Experts are forecasting incredible growth figures for eCommerce among businesses, i.e. for the B2B sector. According to the research firm, Forrester, sales in the United States will cross the trillion-dollar threshold over the next four years, accounting for 12% of all corporate trade.
However, I was caught by another statement in the Forrester research: B2B buyers expect the same kind of customer experience they would get from consumer eCommerce (B2C) and are frustrated by companies that cannot provide it.
What does this mean for you in practice as you design your B2B eCommerce site?
For a long time, I was responsible for the development of an eCommerce site for a company that manufactured equipment and provided industrial maintenance services. At first it was difficult to determine what a B2B online store should really do – what it should look and feel like. Comparable solutions included order applications, product data archives or some combination of both. They were about as exciting as a screwdriver. Experts offered models of B2C eCommerce stores. What if we were to blithely copy consumer eCommerce solutions? Wouldn’t that put us a step ahead of the competitors?
Let’s rethink this. Customers are looking for the same kind of customer experience they get in a consumer online store – a customer experience that’s just as good. However, a customer on a B2B eCommerce site has different needs than one on a consumer site. Here are a few examples.
Not all customers need to click the Checkout button
In B2B eCommerce the core issue isn’t about how many customers order via an online store. A larger customer probably prefers to place an order directly from its own ERP or procurement system. Even smaller customers prefer not to enter order placement information in two different locations. Products are sometimes so complex that finalising the order might require some discussion between the salesperson and buyer.
The most important feature of a B2B eCommerce solution is to convince buyers they should buy from you and to get them to make contact. The actual purchase transaction often takes another route.
One user role not enough
As consumers we have the power to decide what to purchase. However, even in slightly larger companies, the tasks of defining needs and making purchases are often divided between two – sometimes more – different people. As a result, different roles are required.
The saying, ‘Customers who viewed this item bought these’ resonates more with a designer looking for suitable components than with a buyer whose requirements have already been defined. Further, the item a service technician needs to repair a piece of equipment can often be written in the margin of a sheet of paper on the buyer’s desk. There are smarter approaches; a good eCommerce site recognises these different needs.
B2B eCommerce selection presentation
In the manufacturing industry in particular, buyers have very specific needs. In fact, one of the most important aspects of a B2B eCommerce solution is to make it easy to find products. Later on when a customer relationship is well-established and orders become regular, the focus shifts to ordering with ease. As dull as it sounds, many buyers dream of bypassing browsing and just making express orders by copying and pasting from an Excel sheet.
A B2B merchant needs to find ways to make additional sales in such cases.
But back to the central issue: customer experience. The expectation level from B2C eCommerce has caused our leisure time experiences to affect our work. If we can place an order at home with a few mouse clicks, why can’t purchasing at work be as easy?
It’s essential to understand a customer’s purchasing path. A B2B eCommerce site should integrate the customer’s purchasing path so seamlessly that using it doesn’t require any extra effort. This doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to make use of good B2C standards, such as navigation, customer service, additional services and product recommendations. However, this must be implemented so that it’s useful to your customers.
Don’t add functionalities just to make a B2B eCommerce site feel like a B2C online store. When technical speed blindness strikes, it’s easy to neglect traditional channels. So it’s important you don’t forget your sales and customer service. They need to know your online store’s selection and should preferably also place orders in it. Good customer experience in the B2B sector involves a complete service experience, not just an online store.