work you propose to do, ensure your people are bought into your idea. They need to be empowered enough to use your new tool to their advantage so if something unpredictable happens (again), pivoting isn’t such a challenge.
8. Embrace automation
Automation is a trend that’s sweeping across many industries, not just e-commerce. When used properly, it can provide real benefits - a huge one being time savings.
As James puts it, “if you can manhandle a man managed process into something that’s automated, you can smooth out that trouble” (by ‘trouble’, we mean challenges relating to heavy manual work). Nazanin agrees, adding that automation is perfect for handling repeatable processes which will give you time back and improve productivity.
She also advises businesses to not be put off by the time it might take to set things up. “[Setting up automated processes] will become necessary if you want to move towards that digitally mature future.”
9. A partner is there to enable you but you’re still the B2B expert
Something that commonly happens is for B2B businesses to allow their solution/implementation partners to completely take the wheel. “I’ve encountered incidents where people think I’m the B2B expert,” says James. “But actually, they’re the B2B experts. I’m just the enabler of what you want to achieve.”
So, it’s important to get to the nub of what makes your organisation tick - from your customer expectations to your company’s USP. You know your company inside and out so use those insights to work with your partner to shape the digital roadmap that’s perfect for your business.
Learn more about B2B e-commerce strategies and how to get the results you want
The nine tips and tricks from Nazanin and James are just the beginning. In our webinar, ‘Is your B2B e-commerce strategy working?’, the two share even more interesting insights drawn from their time in the industry and working with B2B businesses.
The webinar is available on-demand. Watch it by clicking on the button below.