It’s easy to forget about the people. Yes, B2B marketing is brands selling to other brands, but behind those brands are people actually doing the buying. And those people are consumers who, in every other aspect of their life, live in the B2C world.

B2B e-commerce customers want a B2C experience, but with all of the B2B enhancements and functionality.

This continues to be a central theme in B2B e-commerce and one that was discussed at length during IRCE 2016 this past June in Chicago, and has been for the past few years. B2B e-commerce customers want a B2C experience, but with all of the enhancements and functionality that make the B2B ordering experience easier.

Cucchiara_B2B e-commerce_B2B categories

The B2B Difference

The distinct differences between B2B from B2C customer needs means there is no real out-of-the-box template at this time. B2B relationships are much more complex and nuanced than those of B2C. And while the traditional sales funnel is gone for both B2B and B2C, the B2B purchase path can become more complicated with an extended pre-purchase experience, which is where marketing and sales teams focus most of their attention. But the B2B journey extends past that pre-purchase and purchase experience, and there is a need to hone in on the service and post-purchase journeys to retain and create advocates of B2B customers.

Company research discussed at IRCE 2016 demonstrated the role of emotions in the B2B decision-making process. While self-purchases have a limited impact on the purchaser, B2B purchases can impact the entire company and, more importantly, the reputation of the purchaser within that company.

Finding ways to make the buying process easier, while helping the purchasers confirm they are making the right choice, will help increase conversion rates and create ongoing advocates. Tactics include personalized recommendations based on behaviors and company attributes, data on product trends and purchase patterns, and robust content about the product that helps inform the decision.

The B2C experience: create a visually engaging user experience, show the right price, and make shipping easy.

The B2C Experience

So how do you deliver the B2C customer experience? Create a visually engaging and friendly user experience, show the right price, and make shipping easy. To dive a little deeper, this means you should:

Simplify the path

  • Blend content and commerce
  • Deliver functionality customers are asking for (not what you think they want)
  • Include enhanced search features
  • Offer related products and recommendations

Own the first click

  • Keep buyers on the site
  • Include engagement tools (CTAs, comparisons, saved carts, wish lists)
  • Don’t just compete on price, compete on experience

Cucchiara_B2B e-commerce_Amazon Business

The experience is important because Amazon is solidly in the B2B space. Eighty-two percent of buyers have used Amazon to research and compare prices for work purchases. The brand continues to build out its marketplace, enticing both buyers and sellers into the Amazon ecosystem. Amazon brings all its best practices to bear, including robust product detail pages, price comparisons, and shipping deals, while layering in B2B requirements like price books and quoting.

B2B businesses will have to compete on the experience to continue to maintain direct relationships with their buyers, and if they can reduce friction and make the buying experience easier for the purchaser, they will increase loyalty.

B2B e-commerce will be more than 2X the size of B2C by 2020, to the tune of $1.13 trillion in the U.S.

There’s a reason to go through all of this work catering to the more complex B2B e-commerce relationships: the sky is the limit. There is a belief that B2C e-commerce has a ceiling. People want to interact with the products they are purchases. For B2B, that ceiling does not exist. Because of this, it is expected that B2B e-commerce will be more than 2X the size of B2C by 2020, to the tune of $1.13 trillion in the U.S.

B2B customers are already shopping on the Internet, and research indicates they are at least three years ahead of most brands, just waiting for them to catch up to their expectations. Already 63 percent of buyers research at least half of their product purchases online, and 53 percent will complete at least half of their purchases online by 2018. If companies do not have an e-commerce website to capture that traffic, someone else will. It is quickly becoming the expectation. It is no longer of question of “if” but should be a question of “how fast can we get there.”

It is an exciting time for B2B e-commerce. Companies, software platforms, and customers are coming together to find innovative ways to capitalize on the opportunity to improve the internal workings of businesses, while better servicing their customers.

Its hard work to re-engineer large corporations, but those that take on the challenge and succeed will reap the many rewards. And if you need help catering to B2B customers on your e-commerce site, we can help with that. If you’re a buyer for your company, let us know your biggest purchasing challenges and what sites cater to your needs the best in the comments.

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