B2B buying and selling online is growing fast. As much as consumers are buying online, businesses are buying more. In 2012 Forrester Research predicted that U.S. companies and government agencies would purchase $559 billion via the web, more than doubling the predicted spending by consumers B2C.
In most cases, however, the B2C online experience has been ahead of B2B in terms of experience and ease of shopping. But the winds are changing. For example, 46% of B2B ecommerce executives surveyed recently by Forrester Research say they expect more than half of their customers to be buying online in three years and 67% expect their technology budgets to increase this year. Forty-nine percent have said that within 18 months they will upgrade their ecommerce platforms to sell to other companies, government agencies and educational institutions, the major B2B buyers.
This article outlines three steps you can take to boost your selling power and attract more B2B customers while still controlling costs.
As a retailer, you can increase sales with one of three approaches:
- Sell more product to the customers you have
- Sell product to more customers
- Sell more product to more customers
Even though the best strategy is obvious, the steps to implement are not always so. In addition to figuring out how to sell more product to more customers, it can get complicated if you sell to both consumers and businesses. Selling B2B is quite different from B2C and knowing why is the first step:
Step One: Know your customer
|· Business-to-business sale||· Business-to-consumer sale|
|· Task-oriented buyer||· Emotional buyer|
|· Longer sales cycle: research→build consensus→gain approval||· Shorter sales cycle: availability→price→purchase|
|· More decision makers involved||· Individual decision maker|
|· Brand loyal||· Brand shifter|
|· High volume sales||· Low volume sales|
|· Volume pricing||· Best price|
|· Delayed purchasing||· Immediate purchasing|
|· Payment terms||· Instant payment|
|· High-risk, long-term relationships||· Low-risk, no commitment, short-term relationships|
Ecommerce has shifted the paradigm for B2B sales. Smart and savvy B2B customers are moving away from costly and time consuming sales calls, telephone exchange and fax/mail orders toward ecommerce conveniences like 24×7 access, detailed and graphic-rich websites, instant and automated purchasing, flexible payment terms, customer reviews and more.
Furthermore, the contact is changing and in many cases, you won’t have to approach potential customers for sales – they will come to you, via your website. With this reversal, the tactics and strategies you use to attract these customers must change as well. In order to capture and build a successful and lasting B2B sales channel, you must offer the same convenience, customer service and technology B2C shoppers love, along with functionality and traditional touches needed to close the sale. So, if your B2B ecommerce solution is non-existent or needs to catch up with B2C, here’s your next step:
Step Two: Offer a customized B2B ecommerce experience
Attractive – professional, easy-to-use website
- SEO and metadata tags – get found
- SSL Certification – bank-rated security
- Desktop and mobile – flexible and scalable
- Accepts 3rd Party plug-ins and apps – integrate back-end
Intuitive – smartly designed
- Guides through buying stages – Inform→Demo→Proposal→Contract→Purchase
- Detail and graphic-rich product catalog – details and specs, inventory and availability
- Product positioning – market to knowledgeable buyer, detailed application and usage, expert reviews, and competitive comparison
- Assign customer attributes for memberships, rewards and promotions
Easy Checkout – simple as 1-2-3
- Customer account with privileges/attributes
- Multiple payment options – credit cards, payment systems, credit terms
- Applies discounts, promotions, coupons
- Approval program for payment terms
- 3rd party logistics options
Customer Service- virtual or personal
- Interactive support provided throughout website
- Live chat, virtual assistance, email, phone
- Option for customer calls, demos, personalized communication
Step Three: Optimize revenue in every channel by reducing operations costs
Once you reach the point where you are selling to multiple channels, you need to consider using a robust multichannel management platform that can manage your sales processes by connecting all your sales channels and back-end systems. These solutions will streamline your operations, increase your productivity and eliminate a lot of time and money spent on manual processes.
Here are some of the biggest benefits you gain with a multichannel management platform:
- Manages item and inventory across POS, ERP and ecommerce systems
- Automates flow of incoming/outgoing orders with suppliers and customers
- Manages orders with routing and fulfillment
- Synchronizes item, inventory, pricing updates across multiple channels
- Real-time updates to your accounting system for ease of balancing, reconciling and reporting
- Detailed sales reporting and analysis
By creating an ecommerce environment that meets the needs of your business customers, you create a win-win solution, offering a convenient and cost-efficient way for customers to do business with you and, in turn, you streamline business processes, save money, and grow the business with satisfied, returning customers.
Steve Weber is CEO of nChannel.