The stats are clear: e-commerce is booming in B2B. But some brands in that space remain reticent to jump in fully. For The Drum’s e-commerce deep dive, Matt Binz of The Mx Group looks at the four reasons why.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Forrester estimated the US B2B e-commerce market could reach $1.1tn, accounting for more than 12% of B2B sales by 2020. Fast forward to 2022, and demand for global B2B e-commerce market size is estimated to surpass $18.57tn by 2026.
Pandemic or not, digital transformation revolutionized businesses around the globe. The events of 2020 simply accelerated its pace. So, where are B2B businesses today? Is B2B on track to remain relevant in the age of e-commerce?
Overwhelmingly, yes. Almost two-thirds of B2B companies offer e-commerce capabilities, according to McKinsey’s latest B2B Pulse Survey. This is unsurprising, given that the rate of digital adoption increased in the last two years to meet the needs of digital-savvy B2B buyers. These buyers prefer remote engagement and buying options over in-person interactions, and they aren’t afraid to spend money – even $500,000 or more – on digital channels.
Yet, some B2B companies are still hesitant about implementing e-commerce solutions. Let’s look at four common challenges facing B2B e-commerce, and how to leverage an agency to develop an adoption roadmap.
1. Frustrating UX
ROI is difficult to achieve when an e-commerce system’s usability is confusing. When the buyer can’t find what they are looking for or the check-out process is overly complicated, the buyer might resort to calling a salesperson or just leave the site altogether.
Functionality and personalization are key to developing a great user experience (UX). B2B buyers want control over access, custom order requirements, special pricing and order history. If an e-commerce solution is lacking any of these features, buyers will find another business.
Technology is a major factor in an online purchase experience. Technical issues such as slow page load times and non-existent mobile experiences can deter buyers. Businesses must also remember data security, IT operations and integrations that plague organizations generally.
2. Technology headaches
One of the biggest ‘blockers’ for B2B e-commerce is the complexity of technology integration, and the minefields that can follow. Some clients are scared by e-commerce projects, because they know there are multiple points of integration due to years of M&A. Starting small and building up might not feel valuable enough to warrant (financial and human) capital investment.
B2B clients often feel that they don’t have the horsepower to do it themselves – nor the appetite. Relying on partnerships with IT or product teams can leave a bad taste in the mouth.
3. It’s B2B, not B2C
Another trap B2B companies fall into when looking to launch their e-commerce solution is simply making a clone of a B2C e-commerce system.
An agency can help make or break a launch. Whether a business is a pure B2B company or a consumer-focused business looking to create a B2B brand, an agency partner can help find a clear understanding of B2B buyer groups, journeys and sales cycles. This B2B education must span all areas of internal operations. Business and IT need to get on the same page to agree on the solution, see it as a priority and cater to B2B buyers.
At The Mx Group, we facilitated workshops for our client Zekelman Industries that included both technical and business owners. These workshops helped to determine the changes required for legacy systems, pricing structures and logistics. We developed and coordinated launch planning, testing, training and market rollout piloting. We then defined critical user experiences, user stories for development, workflow and both UX and user interfaces (UI) for the new e-commerce solution Z-Commerce.
4. B2B buyers’ expectations
There’s more at stake than just financial success and ROI. Digital-native millennials (currently aged 26-41) make 73% of B2B buying decisions. Failure to meet their expectations when they engage with an e-commerce website can tarnish the overall brand experience. B2B companies must deliver a seamless end-to-end experience, designed to help users move through the sales funnel.
Testing and optimization become key components in the launch. B2B businesses must remain nimble to adjust and take advantage of what works, and improve what doesn’t. This is another area where having an agency partner is critical, especially in the early stages of development. There are a lot of moving pieces, and if a business is just starting its education in B2B, it could fail to communicate all the elements of the brand (security, stability and reliability) in the online interaction.
Companies only get one shot to make a lasting impression with B2B buyers. By creating intuitive, engaging, personalized experiences, the e-commerce solution can meet return-on-investment expectations, and the company can hope to meet – and maybe exceed – the expectations of a buying group, earning their loyalty.
For more on B2B commerce’s newest evolutions, head over to our e-commerce deep dive hub.