May 19, 2017

Overcoming Challenges in B2B Ecommerce

Buyers now expect B2B sellers to have an ecommerce option and yet there are particular challenges to selling online when a business is the customer.

Take a look at the numbers:

  • Nearly 75% of mid-market B2B sellers derive at least a 25% of their revenue online.
  • Millennials (who shop a considerable amount online) now make up over half of the American workforce.
  • 52% of B2B buyers age 26-35 and 71% of buyers under the age of 25 prefer to place their orders via email.

With ecommerce 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. 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 customer’s online experience with that of the one they would have on a competitor’s website. However, the customers are comparing these encounters to all of the online experiences 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 ecommerce site provides an otherwise amazing customer experience, B2B customers may have to duplicate work in order to place an order online. If the buyer’s company requires purchase orders, this person may have to create the PO in their own system and then recreate it on the seller’s website as well. 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 then funnel that information into the ecommerce 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 ecommerce site in such a way that will minimize duplication of work. Imagine a user logs into their site and has access to their negotiated pricing, past orders and a search function that prioritizes the items that they most likely need. Much of the inefficiency and duplication of work would be eliminated. Because of the complexity of B2B selling, there will always be challenges to selling online (or 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. This is the key to inspiring happy customers to keep coming back for more.


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