In the past years, the difference between the B2C- and B2B e-commerce has become smaller and smaller. In B2B customer relations, the personal contact has always been dominant. But B2B customers now increasingly explore opportunities online and expect a 24/7 service. Nowadays, content and e-mail marketing can’t be left out of the digital marketing mix of the B2B SMB anymore.

When a part of your range can be sold online, then your web shop probably contains many elements of a customer web shop with the addition of specific B2B functions.


B2B CUSTOMERS EXPECT MORE THAN JUST A SHOPPING CART

An advanced account hierarchy is an indispensable function in a B2B e-commerce offer. In the first place, an account can have multiple users, each with their own role and rights. For example for procuration, ordering or without the right to order. One could wish, for example, that the order is initiated by a specific role and that it has to be approved by another role. In addition, one can opt to, for example, assign users to one or more branches. Of course, both a billing and a delivery address can be configured for each branch. When a user is logged in, it’s often appreciated that he or she also prominently gets to see the contact details of the assigned personal salesman. There could be multiple for each account. The complex account hierarchy is sometimes related to the catalogue: users only get to see a limited part of the total product range.

In a B2B environment there are often more complex price structures than in a standard B2C relation. Often, there are clients with specific price arrangements or a quantity discount is granted when a product is purchased in large quantities.

quick-order-example

Quick order example of Quill.com

B2B customers will often order in a different way than in a B2C context. First of all, B2B customers often already know very well what they wish to buy. The so-called quick order function, giving the customer an order form where product names or SKUs can be added with the corresponding desired numbers, is therefore essential. Additionally, this form can be elaborated by uploading a CSV file to facilitate the customer even more. In a B2B context, it’s also important to make it possible to request a quotation, allowing customers to first internally ask for approval. Such procuration procedures are mandatory within many companies and when you can’t offer this, then you’ll miss out on those customers. Of course business customers expect to be able to order with an invoice. Many companies choose to have the first order paid in advance, and following orders to be settled with an invoice. It would be wise for you to integrate a credit check in your order or registration process, to check the creditworthiness of your customers beforehand.

Using B2B e-commerce, you usually can’t dodge the integration with ERP-, CRM- or OMS-systems. When developing a digital offer for B2B customers, a form of self-service often has an important role to play. A first requirement is that customers can request their order and invoice history. In doing so, they also expect to find orders that are made through other channels in the overview. Integrations such as insight in the actual stock or delivery times can be important too.

The cliché of course is that, in comparison to B2C e-commerce, B2B e-commerce would be a desktop matter, from 9 to 5. This is definitely not the case for specific target groups. It’s essential to examine how your customer base uses the internet, to then develop a distinctive offer.

Verkoopscenarios-B2B-e-commerce

INEVITABLE CHANNEL CONFLICTS

While B2C companies with a strong own brand already made their way to direct sales in the beginning of the century, B2B companies often experience some kind of channel conflict.

First of all, such B2B companies experience a conflict with the existing sales force. E-commerce, however, allows personal salesmen to receive more qualitative leads (for example requests through the contact form) and to complete more sales with less effort. On the other hand, the personal salesman is also essential to make a B2B web shop successful. In the first place, the personal salesman promotes and demonstrates the digital offer to his customers. But the personal salesman can also help customers who experience a problem during the order process and has more time because the standard orders don’t go through him or her. This time can be invested in better customer advice. Of course salesmen expect to be rewarded for their effort. It’s up to you whether that will be the full rate.

An even more delicate channel conflict arises with your distributive trade (distributor, wholesaler or stores). In time, the sale through the traditional distributive trade will diminish. Of course you can redefine your distributive trade to the new market conditions. You have to ask yourself whether you want to be fully dependent on that.

Samenwerking-producent-tussenhandel

In a few cases, you can choose to map out a digital strategy which is independent of your distributive trade. In most cases, your middleman will kick you out and then it will be wiser to pursue a hybrid cooperation. You can then consider various scenarios.

First of all, you can choose to not sell through your site, but to redirect visitors to the sites of your distributors. However, you then don’t have any influence on the client experience and you actually create friction because you redirect clients from your environment to someone else’s environment. Your distributive trade can also offer other ranges that can seduce the online client. Through your own offer, you can also accept orders that you deliver through your distributors, whether or not against a lower commission. If you forward orders, then you have to carefully pick on what basis you will do that. You can for example choose to rotate your orders 1 by 1 for each distributor or you can give certain distributors a preferential treatment (logically based on their location, their actual stock or the achieved turnover in your company). You can also, for example, choose to develop a web shop for your distributors yourself, one that they possibly can exploit. You can then develop a dropshipping model, directly handling the orders through these sites via your stock.

It’s no question whether or not you should develop a digital offer as a B2B player. If you don’t, you’ll lose customers. How you do it however, can vary for each market and company.


B2B MARKETING

If there were a success formula for B2B marketing, everyone would use it. Every target group is different. In the domain of B2B marketing, content marketing and e-mail marketing in particular were the leading media in convincing the customer. Despite we’re in the middle of a genuine content explosion right now, and the effectiveness of e-mail marketing seems to be decreasing, both media will also play first fiddle in 2018.

People write a lot about content marketing. Content marketing is relevant in a B2B context because almost every business customer uses online orientation to find a solution for his problem or to find new suppliers. It’s your job to convince him or her to also take you into account. Within the field of content marketing, especially video plays the leading role.

Regarding e-mail marketing in 2018, B2B companies would be wise to arrange campaigns that anticipate on the needed repeat purchases. For such campaigns, one needs a certain amount of predicting abilities. You have to know the customer and the average consumption at others. If you do that well, you have a very powerful medium at your disposal which you can use to make your customers carry out a repeat purchase by just pressing the button.

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