When most people think of ecommerce, they tend to think of retail or “B2C” ecommerce. Marketing for B2B ecommerce gets almost no attention.
This shows up clearly in search query data, like in the chart from Google Trends below. “B2B ecommerce” barely registers compared to the volume of searches for “ecommerce.”
But if you look at the actual volume of revenue generated via ecommerce – for both B2B ecommerce and B2C ecommerce – the reality is very different. B2B ecommerce marketing dwarfs B2C ecommerce. It generates 239% as much revenue.
B2B ecommerce marketers know what a powerhouse B2B ecommerce is, of course. 94% of B2B executives in North America say B2B ecommerce is critical to their businesses’ competitive advantage and results.
B2B ecommerce may also be critical if those businesses want to grow. Forrester expects B2B ecommerce in the just United States to reach $1.8 trillion by 2023. By that time, it will account for 17% of all B2B sales in the US.
Even as of the close of 2018, Forrester says US B2B ecommerce had already exceeded $1.1 trillion. They estimate it represented 12% of total B2B sales in the US.
The pace of B2B ecommerce isn’t going to stop, either. Forrester predicts B2B ecommerce will continue with a 10% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for the next five years. That’s impressive, but it does lag behind overall ecommerce numbers – at least as recorded by the US Commerce Department.
According to an analysis of the US Commerce Department data done by Internet Retailer, “Consumers spent $517.36 billion online with U.S. merchants in 2018, up 15.0% from $449.88 billion spent the year prior.” That’s slightly less than the year over year growth for 2017, which was 15.6%.
But B2B ecommerce is still outpacing total retail sales – and by more than double. Per that same analysis from Internet Retailer, “Total [US] retail sales, not including the sale of items not normally bought online like fuel, automobiles and food at restaurants, hit $3.628 trillion last year, up 3.9% year over year from $3.490 trillion.“
So if B2B ecommerce keeps growing at 10% per year… where does that leave your B2B ecommerce program? With ample opportunity, for sure. But also with some significant challenges.
Where does your B2B ecommerce marketing stand?
It always helps to know how you compare to others, especially in the competitive field of business. So here’s a simple way to benchmark your own B2B ecommerce marketing.
A recent Forrester research study broke out B2B companies’ ecommerce maturity into three levels.
- Novices: The least mature group, Novices represent 19% of those surveyed. They have no dedicated eCommerce operations and have not aligned their eCommerce strategies with other parts of their organizations.
- Explorers: Representing 55% of those surveyed, Explorers are venturing down the path of B2B eCommerce maturity. They have fully established an average of two eCommerce organizational best practices but have yet to reach full maturity.
- Masters: 26% of those surveyed have fully matured their B2B eCommerce operations —establishing four or all five organizational best practices measured.
The graphic below shows what Forrester’s five B2B ecommerce best practices are, and what percent of each B2B group has adopted them.
Here are those same B2B ecommerce best practices broken out:
- Have a dedicated ecommerce team or department. Focus is everything. Especially for something as complex and demanding as B2B ecommerce. This simply can’t be a side project people turn to when they have time. It has to be their sole focus.
- Have a dedicated technology team that supports your ecommerce efforts. If you’ve ever shared an IT department or a web development team, you’ll immediately understand why this matters. Not having to wait in a queue or beg for a developer’s time means your ecommerce projects get the full attention they deserve.
- Create and maintain cross-functional alignment/agreement about the company’s B2B ecommerce strategy. Just as Marketing and Sales teams thrive when they’re aligned, your B2B ecommerce program will thrive if it’s aligned to larger company goals. Alignment means you’ll have executive backing, which is critical. And it will mean you’re more likely to get and keep your budget. And your staff.
- Have a dedicated ecommerce leader. You need a champion in the C-Suite. Not just someone who will approve budgets, but someone who really sees where your ecommerce program could go. Someone who will fight for it if it has a bad quarter or even a bad year.
- Have a dedicated profit and loss statement for your ecommerce sales. Your ecommerce program needs to have its own budget and its own books. This is business after all – we measure things by profit and loss. A P&L gives your project clarity and can be critical if you want to expand your team or take on new projects.
Now for the benchmarking part:
Does your organization have any of these best practices in place? If you’ve got one to three of these best practices in place, Forrester would classify your B2B ecommerce program as being among the Explorers. If you’ve got more four or five of those best practices in place, your program is among the “Masters.” If you’ve got none of them in place, you’re in the “Novice” category.
That’s all certainly a good high-level way to think about B2B ecommerce marketing. But it’s all internally focused. We need to look at things the way customers would see them.
How to deliver a better customer experience with B2B ecommerce marketing
Let’s start with the actual ordering experience. This is what your customers will see and work through, so it can help to build a vision of what you’re aiming for. It can also, of course, give you and your website development team some concrete plans for what to focus on now and in 2020.
Here are what other companies offer for B2B ecommerce functionality and the customer experience:
If you happen to be shopping for a new B2B ecommerce platform, review every item in that table with your potential vendors. Even if you don’t need (or want) to implement the features listed above now, you may want to in a year or so.
Note that there’s one other best practice not mentioned here: Offering an email newsletter or email updates signup. Surprisingly, in Gorilla Group’s 2017 survey of B2B ecommerce marketers, only 51.3% of them said they were asking for newsletter sign-ups.
With most ecommerce sites converting 3% or less of the people who visit, not trying to continue the conversation with the 97% who don’t convert is a major missed opportunity. Add a sign-up form. And execute on all the other email marketing best practices you’ve heard about, like welcome emails, high-value newsletter content, cart abandonment emails, and replenishment emails.
If you want an example of a company that does this right, look to Amazon. We’ll be talking about them in a moment.
B2B ecommerce self-service: Let B2B buyers help themselves
Modern B2B buyers often prefer to help themselves rather than call a salesperson or wait for a customer service rep on the phone. So if your business can offer them genuinely effective self-service support, that’s a major benefit. Even if you’re selling similar products to your competitors, having back-end support could actually end up being a way to use customer service content to drive sales and retention.
Forrester asked about self-service features in detail and found some stark differences between what “Master” B2B ecommerce programs offer compared to novices or even explorers. So once again, if you want some specific best practices for B2B ecommerce, or you want to know which web development projects to prioritize, take a close look at the chart below.
Ask yourself: Does your website offer these features? Have you implemented them well enough that they really work? If not, you and your website development team have a few more projects to schedule for 2020.
Part of offering robust self-service options to your customers is giving them all the information they need to make an informed purchase. Many B2B buyers dislike being forced into demos and sales calls. Simply removing those barriers to purchase can improve their customer experience.
But how, exactly, should you help customers “self-serve” their sales experience? The table below offers a few concrete suggestions for features your ecommerce site should have.
You’ve heard this a hundred times before, but it’s worth repeating yet again: There is now more traffic from mobile devices than from desktops. That fact applies to B2B marketing, and it applies to B2B ecommerce marketing.
Want proof? Here are a few stats from a 2019 RedStage report:
- 80% of B2B buyers use mobile phones at work.
- 50% of B2B searches on are made on smartphones.
- 40% of revenue for leading B2B’s comes from mobile.
- 15% of B2B sellers have a mobile app for customers.
If you haven’t rigorously tested your website and your checkout process on mobile devices, you are probably losing revenue.
Possibly, a lot of revenue.
The prevalence of mobile ecommerce also bring up the issue of multichannel ecommerce. This is something our B2C friends struggle with mightly. And we won’t lie to you: Getting multichannel ecommerce right is hard. But the rewards are there. According to that same Redstage report, 89% of B2B Marketers say omnichannel engagement techniques help them retain customers.
Multichannel ecommerce also means, in part, building apps – and apps that offer product support. The table below can show you how your B2B ecommerce program compares to other B2B programs in terms of mobile usability and mobile-specific applications.
There is something somewhat alarming in this table: It’s late 2019, and only 71% of even top-tier B2B ecommerce marketers are building “responsive designed site(s).” That’s a pretty serious disconnect given how much mobile traffic there is. Every website should be mobile responsive by now.
Should B2B ecommerce marketers sell on Amazon, or not?
If you want to increase sales, Amazon Business is definitely a way to do it. Amazon accounts for 40% of U.S. online retail sales. It’s hard to overstate its influence over every online sale, whether that sale is for B2C or B2B.
And Amazon is not just for B2C sales. Even back in 2017, 51% of B2B ecommerce marketers told the Gorilla Group that they were selling on Amazon.
There’s a lot of B2B purchasing being done on Amazon as well, of course. A late 2018 survey of B2B buyers found that 33% of the B2B buyers said they begin their purchasing journey with Amazon Business or Google. Only with 32% start with any supplier’s website or portal.
Those buyers often end their search with Amazon, too: 30% said they are making more purchases through Amazon Business. Only 22% say they are buying more frequently from supplier sites.
So why are B2B buyers turning to Amazon? The reasons aren’t surprising: It’s familiar, it’s easy, and it’s reliable.
Amazon, of course, has crushed the competition when it comes to delivering an amazing, totally reliable multichannel ecommerce experience. It has all the features that Forrester’s “Master” B2B ecommerce programs have and more.
Here are a few of the features B2B buyers have expressly said they prefer about Amazon Business:
This all should be a big red flag for any B2B ecommerce marketing program: You cannot just put a basic ecommerce site up and say you’re done. You are competing against Amazon. There can be no excuses about “what we have is good enough.”
If you want to compete against Amazon, you’d better make your customers happy. Really happy. Or just give in and sell your products via Amazon, even if it’s in addition to selling on your website. If you don’t have the resources to build a site that can compete with Amazon, the next best thing is just to join it.
B2B ecommerce marketing has many similarities with B2C ecommerce, but it also has some fundamental differences:
- There are “buying committees” in B2B, whereas B2C purchases tend to be researched and executed by one person. The average B2B buying group size is 5.4 people.
- B2B purchases tend to take much longer than B2C purchases. The average B2B sales cycle is 6-12 months. Most B2C purchases don’t take nearly that long, even if the consumer is making a major purchase, like a car.
- B2B purchase size is larger. The average B2C order size is $147. Average B2B order size is $491.
- B2B buyers often want substantially more post-purchase support than B2C buyers.
It’s critical to serve these specific needs of your B2B customers. That can mean you’ll have to make sure your marketing tech purchases can handle these needs, and that your data systems can handle them, too.
But there is one essential rule that applies to both B2B and B2C ecommerce: Know thy customer. Design an optimal experience for them, from the first visit to your site all the way through to their 50th order. Every best practice mentioned here serves that overarching principle.