Long gone are the days when a buyer was willing to make multiple phone calls and fill out written paperwork to research a purchasing decision. In fact, today's agents expect the Amazon shopping experience. Here are some important considerations.
Let’s start with a pretty stunning fact: In March of 2015, nearly half of all B2B researchers were millennials, according to a Think with Google report. “Back in 2012, there was a pretty even mix across age groups. In 2014, however, 18- to 34-year-olds accounted for almost half of all researchers, an increase of 70 percent,” the report stated.
It’s likely the number of millennials in this role has only increased. And millennials, who are largely digital natives, have been game-changers when it comes to technology.
They’re helping to drive a fundamental shift in today’s B2B buyer. Instead of talking to sales reps, “most B2B shoppers are 57 percent of the way through a new purchase before they reach out, and 93 percent prefer to buy online,” according to Shopify Plus, the customizable e-commerce platform designed for high-growth merchants, including B2B companies.
The growth is rapid, but there’s room for more: B2B e-commerce will reach $1.2 trillion in the United States by 2021 and account for 13.1 percent of all B2B sales, Forrester estimated in its June 2017 report “Landscape: The B2B eCommerce Playbook.”
That 13 percent might not be indicative of a lack of demand, but rather a reticence on the part of B2B organizations to commit more fully to e-commerce.
There are special challenges, of course. While purchasing agents are expecting the same sort of functionality, immediacy and ease of use for research and transactions that they experience in their everyday lives, manufacturers often need to manage dynamic pricing for different customers; the ability to request a quote; or real-time inventory figures, for example.
Fortunately, an increasing number of software solutions are allowing manufacturers to establish platforms that function much like the online shopping sites buyers are used to. Sana, a maker of e-commerce solutions for wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers, reported in October 2017 that of the top 10 channels cited by the 300 businesses they surveyed, three were some form of web store.
A robust and successful B2B e-commerce program will function much like the best B2C retail sites. Key is to apply traditional sales fundamentals to this new way of doing things. You’re still selling solutions. Can you categorize your products via use or application rather than type? Can you model after Amazon and populate a list of goods that “you might also be interested in” when a buyer adds a product to the cart? What about recurring items that can be saved to a “frequently bought” shopping list available to the agent the next time he or she logs in?
Whether you sell to a distributor or to a retailer, B2B e-commerce also is the ideal way to provide up-to-the-minute product information that can help sales downstream and increase loyalty to your company. What might your buyer need? Downloadable specs or signage? A sharable assembly or use video? Not only will this increase your market presence further along the sales funnel, but it also will make life easier for the B2B researcher--again, providing solutions.
The need for a solid reputation and impeccable service doesn’t change even if the means of researching and purchasing does, of course. Most wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers still will need to provide a diverse set of channels.
That might mean offering buyers a way to call with a more complex question than your site can answer. Sales reps might take on an increased relationship-building and service function, helping to identify other business needs that can be met by a company’s offerings or even visiting on site to see how products and product content are being used. Demos and shows still are a great way to offer researchers the ability to touch, taste and test a product. And complex products may require a pre-purchase visit from an expert to identify the right mix of solutions.
Julianne has been published in major metropolitan daily newspapers and national magazines, as well as written print and online copy for diverse industries including wine, fitness, food, travel, retail, banking, industrial technology, real estate, commercial paint and decorating, and more. She crafts strategy, creates profiles and serves as the voice of businesses on social media platforms including Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn. Julianne also has launched a small ecommerce business retailing goods that give back.
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