B2B businesses are increasingly enticed by the appeal of B2B e-commerce platforms, which unlock powerful analytics, feed them real-time customer data, connect tools and sales channels, and even help to re-energise customer experience (CX).
Like just about every trend in the digitalisation space, B2B e-commerce shot up in the wake of COVID-19. At a time when many offices, wholesale stores, depots, and warehouses had to close, or severely limit the number of people allowed on site, B2B e-commerce helped keep other sales channels open. But B2B e-commerce isn’t just a pandemic fad that’s fading out as we return to “normal.” On the contrary, as 2022 continues, we’re likely to see even more B2B businesses moving to e-commerce platforms. Here’s what’s fueling that shift, and why it’s not likely to go away any time soon.
The rise of the ‘business consumer’
B2B buyers are also consumers, and the line between the two personas is becoming increasingly blurred. Today, everyone is used to the personalisation, fast response times, self-service ordering experience and ease of comparison that they enjoy when shopping online, and we want the same experience in our work lives.
It’s even more true for millennials, the first digital-native generation, who make up a greater percentage of B2B buyers every year. Research by Gartner found that 44% of millennial business buyers want a seller-free sales experience, compared with 33% of buyers from other cohorts.
That preference was only strengthened by the pandemic. After several months of shopping only, or primarily, online, B2B customers lack the patience for phone calls, RFPs, email threads, and in-person meetings.
With an e-commerce platform, B2B businesses can offer a personalised customer journey, range of payment methods, and transparent pricing and stock information that the business buyer of today and tomorrow craves.
The growth of omnichannel sales
Another way in which B2B sales trends are mirroring those of B2C is the growth of omnichannel sales, with McKinsey reporting that 83% of B2B leaders see omnichannel driving more leads and sales than traditional approaches. Buyers expect to be able to switch effortlessly between channels without anything disturbing their shopping experience, whether they’re buying a smartphone, office supplies or a CRM solution.
B2B e-commerce streamlines omnichannel sales, making it possible to connect and manage all your channels from a central operating hub. It also supports automation, so you can ensure that prices, stock levels, and delivery times are accurate, adjusted in real-time, and consistent across every channel, no matter how often they fluctuate.
The increasing complexity of B2B sales cycles
B2B sales journeys are growing more complex all the time, with different pricing structures and bundled features. Additionally, B2B buyers are following the trend of consumers and demanding more personalised solutions and product suggestions, which requires rich customer data, powerful analytics, and encyclopedic resources documenting every product feature and the pain point it comes to resolve.
It’s extremely difficult for human employees to meet these expectations, and even harder for them to do so within the short timeframe that buyers demand.
B2B e-commerce platforms can track customer behaviour, crunch data to understand customer needs, and integrate those insights with data about inventory levels and competitor pricing and offerings to produce timely, relevant customer recommendations even about complex bundled products with dynamic pricing.
The precarious supply chain
The supply chain crisis of 2020-21 may have been sparked by the pandemic, but it wasn’t created by it, and it’s not going away with the development of vaccines. Now that COVID-19 has thrown a spotlight over the systemic flaws in the system, they are impossible to ignore. What’s more, things might get worse. Successive variants continue to disrupt shipments in unexpected ways, and Forrester predicts that “shortage” will be the name of the game in 2022.
As components, raw materials, and finished products all risk being hard to find at crucial times, shipment routes have to change quickly. With market conditions fluctuating, B2B businesses will need to be able to react fast.
The superior data and analytics delivered by e-commerce platforms offer visibility into customer preferences and purchase history, supporting improved demand forecasting, while also giving insight into logistics performance so sellers can choose better shipping partners. It also gives B2B buyers transparency into stock levels, shipping times, and real-time pricing, helping avoid the frustration of having to make changes after placing an order.
The ‘great resignation’
Between the “great resignation,” an ongoing shortage of digital talent, and so many fatalities and long-term disabilities due to COVID-19, there are gaps in the workforce that are likely to continue to go unfilled for a long time to come. Just like many other verticals, B2B businesses are feeling their impact and need ways to plug the holes. B2B e-commerce is one such solution. By automating many time-consuming sales tasks, B2B companies can assign human employees to tasks that can’t be replaced by automation or robotics. At the same time, automation helps to reduce the risk of manual errors and speed up transaction times.
B2B e-commerce platforms could save the day in 2022
With B2B businesses facing more, not fewer, challenges in 2022, the adoption of e-commerce platforms is only likely to accelerate. By helping enterprises cope with multichannel sales and marketing, a fractured supply chain, labour shortages, complex sales, and changing buyer expectations, e-commerce platforms are likely to play an ever more important role.