According to Forrester, US B2B eCommerce is expected to reach $1.8 trillion and account for 17% of all B2B sales in the US by 2023. With reports like these, manufacturers are starting to realize the importance of their B2B eCommerce strategy.
However, selling online hasn’t always been a top priority for manufacturers and the like. It can be challenging to make this shift in your organization (and do so successfully).
Whether you’re new to eCommerce or looking to strengthen your current strategy, here are the main challenges of selling online and top strategies to ensure the growth and success of your B2B eCommerce site.
B2B eCommerce Continues to Evolve
Not long ago, selling online was an afterthought for most manufacturers. Online portals primarily served existing customers as a cost avoidance approach by replacing customer service reps with technology. Sites weren’t often clunky and weren’t built to drive sales other than repeat purchases.
B2B buyer habits are changing though.
74% of B2B buyers report researching at least half of their work purchases online. This is no surprise when B2B manufactures consider that 73% of Millennials are involved in purchasing decisions now. This demographic has different preferences for buying. Used to B2C experiences, they start their product searches online with generic queries and even use their smartphone throughout the path to purchase.
Today, B2B eCommerce for manufacturers can be used as a strategic channel to drive sales and growth. Your site should serve current customers, but also drive new customer acquisition (maybe even sell directly to consumers). An online site can help you differentiate from the competition, reach new customers, and achieve higher growth rates.
The challenge is navigating an evolving eCommerce space that increasingly includes omnichannel, multi-channel, and marketplace management selling. It involves exploring completely new ways of acquiring and engaging with customers. If your business isn’t online or hard to find, you’re going to miss out on these buyers.
6 Strategies for B2B eCommerce Success for Manufacturers
Online selling is still relatively new for many manufacturers. If you’re just starting out or trying to improve your current strategy, here are 6 important high-level eCommerce strategies to keep in mind to ensure your online success.
Changing Your Organization’s Perspective
Until recently, online selling wasn’t a core part of most B2B sales strategies and tactics. It’s a big shift to go from email/fax/phone ordering to a digital experience meant to attract new customers and drive revenue. This can be a significant mindset change for you both tactically and culturally.
For eCommerce success, your organization must all agree and change your perspective on online selling. A customer’s journey online is long and full of distractions. Manufacturers must consider all customer touchpoints. How do meeting these new customer requirements change your internal processes?
It’s important to ensure all stakeholders are on board with your channel strategy. Otherwise, you risk the result of an online strategy that isn’t fully realized. New customers will be able to tell the difference. They will buy with those who do it right.
Choosing the Right eCommerce Technology
A key factor in your online success is choosing the right technology to power your customer experience. In the past, B2B manufacturers often used a 3rd-party plug-in to their ERP to enable selling online. However, these plug-ins aren’t going to cut it anymore.
To sell online, manufacturers need specific functionality to meet the unique needs of B2B selling, especially when it comes to price levels, term accounts, product catalog management, and customer management. Many buyers are also looking for self-service tools online to apply for a credit account, make payments, and review their order history.
To provide a better customer experience, B2B sellers need the right eCommerce platform. The challenge is that there’s a multitude of them to choose from ranging from B2B SaaS to open source offerings. As many B2B sellers turn to B2C-like experiences online, consumer-based eCommerce software providers have added an extensive B2B functionality over the years.
When evaluating platforms, manufacturers should think about both what they need their platform to do today and how it will handle future volumes for your business.
Know Your Competition
Selling online is an overcrowded, competitive space. B2B eCommerce is no exception to that. As you move online, you might find new competitors – both big and small. Think of Amazon, distributors, and other competing brands. Where are your competitors selling?
As you build out your eCommerce strategy, you must evaluate your competition and see how your online experience stacks up. It’s not good enough to just have the best products anymore. B2B buyers make purchases with those who provide the best buying experience.
Rethinking Product Content
Many B2B sellers often fail in how they display and present products online. This a huge problem since shoppers aren’t very forgiving to sellers in this area.
69% of online shoppers leave a site if product info is subpar.
Manufacturers must rethink how they display their product catalogs online. Individual customers are looking to aggregate your product content in an easy and informative way. Buyers expect clear images, rich detailed product descriptions, and customer reviews. They want to be confident in their purchase.
Providing rich, accurate and consistent product content online usually requires manufacturers to rethink how they manage their catalogs on the backend. Processes must be efficient and ensure data integrity across your organization.
This most likely won’t be achieved by managing your product catalogs in Excel spreadsheets. Manufacturers can turn to more interactive online tools like a PIM to centralize your product data in one location making it easier to manage, share, and distribute online.
Also, it’s important to note that product pages can be just one part of your content marketing strategy. Check out how B2B sellers can increase their lead generation by focusing on their overall B2B content strategy.
eCommerce to ERP Integration
It takes more than just an eCommerce platform to run your online business. Most manufacturers also require an ERP to handle accounting, order fulfillment, and purchasing for both online and offline orders.
As you consider your B2B eCommerce strategy, it’s most important to understand how your eCommerce platform will fit into your current technology stack. How will you process those online orders? How will you manage inventory quantities online? How do you track a customer’s purchase history both online and offline?
Manufacturers should consider integrating their eCommerce platform to any backend systems they have, such as an ERP or Point-of-sale (POS). Without integration, you’ll be stuck with manual data entry between your systems, which slows down processes and is prone to data errors. Connecting your systems can ensure real-time inventory synchronization, automating complex order routing, syndicating product catalogs, and better customer management.
Consider and research integration providers that can help sync data and automate processes between your eCommerce and backend systems like an ERP.
Always Put Your Customers First
For all B2B sellers, the B2B eCommerce landscape continues to evolve and presents new challenges to overcome. The only way to be successful is to make all decisions with your customers’ experience in mind. If you do that, you’ll be able to make the right decisions when it comes to software, processes, and content.
This post has been contributed by nChannel.
nChannel empowers retailers, wholesalers and technologists with integration tools to sync data and automate processes between their eCommerce, ERP, POS and 3PL systems.
About the Author
Jillian Hufford joined nChannel as their Marketing Analyst. Using both her writing and analytic skills, she assists the Marketing and Sales teams. Jillian performs competitor market research, provides analysis of key sales metrics, and writes informative posts on multichannel commerce trends.