Everything you need to know about B2B e-commerce

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At the start of the pandemic, many B2B businesses started to adopt digital ways as a form of a crisis response. Today, this trend has become the new normal, resulting in a transformation which has led to changing demographic habits. However, this trajectory was already in place long before COVID-19 struck.

In 2019, global sales on B2B e-commerce platforms and marketplaces increased 18.2% to US$12.2 trillion (AU$16.1 trillion), surpassing the B2C sector. This number is also expected to reach US$20.9 trillion (AU$27.6 trillion) by 2027.

This paradigm shift comes with many cross-border opportunities. With a widening digital divide between those who made earlier investments in e-commerce and those who did not, the onus is on businesses to outshine their competitors by implementing a robust strategy. Read on to uncover the elements that are driving the B2B e-commerce growth and what you can do to improve your customer’s buying experience.

The fundamentals of B2B selling

In essence, B2B and B2C are after the same thing – selling of products and services to people. The stark difference is that B2B sales takes place between two business entities instead of a business and an end customer for personal use. In B2B, the decision and approval process is also much more complex and lengthy, with more layers of approval to be sought.

The relationship horizon in B2B is relatively long-term, while in B2C, this tends to be short. The size and value of transactions are also typically larger but with lower-frequency as compared to B2C sales, and the terms of sales tend to be customised to the buyer. 

More than just another touchpoint, a well-implemented e-commerce platform will allow businesses to reach and engage new customers more effectively. Through extensive research conducted by DHL’s research team, the key factors influencing the customer journey on B2B e-commerce channels are outlined below.

Key factors influencing the B2B e-commerce journey

Consider these five categories as your guide to implementing B2B marketing strategies that will add value for your customers, help you increase leads, and improve your profitability through a higher market share and operational efficiency.

1. Digital infrastructure

The shift to digital business models means that customers are increasingly expecting a fast turnaround on things such as getting a quotation. Through in-depth interviews conducted by DHL, it was highlighted that there was a need to heavily invest in digital infrastructure to provide real value for businesses and their customers. For example, B2B companies can tap on technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to help customers find relevant products. Additional features such as mobile responsiveness and secure payment options have also become the standard for most users of e-commerce – whether B2C or B2B.

2. Customer experience

Prioritising the customer experience is key to improving your B2B business performance. Our research also showcased a need to make the search process easier and more efficient. Some e-commerce platforms incorporate live online support to assist with real-time queries, while others provide comprehensive menus, tutorials and strong search capabilities on their website. These are all geared to creating a customer experience that is user-friendly and fuss-free.

In fact, 64% of buyers place more importance on experience than price, and 86% of them are also willing to pay for a better experience.

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3. Personalisation

Mass market personalisation allows B2B e-commerce companies to identify patterns of human behaviour. By incorporating technologies which can predict and anticipate the actions of the customers, customer satisfaction can be improved. Businesses will also have access to greater visibility across the associated costs, such as duties or taxes.

Start by offering customised solutions via customer portals with content organised around a set of parameters: past purchase history, price optimisation algorithms, and configure-price-quote (CPQ) software to make online quotations and adjust pricing. Some of these software include Vendavo8, Blue Yonder10 and Oracle11.

4. Omni-channel

Based on past trends of the B2B sector, there is a distinct recognition that the customer experience can be damaged by poor management of the last mile delivery process. As such, it is crucial to design a seamless end-to-end experience for your customers. An omni-channel approach – a multi-channel sales approach combining traditional and digital options – increases customer engagement and helps B2B businesses amplify their business goals to reach customers around the world. At the same time, be sure to incorporate a strong operational workflow to deliver a positive experience through the final touchpoint.

5. Synchronisation of logistics

Nor surprisingly, many interviewees also shared the crucial role of logistics in B2B cross-border e-commerce. To get an edge above the rest, there is a strong need to come up with an overall fulfilment strategy that provides multiple transport and delivery options, transit time and service requirements.

Through integrating their systems with logistics solutions providers, businesses will retain visibility and transparency over the cost and product journey while extending control to their customers. Create the right logistics strategy to boost your international sales

Kickstart your B2B e-commerce transformation

There is no doubt that the e-commerce space will continue to experience immense growth in the coming years. As such, B2B companies should leverage the technologies and collaborate with service providers such as DHL Express to streamline processes across all touchpoints along the e-commerce journey. Doing so will keep your brand relevant while increasing opportunities in lead generation and sales conversions in the long run.

Learn all about the Flywheel Effect and how it pans out in the e-commerce sphere, major challenges faced by certain sectors, and how to future-proof your business in the full whitepaper: The Ultimate B2B E-Commerce Guide