In a B2B eCommerce platform, manufacturers, wholesalers, and distributors sell products or services to retailers through an online channel. According to Forrester Research, B2B eCommerce is estimated to become a $1.1 trillion area by 2021.
B2B was once a small extension of the B2C sector but has now emerged as a standalone business model. In this article, we will focus solely on B2B commerce; however, if you are building either a B2B or B2C marketplace, check out great online marketplaces features that you can copy.
The essential features of B2B eCommerce
Multiple prices and shopping lists
Pricing in B2B eCommerce can be really complex. It may depend on the purchasing volume, pre-negotiated discounts, frequency of purchasing, and many other factors. It may be also calculated dynamically based on specific business rules. Quotations and Purchase orders are important but the shopping list comes first. Using a shopping list, merchants can create multiple calculations or quick lists. Quick order, Shopping list, and Price list are three critical features for B2B stores.
Minimum order quantity
Many B2B vendors impose minimum order restrictions in order to maintain their profit margins. This something that should be adopted if it makes sense for your market strategy.
By enabling the one-click reordering feature, customers’ previous order information is saved so their next purchase can be completed in one click.
Bulk ordering and discounts
B2B customers most often order in large quantities, so it is crucial to simplify this routine task by optimizing the checkout process with the necessary built-in functionalities. You may want to consider dynamic prices, which change in real-time according to certain criteria specified by the buyer. Volume discounts or total order discounts, based either on the quantity or amount ordered, should also be available.
B2B companies typically have different prices for different customers. There are multiple ways to structure this on an eCommerce site, including a discount for groups of customers, a specific price for every combination of SKU and customer, and quantity discounts for all customers or for groups of customers. These can techniques can be used individually or a combination to calibrate prices to exactly what customers expect.
Digital video and live streaming as a sales booster
Video content has become the main source of finding inspiration and ideas and is now driving buying decisions. Customers use video to browse the catalog, get product reviews, and see tutorials. In fact, about 80% of shoppers who have watched a Youtube video which was related to a specific product they want to buy, said that they did so at the beginning of their purchasing path.
When people are shopping online, their biggest concern is that products will look different than in the picture when they arrive. Creating product videos boosts sales in both B2B and B2C eCommerce by taking away this concern.
The three main types of video which best assist customers in making a purchase decision are:
- Explanation videos
- Product demos
- Customer testimonials
Gaining customer engagement is crucial for every business and video is one of the most compelling and easiest mediums for users. If you are looking to take your business into the digital age, now is the time to invest in both pre-recorded video and live stream content.
Taobao is the main Chinese eCommerce website that has started to leverage live streams to boost sales. It is an easy sell as consumers are already searching for something to buy and doing a live stream is the best way to be visible and credible at the same time.
The synergy of digital and human interaction
When used well, automation makes our life easier. A huge number of companies are introducing chatbots and automation into their business. However, you should not fall into the pitfall of removing the human touch from everything about your business. It’s enough to automate only those routines or procedural tasks that can be done by the customer without interacting with a sales rep.
People are bombarded with thousands of targeted ads and emails. It’s essential to engage and re-engage customers in creative ways. A nice example of this is the free virtual consultation that Burrows is providing to its customers. Customers might not necessarily buy anything immediately, but it gives a sense of what their plans are and helps to build brand loyalty.
To keep a healthy balance between automation and engaging human interaction, it’s a good idea to use a sales supporting system. For example, Sales Meeting Hub creates a natural process that emulates a face-to-face sales conversation in which the client and sales representative meet on a virtual call. The sales representative presents digital versions of the product catalog and collects orders from the client.
Truly personal interaction with the sales team can not be fully replaced by digital solutions but you should think carefully about the balance between automation and human relations. More automation will save you money but dilute the experiences customers have with the brand. Less automation means strong communications but it comes at a cost and also does not generate data that can be used for future improvements and personalization.
Using the potential of Augmented Reality
Augmented Reality essentially adds graphics, sounds, haptic feedback, and even smell to the natural world to digital experiences. It has been a huge value-add in the B2C sector and B2B brands are now starting to leverage its potential. In the eCommerce Trends Report 2020, AR was pointed as a game-changing technology.
Augmented Reality can look like a gimmick at first but it has proven value. For example, in the furniture and home products industry, customers return goods less often when they have used AR to see how the product looks and fits into their home prior to purchasing. AR can also help B2B companies enhance the buying experience for clients and distributors. It drives both sales and loyalty, allowing consumers to become more familiar with products before purchasing. It’s a key conversion tool and one that is going to continue gaining popularity and importance as it becomes more commonplace.
“I don’t think there is any sector or industry that will be untouched by AR.”Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, Vogue Magazine
B2B decision-makers have an opportunity to use AR to drastically improve the buying processes. As businesses demand better buying experiences, companies will win big when they invest in emerging technologies to create those experiences.
AR is the key technology used in PIMSTAR, one of the eCommerce concepts developed in the Divante Innovation Lab. It works as a digital experience module that enables the storage and distribution of modern assets (like 3D models for AR) which leverage product information coming from existing systems (like ERP, PIM). Thanks to direct integration with the PIM system, it allows the use of 3D models and AR technology at various touchpoints across the eCommerce system.
Reducing friction with voice technology
Although it requires backend data processing power which is currently beyond many B2B platforms, Voice technology has great potential to improve and evolve the B2B buying experience. It is already reducing friction in the B2C sector—where customers can make purchases with their hands tied—and the time will soon come for B2B to fully embrace its capabilities.
Buyers managing purchasing for manufacturing facilities are juggling far too many complexities to rely on the simplicity of a voice device. However, there are practical ways to improve the B2B buying process and using voice commerce.
For example, a buyer may struggle to research and make purchases online due to the enormous number of factors that need to be configured, such as unique dimensions, weight considerations, spatial requirements, materials, and installation services. Voice technology can be a good middle step before speaking to a sales representative as buyers can explain the needed specifications and receive potential pricing options which can then be discussed further in a meeting.
CPQ software: The missing piece of the B2B puzzle
CPQ (Configure, Price, Quote) is a term used in the B2B industry to describe software systems that help salespeople present complex offers in a much faster time.
CPQ systems organize transaction history, customer history, price books, house product catalogs, and more to automatically generate accurate price quotes. CPQ platforms simplify potentially arduous buying processes and bring B2B experiences closer to the convenient, streamlined B2C transactions buyers are used to. The best CPQ solutions provide intuitive interfaces and dashboards, so users and customers can more easily engage through the entire process—from discovery to purchase.
While most CPQ systems don’t yet support voice technology, the best are able to adapt to upcoming channels as they emerge. Businesses using CPQ have already been able to adapt more quickly and provide more user-friendly eCommerce experiences.
CPQ technology can be the missing piece of the B2B voice puzzle. It brings data housed across various channels into a single system to support transactions across all owned or partner eCommerce sites, enabling the system to generate accurate price quotes for configured products in real time.
Many B2B companies have significantly improved quote-to-order capabilities and boosted the revenue they drive through eCommerce using this technology. The most advanced systems are designed to work with all digital channels, and voice technology is certainly an option.
It will only be a matter of time before top B2B companies embrace CPQ to improve voice offers and gain a competitive advantage in their sector.
VR as a multi-sensory engagement hero
As Virtual Reality hardware continues to evolve and become simpler for the mainstream, these experiences will become more useful in sales engagements. For example, Lenovo was the first to announce the availability of an all-in-one VR headset based on Google’s Daydream platform, which will deliver high-quality VR experiences with very little setup required.
Immersive VR applications have the potential to transform the connection between buyers and customers because they offer the ability to help them understand differentiated value by delivering the most engaging, personalized, and truly useful experiences.
In 2017, Sirius Decisions reported that B2B salespeople’s top challenge is “their inability to communicate value differentiation.” This is why VR is starting to become a viable “early adopter” solution for many leading enterprises. Giving customers access to immersive platforms to learn about the relevant product or solution can help marketers and salespeople overcome their biggest barrier to closing business.
To be able to compete with online retail giants like Amazon and Alibaba, you must provide the greatest online experiences. You must go beyond your client’s expectations. Instead of showing high-definition photos and videos, it would be great to give your customers a way to fully explore and interact with the products you sell. Virtual showrooms give customers a new and convenient buying experience and speed up the buying process by featuring products in a more informative way.
Chatbots are still in the game
The use cases of B2B chatbots are endless. For example, sales representatives need access to key metrics to make informed decisions during the sales process. Having a virtual assistant to provide this information immediately, at any time and from anywhere, enables quicker, data-driven decision making.
Chatbots can be also added to a company’s internal messaging apps for sales teams to chat with and get data from CRM systems. In Divante, we’ve created ONEBOT, which is an AI-powered call center assistant that can also create tremendous value in the B2B sector. It leverages Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing (NLP) to filter the incoming calls that need human intervention and those that can be handled by a chatbot.
If you want to know more about ONEBOT or the Divante Innovation Lab, contact us.
PWA as a B2B must-have
One of the main features of Progressive Web Apps is the speed of loading and smooth interaction with the user. A B2B customer will surely appreciate the quick access to their invoices or the possibility of submitting a request for quotation even if they have limited access to the internet, e.g. on a train or plane.
PWA gives us a number of new opportunities that we can use in various ways. Push notifications, which are often used in progressive web applications, can inform contractors about the renewal of the trade limit, about new products, or as a supporting element of the debt recovery process.
By sending such messages in the form of notifications, directly to the customer’s phone, we are also sure that they will not be overlooked in the mass of emails. Good B2B systems can offer a panel from which a sales representative can control their clients’ balance, prepare offers for them, or place orders on their behalf.
Right now, we are seeing the rebuilding of PWAs foundations by re-writing code into single-page applications (SPAs). These developments will allow eCommerce websites to interact with users by dynamically rewriting the current page code, thus improving performance and enabling more seamless online experiences.
Finding your own digital game-changer
Each of these features can be crucial for a B2B site, though they may not all be required for the first phase. Your business and sales model will determine which features are required at which time. Ensure that your eCommerce platform and development team can support them whenever you choose to implement each one.
Innovate through making life simpler
eCommerce companies have to use technology to make the lives of customers easier than ever before. Users need to be able to easily find information digitally and employees need to have access to the right information in one place. A true digital transformation allows customers to have a consistent experience no matter how they interact with a brand.
If you are not sure which solution is best for you, get advice from one of our digital transformation experts and join the new digital era with us. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org