eCommerce Insiders

B2B eCommerce: A Best Practice Checklist for Success

Business-to-business (B2B) eCommerce is a potentially lucrative online retail sector to target.

If you are considering establishing a B2B eCommerce business, or would like to set up a B2B department for your existing online store, we have researched all the latest best practice tips and techniques to help you ensure your website content matches what business buyers are looking for.

Some of the specific advantages of offering a B2B eCommerce website include:

  • Business buyers are increasingly turning to online retailers to make their purchases
  • While business buyers may already have a set of preferred suppliers, the majority also buy from online retailers outside of their network
  • Once you have sold to business buyers, you have a great opportunity to become a preferred supplier: this means you have greater potential for generating a reliable sales volume from regular sales, and you have also opportunities to offer ongoing B2B subscription retail
  • Business buyers are motivated by emotions, trust and product information just like other online buyers, but have less need for high-maintenance strategies like social media.

B2B Online Retail is Growing!

According to industry analysts Forrester, the B2B eCommerce market is worth $559 billion a year, more than double the $252 billion of business-to-customer (B2C). B2B online retail is growing at a rate of 20% a year. Another industry analyst, Gartner, is even more optimistic. They believe the actual market size is something around $800 billion.

A study this year by U.S. freight management company UPS shares some details about the potential of the B2B online buying market. They found that more than half of industrial buyers (63%) purchase online, while 54% spend at least half of their budgets online.

For eCommerce businesses trying to break into this market, there is good news: a third (34%) of business buyers make online purchases outside of their usual supplier base.

UPS found that the most important criteria that businesses use when choosing online suppliers include:

  • delivery time and estimated delivery date, shipping costs, return policies; and
  • online product information.


ABOVE: Key findings from UPS B2B eCommerce Study

Of course, a study by UPS is surely going to talk up the importance of offering shipping delivery information! But the findings are similar – if not as strongly focused on shipping – as another study conducted by Diana Huff for B2B Marketing experts KoMarketing Associates.

Their first annual B2B Web Usability Report, released in February this year, found that the four “must have” content groups of successful B2B retail websites are:

  • online pricing information
  • technical information
  • blog posts/white papers and
  • shipping information.


ABOVE: Findings from Diana Huff and KoMarketing Associates on B2B eCommerce buyers information needs

UPS found that 70% ranked overall website features as very or extremely important. KoMarketing’s study agrees, although they note that such website features should focus on helping the visitor navigate through content and not confuse visitors with lots of bells and whistles. Diana Huff writes in the KoMarketing study:

“Buyers, who are busy and efficient, follow certain behaviors when they arrive at a vendor website. They head directly to the products and services pages; they thoroughly dislike website elements that waste their time or distract them.”

1. Attracting B2B customers to your eCommerce business

SEO and PPC advertising are important conduits for gaining new customers. Keywords for products and services, and keywords addressing specific industry markets should lead to targeted landing pages that allow easy navigation to the product pages of your website.

Checklist

  • Conduct a regular product search audit on your website: Imagine you are one of your customers. Now search for a product they would want to buy. Are you visible in search results? Which of your website pages do you arrive at when you click on a search result link? Is it easy to get to a detailed product and pricing page from there (that is, is it immediate or at least one click away?)

2. Converting Leads

Email is one of the strongest conversion techniques for the B2B buyer. Two important considerations with email are that the content needs to be specific enough to the reader, and must be provided at just the right intervals.

To get people onto your email newsletter, you need to ask them to “opt in”.

Canadian B2B marketing specialists, Brainrider recommend the use of progressive forms when inviting visitors to opt in to newsletters or other downloadable content. This is a technique where the first time a visitor signs up for a newsletter, you may just ask their name and email address. This makes it more likely that new visitors will sign up.

Then, when you later offer special content – such as a white paper or a product comparison guide – you could ask for more information, such as your prospect’s business and work title. Good email subscription management services will help you ensure that these details are added to existing contacts and not duplicate your contact list. You can also use APIs to link your email marketing database to your CRM, and set alerts so that when you have a certain level of progressive data completed (perhaps the third level would be a phone contact or question about how soon they will be making a new purchasing decision), and this could trigger a sales call or a discount offer to encourage leads to buy now.

Checklist

  • Have you mapped your priority customer personas and have you tracked to which landing page and product pages they are most likely to want to visit? Can you create email newsletter groupings that correspond to each of your main customer persona profiles?
  • Can you set up your email marketing database and CRM to be able to take advantage of progressive forms? When would you consider a lead as moving from warm (interested generally in your products) to hot (ready to buy now if the offer is right)? Are you able to track this?
  • Can you set up your email marketing data analytics so that you can review how many subscribers open and click-through on your emails? Can you experiment with the timing of your newsletters – monthly, six-weekly, 2 months, ten-weekly – to determine if people are more likely to open emails if they come at more frequent or less frequent intervals?
  • Do you make sure you have links for more information throughout your emails to engage with readers who are showing signs of greater interest?

3. Sales services

As UPS discovered in their survey, shipping information is not only important for sales conversion, but shipping and delivery services are crucial for building B2B customer loyalty.

There are a range of APIs and shipping services that enable you to track orders throughout the delivery process. By using these integrators, customers can check the delivery progress of their packages directly. So this lets you offer a value-added service without generating more work for your customer service team.

If you are providing a global delivery service in a specific niche, it may be necessary to review regulation policies in your international markets. For example, in Europe, several countries may have differing legislation for suppliers who mail products where the batteries are included (see, for example, the EU’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment regulations).

Checklist

  • Are shipping and delivery details prominently explained on your product ordering pages and on your home page?
  • Do you have testimonials on your website sharing customer experiences related to shipping and delivery reliability?
  • Do you have a specific page with more detailed information on shipping and delivery expectations, including a reliability metric showing your previous experience in managing delivery in a timely manner?
  • Do you enable customers to track their orders throughout the delivery process?

4. Building customer loyalty and return sales

If a third of business buyers are purchasing from B2B online retailers outside their usual supplier networks, that means there are great opportunities to build customer loyalty and become one of their regular suppliers by offering great services.

One way to do so is by analyzing purchases to see if you can offer a subscription-like retail service. If businesses are buying staple products that need replenishing regularly, it may be possible to offer a one-click ordering system in future to simplify re-ordering for your customer.

Alternatively, it may be possible to analyze their order and estimate when they will need to restock, and set an email reminder and discount offer just prior to that reordering timeline so that you can demonstrate availability right when purchasing is top of mind for your business customer.

Here again, APIs can be an important benefit in managing customer loyalty and repeat service. German wine reseller Hawesko has managed to build a successful B2B arm of their online wine retail business by integrating their order management system with their customers’ financial record-keeping systems. Enterprises are looking for seamless workflows that store and track documentation according to their internal procurement and authorization processes. For example, some companies allow discretionary approval for purchases up to a certain dollar amount and that then require management approval above that amount. So if a B2B retail site is able to check the amount against the policy and send through the appropriate paperwork with the order, it eases the administrative burden for the business buyer.

If ordering repeat products can be done from their internal systems directly, generating the buyer approval paperwork workflow they need to follow whenever making company purchases, then this is a huge advantage. This has been at the center of Hawesko’s B2B sales success.

Checklist

  • Do your data systems review what products are being ordered by new business customers? Are these products likely to be replenished on a regular basis? What systems can you put in place to help reordering to be automatic or one-clickable?
  • Are you able to to offer integrations so that business customers can order directly from within their systems, or that you forward the paperwork they need for their financial book-keeping automatically after orders are processed?
  • Are your systems able to set prompts so that business buyers are able to ensure authorizing policies are automatically factored in when ordering online, e.g.. purchasing limits are signed off by the appropriate decision-maker or reminders are given if ordering amounts are above company policies?


ABOVE: Key findings from UPS summarizes benefits for businesses using B2B retail from B2B eCommerce Study

Resources: 5 Twitter influencers on B2B eCommerce

The following is a list of B2B eCommerce specialists to follow on Twitter. This is a great way to keep up with the latest best practice and to be continually inspired about what works successfully in B2B retail.

Michael Brenner: Michael is one of the leading influencers of B2B marketing. He is VP of SAP marketing and Content Strategy, writes regularly and consistently shares high quality links and references with his 41,000+ followers on Twitter.

Stephanie Rodriguez: Founder of the Mighty Media Group, Stephanie has worked with a range of companies on their social media strategies, and writes regularly about how B2B retailers can use online techniques in their business outreach, for example, this recent article on how to use Twitter to “fuel B2B marketing engines”.

Marketing Sherpa: If you are really drawn to evidence-based results, this is the Twitter account to follow. marketing Sherpa focus on tweeting about facts and figures related to B2B online retail. For example, a recent tweet shared a study that showed that testing product pages can increase conversion by 78%.

Sirius Decisions: On the face of it, Sirius Decisions may look like it is more focused on enterprise B2B retailers: large companies who are selling to their customers online. But that’s where there is a lot of golden ideas and new insights that can also translate to smaller B2B retail businesses. You don’t need to keep a close on on their tweet stream, but if you follow them and see something interesting in your feed, you will probably walk away with an idea you can apply whatever scale of your operations.

Explore B2B:These B2B content marketing experts share their latest tips and references from research studies and best practice. It is mostly focused on content marketing strategies, but with a decidedly B2B focus.

Resources: 5 blogs on B2B online retail

B2B Marketing Insider:This blog is from Michael Brenner (see our Twitter influencers above) and is a not-to-be-missed authority on B2B retail.

Brainrider: This Toronto outfit share their successful strategies helping businesses sell to other businesses.

Dianna Huff: Author of the B2B Web Usability Report 2014, this industry expert knows her stuff and is generous enough to share it with any business looking to build a successful B2B eCommerce website.

Bizo: Bizo provide a marketing automation tool for B2B businesses, but there blog is a goldmine of interesting strategies and techniques that anyone can apply, even if you are not a customer or ready yet for the services and products they provide.

Velocity Partners: This UK content marketing agency is focused on supporting B2B retailers. They offer some great workbooks and self-paced guides that show you why they are such a success, so that you can copy there most effective strategies for yourself.

Is B2B eCommerce an Opportunity for Your Online Retail Business?

Offering a B2B component to your online retail business, or creating an internet retail business specifically focused on business customers has clear advantages, and can allow entry into a strong economic market. However, business customers have particularly content and service needs that must be built into the very foundations of your eCommerce venture. Use the above checklists, and keep up-to-date with B2B eCommerce thought leaders to ensure you are building a B2B retail business that is on a path to success.

Mark Boyd

Mark Boyd is a freelance writer based in Barcelona, focusing on the ways we use technology to connect and interact. He writes regularly for Programmable Web

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