Just like the business-to-consumer (B2C) market, business-to-business (B2B) buyers now also expect companies to provide relevant digital services and solutions through their newly preferred sales channels, such as online sites and mobile apps. This means that aside from traditional brick-and-mortar, B2B companies need robust e-commerce platforms to attract and retain customers who now prefer to shop digitally or who have never shopped any other way, especially the millennial group. Failing this, they stand to lose the opportunity to seize a piece of Asia Pacific’s 2021 projected US$3 trillion e-commerce pie. Supporting this, an Oracle NetSuite commissioned study by Forrester Consulting titled “Tomorrow’s Midmarket B2B eCommerce Will Take Place in the Cloud” found that 72% of midmarket B2B sellers derive at least a quarter of their revenue from their online sales channels.
However, to successfully improve customer engagement and drive sales, a B2B seller should have an effective online retail strategy in place. Here are three tips to get B2B companies started.
1. Ensure your IT infrastructure can support your digital-first selling strategy
With IT being the backbone of e-commerce, having the right technology is crucial to the success of any e-commerce operation. B2B companies need to ensure that they have the tools that support both the front-end customer experience and the back-end processes handling order and inventory management, billing, as well as customer support.
In terms of the type of solutions to invest in, the same Forrester1 study found that 62% of B2B sellers leaned towards a single-stack approach for their next e-commerce purchase. Since such a solution comes integrated with back-end systems – such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and warehouse management systems (WMS) – it streamlines operations and requires less manpower for maintenance. Similarly, cloud-based solutions help ease maintenance, which is beneficial for midmarket companies lacking experienced IT staff. Moreover, respondents cited that cloud solutions were faster to deploy, easier to scale and enabled them to keep up with the latest innovations.
Since there is no one-size-fits-all tool, B2B companies need to carefully weigh the benefits of each solution before deciding on the one that best fits their situation and needs.
2. Have a digital-ready sales process
Besides technology, organisational processes also need to change accordingly to support the business’ move towards e-commerce. B2B buyers are increasingly taking a digital-first and self-service approach to discovering and making purchases. As such, companies need to ensure that their sales processes are supported by digital tools and channels such as email, chat functions and digital brochures to address the new buying behaviour.
3. Be prepared for more competition
Stepping into the online retail space will expose midmarket B2B sellers to a wider group of competitors – and in some cases, this will put them in direct competition with larger global enterprises. Besides that, being online also means that the experience they provide on their e-commerce platforms will be compared to all other online retail experiences – including the B2C ones the customer has had. B2B companies intending to go into online retail should therefore evaluate potential technology partners’ solutions and capabilities, not just as a client, but as a consumer. As more B2B customers become accustomed to online self-service product research and buying, sellers need to leverage e-commerce tools to drive positive customer outcomes and business growth. Ignoring this shift in customer behaviour will only cause B2B companies to lose their customers to their digital-forward competitors.
- Zakir Ahmed, General Manager, Asia, Oracle NetSuite -