2020 – a year that will live in infamy – dramatically changed B2B shopping behaviors across countless industries. Workers stayed home to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and turned to digital solutions to replace their in-person interactions when it related to making B2B purchases.
Many of these newfound digital habits aren’t going to change. As customers opt for online shopping and digital transactions, few economists expect a significant return to in-person buying once the pandemic ends.
McKinsey and Co. uses the term “decade in days,” to discuss the acceleration of digital adoption. Online delivery advanced 10 years in eight weeks – meaning demand for online goods reached levels that economists didn’t expect for another decade within two months of the pandemic shuttering our communities. They label eCommerce as one of the trends most likely to endure as the pandemic ends, alongside remote work and telemedicine.
The time to invest in your eCommerce strategy wasn’t a year ago when the stay-at-home orders first started. It was five years ago or 10 years ago when your brand gained a foothold in the industry. However, it’s possible to make up for lost time and grow your B2B eCommerce revenue with the right marketing plan, technical stack, and brand messaging.
Ecommerce isn’t just for sunhats and running shoes, there’s a thriving B2B eCommerce market where companies get the supplies they need to operate successfully. B2B eCommerce companies are just as diverse as their B2C counterparts, selling nuts and bolts in bulk or complex machinery that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. While some B2C marketing strategies apply, there are unique limits and opportunities in the B2B sphere.
Use this guide to create a plan for your B2B ecommerce growth in 2021 and beyond. Let’s get started.
1. Know that B2B Ecommerce Isn’t Different from B2C
The first thing to do if you want to explode your revenue is to stop thinking about B2B consumers as dramatically different from B2C shoppers. The same customer that needs to supply their warehouse with safety gear also shops on Amazon or picks up items from Target in their personal lives.
According to a 2019 survey by Episerver of 84% of B2B decision-makers (from 700 surveyed) said their biggest threat was the increasing digital expectations of customers and partners. “Like consumers, business buyers expect interactions with companies to be effortless,” they explain.
It’s time to bust the myth that your customers don’t care if you have a nice website or aren’t interested in a modern eCommerce experience. The tastes and preferences of your B2B customers align closely with the buying behaviors of B2C consumers.
2. Revamp Your Website
When was the last time you updated your eCommerce website? If you only conduct minor tweaks to your pages and layout, it may be time to redesign your pages to attract new customers.
In a survey of 1,000 B2B buyers by McKinsey and Co., only 10% of respondents make online B2B purchases. However, 46% of respondents say they would be willing to use a supplier’s website if the option was available.
The main issue is that buyers aren’t impressed with supplier websites. Their eCommerce pages are dated or lack the functionality they expect. Almost half (46%) said it was difficult to compare products accurately. They also expressed frustrations with slow response times (40%) and pricing issues (19%). A poor website inhibits growth in your brand and can deter your customers for several months or years after they leave your site.
Look across your industry and similar ones to see which websites stand out. In the hospitality industry, National Hospitality Supply has a clear landing page and simple categories to help b2b buyers find what they need quickly.
3. Identify the Buying Patterns of Your Top Personas
The best brands know when their customers will run out of their products and when it’s time to remarket them. Your B2B business is no different. Map out the customer journey of your top personas to learn how customers likely go through your products or services.
A few questions to ask include:
- What is the average buying cycle?
- When does the fiscal year begin for my customers – and when do they begin their budget planning?
- How long does it take to decide on our products over other brands?
- How long does it take to ship and receive our products?
- When will our customers decide whether or not they are happy with our products?
The answers to these questions may vary depending on the industries you market to and the products you sell. If this is the case, then you will have multiple persona profiles developed to ensure your eCommerce messages align with the shopping habits of your B2B consumers.
Take these paths and personas and craft unique sequences built out within a marketing automation footprint. Start with reviewing our ecommerce automation guide to get a deeper understanding of how to create a roadmap that associates to your business processes.
4. Invest in Search Engine Optimization
A strong ecommerce SEO strategy helps your brand get noticed when customers aren’t actively searching your brand. With the right SEO, your B2B eCommerce site can rank highly for the products and services you offer, not just your brand name.
Studies show that most B2B buyers don’t actively seek out brands when they need products. According to Google, 71% of B2B researchers start with generic search terms. At the start of the customer journey, decision-makers are more likely to search for the items they need rather than specific brands that offer them.
This means your SEO game needs to be strong. You’re not just trying to elevate your brand name (which you likely already dominate in the SERPs). You also need to compete with other businesses in your industry for exposure.
Start by optimizing your product pages to answer questions your customers have during the initial buying process. These include product comparisons and various features. Then expand your content strategy to address these concerns in greater detail. Look into long-form questions that decision-makers have and common issues that your products can solve.
As your SEO efforts grow, more people can discover your brand when they search for generic terms, which means they will remember it when it’s time to complete a purchase.
To get started with your B2B SEO plan, schedule a free consultation with our team at Trinity to evaluate your current footprint and identify opportunities for growth.
5. Enable Customer Self-Service
Your salespeople want to talk with customers – but do your customers want to talk to your salespeople?
The Episerver survey mentioned earlier highlighted how B2B consumers value self-service. They want to evaluate product options through your eCommerce pages and make purchases for themselves.
When asked about the top ways B2B companies can make it easier to conduct business with them online, 41% said self-service functionality.
This was the second-most answer selected behind adding pricing to your website (44%). Your customers want to learn about your products on your own, which means you could limit your sales growth by gatekeeping prices and requiring buyers to meet with your team.
There is good news for salespeople who worry about being replaced by a website. The third-most requested feature in the Episerver survey was adding easy scheduling with a salesperson (37%).
Customers still want to talk with you – but they want to do their research beforehand. Potentially enable your website to have direct calendar integration with your salespeople from within the website – as many high ticket B2B purchases need a human interaction to support the transaction to the finish line.
Look at the self-service options by Packlane below as a solid example.
6. Focus on Product Information and Features
While customer research starts with the sales funnel, it also extends through the buying experience. Your eCommerce pages need to answer customer questions clearly and easily. If your customers have to conduct a scavenger hunt to find the information they need, then they are more likely to bounce.
Consider adding “question and answer” functionality that allows website users to interact with your product mix within the page presentation and directly ask a question. This incremental content will also help with SEO efforts as new, related content will be published.
One way to see how B2C and B2B shopping align is with the office supplies industry. If your office has a brick-and-mortar location, then you need office supplies, and brands like Quill can help you get them.
Look at the bulleted product descriptions that highlight the features of specific items. The content isn’t buried in lengthy paragraphs because the site designers know no one is going to read them. As you develop your eCommerce content, highlight the most important information and make sure your customers see it first.
See how Quill makes it easy to compare and contrast products for a better buying process within their category page presentation below.
7. Invest in Social Interactions
Social media provides two distinct benefits to B2B eCommerce brands: engagement and learning. Through greater communication on social platforms, brands can grow their footprint and connect with customers in a more colloquial fashion – getting their foot in the door for professional discussions in the future.
In a year where conferences in all cities and industries were canceled, digital webinars and online meet-ups reigned supreme. If there was any debate about the value of online networking, the pandemic ended it.
Social media can also serve as a listening tool. B2B sales teams can better understand their customers and adjust their business models to their needs.
As marketing budgets tighten, the pressure falls on executives to prove that social channels and other communication outlets drive results. According to a survey by LinkedIn and Edelman, 46% of business owners believe their marketing spending is being evaluated more closely than before for direct sales impact.
A third of executives say, “marketing is being asked to play a greater role in sales enablement activities, and sales teams are increasingly asking marketing to help them deal with customer engagement barriers.”
Tie in social media promotions to ecommerce promotions for an experience that is not disjointed and consider running prospecting ads within Facebook and Linked IN to get your prospects into marketing funnels which again can be constructed to highlight certain product categories that offer value to the prospect/visitor.
8. Make It Easy for Customers to Contact You
Ecommerce growth doesn’t always involve marketing overhauls or big-picture changes to your organization. In some cases, you can grow your leads and foster interest in your brand with a few changes to your web design and by integrating new service modules.
Slight changes like this within TIE Industrial by Trinity drove huge results!
Evaluate your current landing pages to make sure your customers can easily contact your sales team or product staff. Enhancements could include:
- Add a “contact us,” button alongside the “add to cart,” button
- Showcase your phone number in the headers and footers of your pages
- Use pop-up chat boxes to start conversations
- Clarify your hours so your customers know you are available
All of these steps make it easy for people to engage with your sales team and address any questions they have. For a simple example, look at the ULINE website below, which places its phone number right next to its logo at the top of the page. This level of prominence makes it easier to call the number with any questions they have and place an order for their business.
9. Give Autonomy to Repeat Shoppers
If you want to optimize your B2B eCommerce workflow, focus your efforts on prospecting to new customers and then onboard them into your eCommerce system. While your sales team can benefit from nurturing leads, they don’t need to be as hands-on with existing customers.
Of the McKinsey and Co. survey mentioned earlier, only 15% of customers wanted sales support when making a repeat purchase compared to 76% of customers who wanted support when buying a completely new product or service.
This doesn’t mean that your sales staff should be completely hands-off for existing customers. There are always opportunities to upsell or cross-sell products to grow your brand. However, a strong eCommerce website might be able to do this for you, saving your customers time and allowing your sales staff to prioritize their call schedules.
To add a personal touch, consider setting up quarterly check-ins with existing customers to make sure they are happy with the products and prevent issues with satisfaction and to maximize their lifetime value.
10. Clarify Your Pricing
Pricing transparency continues to be a major sticking point for B2B consumers who engage with online services. Repeat customers want to quickly replenish items online, while potential shoppers want to better understand where your prices fall compared to your competitors.
Consider A/B testing your pages with price transparency to evaluate their performance. Do more customers convert? How does price transparency affect your lead generation efforts and sales team?
Amazon was already a threat to B2B eCommerce, but the company continues to expand its Amazon Business footprint. The company provides price transparency on everything from office supplies to restaurant equipment.
If possible, limit the scenarios for “logged in pricing” and instead construct your pricing based on tiers and thresholds for volume.
11. Starter Packs and Free Trials for New Customers
Despite the evolutions of marketing and eCommerce, some of the oldest promotional strategies continue to stand out. As a whole, customers want free trials, product samples, and starter packs to see what they are getting into before they buy.
These promotional tools make customers feel like they are getting a good deal while also lowering the perceived risk of buying from you.
According to the PYMNTS Subscription Commerce Conversion Index (SCCI), 65% of the top-performing subscription services offer free-trials with the option to cancel at any time before the credit card is charged. (PYMNTS identifies “top-performers,” as the top 20% of 178 businesses analyzed.) Of the bottom 20% of companies, only 15% offer free-trials to their customers.
Even if you aren’t in a SaaS field, this data can inform your marketing processes. Instead of a free subscription, you can offer exclusive samples. You can provide new-customer discounts. You can come up with unique ways to win leads over, convincing them to try your products at least once.
12. Invest in Auto-Replenish Systems
Another way to optimize the repeat purchase process – along with self-service systems – is to look into auto-replenishment. With this option, shipments are automatically sent out after a certain period of time (not unlike Chewy or Amazon Pantry in the B2C world). There are multiple benefits to your business for investing in auto-replenishment systems.
- You increase customer loyalty because your buyers are less inclined to shop around in-between orders.
- Your production team can better anticipate demand for products, creating a better customer experience while wasting less inventory.
- Your sales team can focus on upselling or cross-selling because they don’t need to worry about the base order.
You can build an auto-replenish system into your eCommerce interface while training your salespeople how to onboard customers to this option. Notice below how Chewy in their ecommerce UX presentation shows the autoship offer dynamically tailored to their web users.
13. Publish Customer Reviews
As you evaluate your product pages and B2B eCommerce wireframes, consider incorporating customer reviews and testimonials to highlight your brand. Even adding a few reviews can make your content more informative and drive sales.
According to a survey by G2 Crowd and Heinz Marketing, 92.4% of B2B buyers are more likely to buy from a business after reading trusted reviews about it. While product reviews have been popular in the B2C sector for years, B2B brands are only just starting to take advantage of this word-of-mouth promotion strategy. G2 reports that 20% of companies are considering adding reviews to their marketing mix.
If you are unable to add reviews to your product pages, consider curating them from other sources. You can link to your Trustpilot ratings or Better Business Bureau grade to assure buyers that it is safe to trust your brand.
14. Prove Your Brand Can Scale
Another feature that sets Amazon Business apart from other vendors is its scalability. Its main landing page sorts buyers into three categories: small businesses, enterprises, and the public sector.
Each of these categories has its own unique needs, budget, and buying process.
If you appeal to companies of varying sizes, prove that your business can scale out to accommodate them. Drive enterprise buyers to bulk-buying product options, while allowing smaller companies to find more affordable products or services.
If your B2B eCommerce brand only appeals to certain company sizes, it’s okay to filter out customers who wouldn’t benefit from buying from you. This will help you focus on your target audience, making your sales team more effective.
15. Tap Into Product Recommendations
Most eCommerce sites use an algorithm that showcases the most popular products first. These are the products that most people buy and have the highest reviews – they follow the 80/20 Pareto Principle that 80% of sales come from 20% of your products.
However, the 80/20 rule doesn’t mean that you need to ignore 80% of your inventory. Use your top products as a jumping-off point for customer research, then tap into product recommendations to guide them to the best possible purchase.
Look at the results page of Blake Envelopes as a strong example of product recommendations.
While the site allows you to narrow your search significantly, there are also several pages of recommended products if you don’t immediately find what you like.
16. Engage Customers Immediately
If you don’t capture the attention of your audience immediately, they will bounce and find a website that does. David Zheng, a CrazyEgg alumnus created the “15 Second Rule,” which is the amount of time eCommerce pages have to generate interest and actively engage consumers.
Fifteen seconds is a generous number. The average user spends only 15 seconds on a website, which means you likely lose people well before you hit that time limit. If you want to grow your eCommerce footprint, create a hook for visitors. Give them a reason to click on something immediately or find something they need.
You can achieve this by asking a simple question to start. Instead of highlighting all of your products or categories, showcase a few high-level areas to bring customers deeper into your website.
Even asking if a customer is new or returning can help engage people with your brand and prevent a high bounce rate.
Evaluate how people look at your website (heatmap tools can help with this) and where they get lost or bored. By creating a hook, you can turn more leads into prospective buyers.
17. Expand Filtering Variables
Site navigation is an essential part of managing an eCommerce website. If your page is too confusing or if it provides too many options, then you will distract or frustrate your customers.
Massey Ferguson simplifies the buying process by creating clear filters and categories to choose from. Once buyers choose the category of equipment they need, they can sort through the types of equipment offered in order to find the best products for the job.
18. Expand Your Offerings to B2B Marketplaces
Simply put, you can compete with Amazon Business, or you can join it. Marketplaces allow buyers to easily compare products from different brands so they find the best ones out there. They can help your company gain exposure – especially if you are still working on your SEO efforts.
Merritt Hummer at TechCrunch reports that B2B marketplaces are outpacing the growth of B2C platforms – something that was hastened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
B2B marketplaces were forecasted to make $3.6 trillion in sales by 2024. However, 20% of purchasing managers spent more on these marketplaces or significantly more because of the pandemic.
As buyers gravitate to these marketplaces, you have an opportunity to get your brand noticed early-on. You can establish brand loyalty to your products before your competitors seek out these sites. Check out the offerings in marketplaces like eWorldTrade and Global Sources to see if they align with your product offerings.
B2B Ecommerce Growth is a Long-Term Marathon
While you can make some minor adjustments to your website to improve conversion rates, real eCommerce growth starts with your business model and marketing plan.
Your sales team, advertising department, and content professionals all need to be aligned with the business goals and customer sales funnel.
Start with a few of these big-picture strategies and see how your eCommerce business changes. You should be able to drive more qualified leads and convert more customers who visit your website.
If you need help, the team at Trinity is here to offer their expertise to guide you in the right direction. Sign up for a 30-minute strategy session to speak to an ecommerce strategist about your B2B commerce opportunity.