When they embark on the adventure of electronic commerce, business managers frequently approach their project with a B2C consumer vision, often supported by consultants or agencies who do not have sufficient mastery of the specifics of selling to businesses. This is the best way to go wrong and take your B2B e-commerce site in the wrong direction. To avoid it, we suggest you decipher the peculiarities of B2B e-commerce…
B2B E-Commerce: an unknown giant
When we hear about internet sales in the media, it is most often B2C e-commerce, that is to say only the part of sales that companies make to individuals … It must be recognized that figures from this sector of activity are enough to seduce journalists: in 2019, the milestone of 100 billion euros in turnover was crossed for the first time in France by 200,000 sites, with nearly 40 million consumers.
Although they are significant, the figures for B2C e-commerce are far from equaling those of B2B ecommerce: in France, business-to-business (B2B) internet sales weigh 150 billion euros , or 5 times the sale to individuals. In Germany or the United Kingdom, it is almost 4 times more! The annual B2B growth is 25%, against only 5.5% for B2C. As for the average basket, it is above 1500 € in B2B against… 60 € in B2C! The dynamics, the stakes and the amounts are on a whole different scale…
In terms of potential, we also see big differences: the individual consumer is reaching a form of maturity in terms of Internet shopping, which explains the decrease in annual growth. But in B2B, online sales still only represent 25% of overall activity , which means that the development potential is very strong.
The Coved crisis: a strong growth accelerator
With shoppers telecommuting and sales force teams stuck at home, selling online has proven to be an extremely successful way to keep business going despite a complicated environment. During the confinement, professional customers have achieved their digital transformation at a rapid pace, thus accelerating a process that has been latent for several years. Companies will not go back: now that they have taken a liking to Internet shopping and data exchange, they will demand this service from all their service providers. Become the norm, and only those who have adapted their sales journey to this new context will be able to continue to develop.
B2B vs B2C: real structuring differences
As we explained in the introduction, it is tempting to approach an online sales platform project with our reflexes as individual consumers. To dare a comparison, that would be equivalent to getting behind the wheel of a semi-trailer with a simple B license: beware of breakage! The differences are indeed so numerous and important that we must forget these “bad” reflexes in order to properly address the problems of professional clients.
Let’s review the main features of a B2B e-commerce site…
Multi-catalog & multi-store environment
In B2C, there is often only one store associated with a brand, with a single price list, and sometimes a connection to marketplaces (Amazon, eBay, etc.) or to social networks. In B2B, the configuration is more complex: you have to offer your customers a specific environment within their store, so that the product catalog, prices or logistics information are those specific to each customer.
Customer acquisition & lead nurturing
B2C logic is based on the acquisition / conversion / retention triptych. Many B2C e-commerce sites operate in near autarky, with specific customer bases and – often – dedicated digital tools. In B2B, the acquisition is the result of the action of the sales teams, who via their CRM carry out social selling (1) and lead nurturing (2), the opening of an account occurring at the end of the negotiation phases. More or less long. The interconnection of the B2B import plastic granules ecommerce site with the company’s business software is therefore essential.
For individuals, each individual has a dedicated account. It couldn’t be simpler. In B2B, the configuration is necessarily more sophisticated: the buyer places an order, the accountant collects the invoices, the marketing department downloads sales support materials and the supervisor checks that no one oversteps his prerogatives. In short, to each company correspond several accounts, with different rights that must be able to be managed and revoked according to the movements of the company.
Multichannel sales journey
B2B e-commerce also goes further than its B2C little brother. In addition to the web store, physical store, social networks, marketplaces and mobile application channels, a B2B online sales platform must be able to interact “live” with the ERP of its customers, via a punch-out or an API. It must also be able to generate paper or flipbook catalogs on demand, with the minimum of human intervention by graphic designers. More than a store, this platform must therefore be able to dynamically adapt to the different distribution methods your company may be confronted with: direct sales, distributors, resellers, franchisees, purchasing centers, marketplaces, etc.
High shipping constraints
Partial deliveries, leftovers, seeded shipments, multi-site deliveries… Professionals have very specific requirements in terms of the delivery of their orders, far from B2C standards. It is an essential component of the buying experience of a B2B e-commerce site to be able to offer this whole range of services in a fluid, pleasant and fast way.
Specific means of payment and invoicing
The payments for a “pro” order are not managed in the same way as for an individual, for whom the choices are often limited to bank cards, PayPal, checks or transfers, the maximum degree of complexity. Being achieved by a payment in 3 installments without charge. Companies use multiple means of payment, in cash or at maturity: your platform must therefore offer these different services, by being able to manage outstanding with alert and blocking thresholds, and by interfacing with your banking software. To automatically trigger direct debit orders. Billing should be flexible and flexible, to authorize a payment by order, or grouped invoices according to a statement of account with regular due dates, by week or by month for example.
A truck garage is not organized the same way as a car dealership. The layout, the decoration, the workshop and even the parking lot are not thought of in the same way, because they are aimed at different audiences. In terms of the design and ergonomics of your website, it’s similar. Forget the advice of web designers too focused on B2C: your professional customers expect specific content, layouts that save them time and really effective search tools. Functionality and performance take priority over design!
How to make the right choices?
If your business strategy involves B2B e-commerce, we hope that reading this article has warned you about an approach that is too “end customer” oriented. Because B2B is not treated the same way as B2C, we recommend that you call on specialists in internet sales to businesses. To avoid making mistakes in choosing your service providers, demand solid references as well as proven feedback on issues similar to yours. Avoid pre-formatted speeches, without nuance or approach specifically adapted to B2B. In this way, by starting on a solid foundation surrounded by real professionals, your project will have every chance to succeed as soon as possible.