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B2C e-commerce has held center stage for some time, given its focus on making online and mobile sites attractive to consumers, such as adding online loyalty programs, product videos, omnichannel rewards, subscription services, and content to draw people in. B2Bs have transformed online shopping from an act of convenience to a pastime.

So what about B2B e-commerce? US B2B e-commerce will grow from $780 billion in 2015 to $1.13 trillion in 2020, according to Forrester. And, though there are pioneers in the B2B space, it needs more of them.

B2B e-commerce often conjures up images of stodgy professionals ordering products and supplies, rarely changing their routine, and keeping the same suppliers for years. But they are, in fact, consumers, and B2B organizations should consider the very same selling practices that their B2C counterparts already mastered—or fear consumer abandonment for the better experience on the market.

In some cases, B2B companies know they need to consider a more complete digital e-commerce channel. However, they are dealing with complexities and intricate business models that B2C companies don't have to deal with, involving distributors, suppliers, resellers, partners, etc. These can include anything from custom costs and pricing tiers, complex purchasing processes and custom catalogs, tax regulations, and fulfillment, shipping and logistics considerations. It can be overwhelming.

Regardless of these considerations, successful B2B organizations have demonstrated that they can coordinate all their channels online. In fact, some organizations find their processes to be more efficient when brought online—and those improvements carry over to their bottom line.

Let's discuss some solid first steps to actually implement a successful B2B e-commerce site. For one, it's critical to build internal support with other decision-makers in your business. Educate decision-makers on the market—and the opportunity that your organization has within the B2B e-commerce space. Share the truth regarding end-customer expectations and demands online.

Skillsets and Best-Practices

Once you have executive buy-in, it's important to align your organization and build a team with strong e-commerce skillsets or the ability to quickly learn and adapt to e-commerce best practices.

For example:

  • Your customers want the same multichannel purchasing capabilities they have access to as B2C shoppers. Professionals will start to blend their work purchases with the personal purchases they make, all on the same website if it is easier and fits their preferences for online or mobile shopping.
  • Require business users to register and sign in, and ensure that your system automatically presents the necessary information specific to their requirements—especially by displaying their specific custom catalogs, purchasing processes, and prices.
  • Make sure that your path to purchase is simple and optimized. Your purchase portal may have a more complicated system for ordering that customers adhered to over time. This loyalty will shift if there are easier options out there.
  • Update your delivery and shipping standards. Many sites out there offer next-day delivery—determine whether you can compete with that, and if not, consider changes to make it happen.
  • Improve inventory availability and transparency. Customers want to know that they can get the product they need, when they need it, on any channel they want. It also helps to supplement one channel's out-of-stock status with another channel that can better support demand.
  • Select the right technology partner with platform capabilities that support your business. Make sure they place a focus on integrating back-office systems to ensure a smooth transition from all perspectives.
  • Limit sales and channel conflicts by being fully transparent—and don't be afraid to incentivize your channel partners if needed.
  • Set far-reaching and near-term goals and measure your e-commerce and m-commerce success against those goals and timelines.

B2B businesses can no longer ignore customer demands if they want to continue as a viable competitor in their market. Once you get past the fear of changing up the status quo, you will find that barriers are easy to get past, and you will likely improve and make your business more efficient as a result. Now is the time to understand your own business model complexities, align your organization, and map out your plan of attack to succeed with a multichannel B2B commerce offering.

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image of Darren Hill

Darren Hill is co-founder and CEO of WebLinc, the commerce platform provider for fast growing online retailers.

LinkedIn: Darren Hill