Inefficiency and Expectations: Overcoming Challenges in B2B E-Commerce

May 19, 2017

Buyers now expect B2B sellers to have an e-Commerce option, and yet there are particular challenges to selling online when a business is the customer.  Take a look at the numbers:
  • Nearly three quarters of mid-market B2B sellers derive at least 25% of their revenue online.
  • Millenials (who shop a considerable amount online) now make up over half of the American workforce.
  • 52% of B2B buyers 26-35 years old and 71% of buyers under the age of 25 prefer to place their orders by email.

With e-Commerce becoming ever more ubiquitous, how is it possible that the generation most likely to purchase online for themselves is so unlikely to want to place a business order online?  It boils down to two main reasons—expectations and efficiency. 

B2B buyers have high expectations for their online purchasing experiences, and many retailers are failing to meet those expectations.  Buyers are frequently required to interact directly with a sales representative to pass through some portion of the sales funnel.  Pricing and product information may be difficult to find or not available on the seller’s website at all.  Buyers expect the same convenience and clarity they get as B2C shoppers, so going to lengths to find information is not going to cut it.  Sellers tend to compare a customers’ online experience of that with the experience they would have on a competitor’s website, but customers are comparing an online shopping with every other e-Commerce experience they’ve ever had, including B2C.  It’s a high bar that’s been set, and with B2B often going hand-in-hand with more complicated products, purchase processes, and logistics, companies often struggle to meet buyers’ expectations.

Even when an e-Commerce site provides an otherwise amazing customer experience, B2B customers may have to duplicate work to place an order online.  If the buyer’s company requires purchase orders, the buyer may have to create the PO in their own system and then recreate it on the seller’s website.  In this way, attaching a PO to an email is more efficient for the buyer.  However, that email also means that a person on the seller’s side has to spend time inputting that information into their own system for the order to be processed.

So what can be done to ease the pain of inefficiency on both sides? 

Option 1:  Integrate sales order automation to capture information from an emailed PDF purchase order and funnel that information into the e-Commerce system.  From a customer’s point of view, it’s business as usual, and the salespeople will be saved the effort of inputting the PO information manually.

Option 2:  Personalize the e-Commerce site in a way that will minimize duplication of work.  Imagine a user logs into their site and has access to their negotiated pricing, past orders (especially if these can be reproduced and edited easily for new and repeat orders), and a search function that prioritizes the items that exact user is most likely to need.  Much of the inefficiency and duplication of work has been eliminated.

Because of the complexity of B2B selling, there will always be challenges to selling online—or indeed, through any channel—to this customer base.  However, by focusing on the user’s point of view, it’s possible to create a truly customer-first experience – that is the key to inspiring happy customers to keep coming back for more.