While working in Dell Online during the early days of eCommerce, I have experienced firsthand the significant differences between B2C (Business-to-Consumer) and B2B (Business-to-Business) online store requirements. Because the existing commercial ecommerce platforms were minimal then, we had to design and develop all the necessary tools to support B2B online sales in-house.
I wrote this post for companies new to B2B commerce and want to accelerate their path to a modern and effective multi-channel B2B sales organization.
The pandemic stimulated the rapid adoption of B2B (Business-to-Business) eCommerce. By 2022, nearly two-thirds of B2B companies across industry sectors were offering e-commerce capabilities. This share is up from 53 percent in early 2021.(1)
Many B2B companies experienced a steep learning curve and made some mistakes. Companies without ecommerce platform selection experience didn’t realize the vast difference between B2C and B2B ecommerce operational requirements. A typical B2C ecommerce platform lacks many essential features that hinder business-to-business merchants.
Critical differences between B2B and B2C customer’s needs
1. Buying decisions: Facts vs. emotions
Buying decisions in B2B eCommerce are planned, logical, and value-driven, rather than impulse and emotional decisions like many B2C purchases. B2B purchasing decisions are based on business needs and often follow a cyclical purchase schedule.
2. Decision-makers: Groups vs. individuals
Groups of multiple people make B2B purchasing decisions. A B2B purchase decision has to follow an established procurement process and may require approval by various managers and departments.
The decision-maker in B2C is a single person usually purchasing an item to fulfill an emotional desire or only one specific need.
3. Buying cycles: Long vs. short (or complex vs. simple)
Buying cycles in the B2B landscape tend to be long and complicated. The B2B purchasing process involves several departments and individuals, both the sellers and the buyer. Multiple decision-makers need access to information that is most relevant to them.
B2B buyers may negotiate a long-term agreement and stay with their suppliers for an extended period, whereas B2C relationships don’t typically involve many repeats.
The orders’ size and price also mean buyers must take extra due diligence to ensure product quality. On the other hand, the B2C process is much shorter and more straightforward.
4. Focus: Convenience, speed, and relevant information vs. needs and wants
B2C buyers consider their needs and desires when deciding on a product and then pick the product that best fits those needs.
For B2B buyers, the focus is on the product’s impact on the business’s bottom line. Buyers will consider multiple factors such as the ease of transaction, payment terms, the speed of communication and the ability to complete the transaction, and how much information is available about the product.
Essential features that every B2B merchant must have to succeed
1. Storefront with a greater focus on user/customer experience
Business-to-business customers expect the quality of the shopping experience to be on par with modern B2C online stores. Your B2B store must provide customer satisfaction at the same or higher level than other sales channels.
Here are some essential storefront tool requirements:
- Easy-to-use and intuitively designed templates
- Customizable and brandable
- Responsive on various devices: mobile, desktops, and tablets
- Easy to add tools to — like lead capture forms, personalization plug-ins, product configurators, and rewards programs.
- Open for extension and integration with other systems when required:
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
- Accounting or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
- Marketing Automation
- Social Media
- Warehouse automation and logistics
2. Wholesale Pricing & Customer Pricing
Business buyers need the ability to understand product prices and compare them to alternative sources to make a purchase decision. All customers and the customers with an existing account may see the different prices of the same product. Customers from an organization that has an agreement with a particular volume discount may see lower prices than all store visitors.
Make sure that your eCommerce platform supports pricing per customer group. For example, BigCommerce Enterprise and B2B editions support bulk buying discounts, price lists, and promotions for select groups.
All store visitors, including new customers, should be able to understand price per unit and volume discounts to make decisions. Business buyers are value-focused, and procurement departments often require “apples to apples” comparison to approve the purchase.
3. Detailed Content – Product catalog
The B2B eCommerce platform needs a specialized content management system (CMS) to support product information management and online presentation. The CMS must support a product classification with necessary hierarchy levels, product descriptions, photographs, specifications, prices, manuals in PDF formats, and videos. Some product types may need special configurators to make necessary parts and options selection.
A robust search engine is critical for businesses with extensive catalogs.
Merchants should be able to share their catalogs across multiple channels such as Facebook stores, Amazon marketplace, and Google shopping. If the base platform does not have the necessary product information management capabilities, check whether extending it with compatible third-party applications should be possible.
4. Corporate Account Management
The concept of corporate account vs. individual consumer account is a critical feature of any B2B eCommerce platform. One or more individuals may represent a business account at any time. The business account stays the same while an individual may change.
The corporate account management tools allow store administrators to set up multiple tiers of buyers with specific roles and authority levels. Persons with organization admin access can manage other users under their organization account.
5. Request a quote
Because the price of a product in a B2B store depends on multiple factors such as product configuration, quantity, particular customer or customer group, delivery schedule, and others, customers often have to call and ask for a quote. The online request for a quote feature allows to streamline the process and cut time for back and force communication.
After receiving a request, sales representatives can create a quote and provide additional discounts to customers on top of pre-arranged pricing. They also may place an order on a customer’s behalf after the company approves the quote.
Ideally, your sales team uses the same quote generation process regardless of how they received a request – online, by phone, or in person. They should have the flexibility on how to complete transactions, for instance, sending back a quote with a link to the checkout or placing an order on behalf of a customer.
6. Easy reordering
Business-to-business buyers often make repeat purchases that follow an inventory replenishment cycle. A B2B store user must view all company-level previously purchased products with the company-specific base price.
Other features that facilitate easy reading are:
- Manage and save multiple shopping lists. Retrieve these for future use, and seamlessly purchase previously saved products.
- Quick Order: Upload a list of products for an organization’s custom quick order page.
7. Flexible payments
B2B buyers depending on the nature of the business, may need specific payment options. That may include traditional payment methods as well as some new payment methods:
- Trade credit
- Purchase order
- Paper checks
- Cash on delivery
- Credit card or Mobile wallets
- ACH – Bank to electronic bank transactions
- Instant credit
B2B platforms need to allow customers to quickly manage and pay invoices with flexible payment options.
I hope these recommendations will help new or established B2B sellers advance their ecommerce operations. Investing time to understand your current customers’ expectations and make necessary enhancements to your website and back-end operations to grow your sales is vital. It is also very beneficial to engage with an experienced B2B ecommerce consultant who would help you navigate the complexity of the modern B2B technology platforms.
- The leading edge for successful B2B sales growth is digital. Here’s why. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/growth-marketing-and-sales/our-insights/busting-the-five-biggest-b2b-e-commerce-myths