Today’s B2B buyers have fewer constraints than those of 10 years ago. To decrease costs, even enterprise companies are streamlining their purchasing processes, including increased online purchasing without the traditional purchase order or invoice.
In “B2B Ecommerce Growing; Becoming More Like B2C,” I explained that B2B buyers are looking for an ecommerce experience that is comparable to buying consumer goods. That expectation will grow in 2016. B2B buyers often make purchases on B2C websites when products are available, so the opportunity to sell to businesses exists for B2C online merchants. Interestingly, 82 percent of B2B buyers have made B2B purchases on Amazon’s consumer site, versus on Amazon Business, according to research firm Forrester.
In a recent survey of enterprise buyers, Forrester found that 32 percent of respondents made half or more of their work purchases online. Fifty-three percent expect more than half of their business purchases to be made online in 2018. The rate of online business purchasing is likely even higher among smaller companies that don’t have rigid purchasing rules.
Reasons for switching to online purchasing include the convenience of being able to purchase 24 hours a day and the speed of completing the transaction. Even if purchases are not made online, business buyers use websites extensively for product research. Sixty-three percent of respondents researched at least half of their work purchases online. While 70 percent of respondents start their research on a search engine rather than a manufacturer or distributor website, the majority make their purchase on an industry distributor website (30 percent) or a manufacturer site (26 percent).
Thirty-seven percent of respondents said their preference is to start their research on a site with the broadest product selection, while 28 percent go to the site that they perceive is easiest to use. However 31 percent say they make their final purchase on a site that provides the most product details and information. So unless you provide rich information, business buyers will go elsewhere to purchase, no matter how broad your product selection.
Mobile Research and Purchasing Is Increasing
According to the Forrester survey, 52 percent of B2B buyers are doing product research on smartphones. It’s crucial that B2B merchants optimize their websites for mobile users, just like B2C sellers. Mobile purchases are expected to comprise a larger proportion of business buying as more employees with purchasing rights make their purchases on the road or in their homes, using their personal smartphones.
New enterprise mobility applications that empower any employee with a smartphone or a tablet to work from any location also provide greater security. Millenials are heavy mobile users. As baby boomers exit the workforce in greater numbers, the percentage of millenials will grow. Accommodating their buying habits is a necessity. Millenials already comprise a large proportion of business purchasers and they expect a good omnichannel experience. They have little patience for long sales cycles.
Establishing Customer Loyalty
Dealing with B2C online sellers has raised expectations of B2B buyers, who want a seamless purchase experience across channels. In addition, consistently providing lowest prices and having an easy-to-use site encourages business customers to return.
Another Forrester report, “Mastering Omni-channel B2B Customer Engagement,” commissioned by consulting firm Accenture Interactive and enterprise platform SAP hybris found that B2B companies are most likely to repeatedly buy from the same supplier if prices and product details are transparently listed online. Just as with consumer websites, customer loyalty is dependent on whether merchants track buyers’ purchasing habits across multiple channels and offer personalized recommendations.
Thanks to the plethora of product information on the Internet and the self-service purchasing trend, buyers have more control over the product research and purchasing process. There is little need for personal contact with sales people. So, as with B2C online sales, B2B selling has to be done by your website.
To make the B2B sale, ecommerce merchants should provide the following.
- Publish detailed relevant content and make sure it is easily accessible for the prospective buyer in all sales channels.
- Use graphics and video to showcase products.
- Include a live chat feature in case the buyer needs more information. That is more appealing to many buyers than having to talk to a salesperson.
- Use tracking, monitoring, and measurement tools. Analyzing buyer behavior can predict conversion as well as repeat purchases and help to make any necessary changes to the buying process.