This is a guest post from Ryan Gould, Vice President of Strategy and Marketing Services at Elevation Marketing, a B2B marketing agency.
Business-to-business (B2B) companies have historically been slower adapters to online sales and eCommerce; the B2B roots are in-person or, at the very least, conversation-driven sales.
But as technology has evolved to make it easier for B2B companies to reach buyers through online sales portals, and the B2B buyers overwhelmingly became digitally-native millennials, eCommerce and B2B have started becoming more inexorably linked than ever before.
That continues to present a challenge to B2B companies, many of whom are used to an offline sales strategy—or, at the very least, a strategy that’s not totally hands off like traditional eCommerce.
One way B2B businesses have responded to the sea change has been: borrowing tried-and-true business-to-consumer (B2C) eCommerce strategies and employing them in the B2B landscape.
In this article, we’ll look at five examples of B2C eCommerce techniques that B2B companies are using to better position their brands to make sales and succeed in a changing marketplace.
The traditional B2B sales process involves long sales cycles in which reps spend weeks—if not months—cultivating relationships with buyers. Many of today’s B2B buyers are less interested in that process; they’re used to doing their own online research and making their own product evaluations.
Berlin Packaging recognized this new B2B eCommerce reality and created a full, B2C-style eCommerce experience for its platform. Business customers can shop based on their market (food and beverage, pharmaceutical, etc.), then zero in on items, research them right there on the site, add whatever quantities they want to their shopping cart, and checkout just like any eCommerce site.
There’s enough information that a customer would never have to pick up the phone to talk to a salesperson unless they wanted to. Even further on that point, there’s an online chat feature on the site—another popular feature from B2C eCommerce sites that is employed here.
There are still important B2B touches on the website—like giving business customers the option to get a quote rather than pay the exact prices listed and allowing companies to apply for credit—however, everything else about the experience feels just like traditional B2C eCommerce.
One of the main responsibilities of B2B salespeople is product education—especially if they’re selling complex or niche products. ResMed, a medical supply company, addresses the educational requirements of B2B sales through a content-first website.
Their homepage even has a very business-to-consumer style layout (quite different than the more utilitarian B2B website layouts), with a banner headline saying “I want to learn about ________.” Then, based on what the business customer enters, the site directs them to thorough, original content to educate them about both the topic they want to learn about and the relevant products in that space.
The educational content includes video demos, interviews with doctors, Q&As with industry professionals, FAQs, customer testimonials, product manuals, medical studies, research papers, and more.
Much like B2C content marketing, not every piece of content on the website is pushing a sale. Instead, it’s establishing authority about the space, building goodwill with potential buyers—and trusting that will lead to more sales and larger sales in the long run.
Flexfire, an LED light manufacturer, is a good example of a business adapting to a world where the lines between B2B and B2C are increasingly blurred. Approximately 80 percent of Flexfire’s revenue was generated by B2B sales, yet there were also individual customers interested in their strip-light products.
The company solved this problem by selling B2B and B2C simultaneously, and modern eCommerce platforms made this possible. One unified site allowed them to drive all of their traffic (and orient all of their SEO) around the same URL. To properly serve business customers, they offer a special login for commercial accounts to see things like wholesale prices and available quantities. Otherwise, though, the B2B and B2C experience are blended—the email signup form on the site’s homepage even has a dropdown where a subscriber can specify if they’re a B2B account or an individual customer.
One interesting observation: The website features logos of the businesses using the products, which is a strong signal of quality to B2B buyers—but simultaneously adds credibility for individual customers. The logos are major companies, one that every customer has most likely heard of. So even if someone’s just looking to buy one strip of lights for their house, the Disney, Google, and Apple logos could help the website close the sale.
Knobs Co is a cabinet hardware company that also serves both B2C and B2B audiences. Their method for standing out in the B2B world: creating a VIP program just for “trade professionals.”
Much like a B2C site would offer a VIP program with perks and privileges that incentivize its best customers to keep coming back, Knobs makes it clear they deeply value their B2B customers—and want them to keep coming back.
Their VIP program offers perks that are extremely relevant to a B2B customer: anytime consultation with interior designers for the business or their clients, plus “preferential pricing” on products.
That’s the kind of consulting and price negotiation that defines the B2B experience, but here it’s been updated for an eCommerce world.
Even as the eCommerce lines blur between B2B and B2C, there are still fundamental differences between the markets—a major one being price transparency. B2B companies are reluctant to publish their prices in public out of fear of being undercut by the competition. How do you square that, then, with the perceived notion that eCommerce platforms require price transparency?
Simple: you make things transparent—with a login.
Selini New York, an online fashion wholesaler, did exactly that. When verified business prospects sign in to the website, they can see the specific price quotes they themselves negotiated. The system is so comprehensive that under each product listing there is an individual login to see pricing for that specific product.
It’s an effective way to give buyers the eCommerce experience they want while still adhering to B2B principles to avoid price undercutting.
While B2C eCommerce has evolved rapidly and steadily grown in popularity, B2B has long been hobbled by a digital gap. However, today’s business-to-business leaders are closing that gap by melding popular aspects of the B2C eCommerce shopping experience with the signature features of the B2B world.
Some of their methods include:
- A full eCommerce ordering experience. Some B2B sites feel virtually identical to B2C sites, making it easier for customers to buy without ever needing to pick up a phone to talk to a salesperson.
- Content-driven sales strategy. B2C companies are increasingly recognizing the long-term value of high-quality content, and B2B companies are joining in. Rather than relying on a salesperson to handle the job of educating a customer about an industry or product, B2B websites can use a content-first approach where a business customer learns at their own pace. That gives the site authority on the topic as well—so the business turns to them when they’re ready to buy.
- B2B/B2C hybrids. Companies that serve both businesses and individual customers don’t need to use two websites. It’s possible to have one website that properly serves both cohorts.
- VIP and loyalty programs. Much like B2C VIP and loyalty programs use valuable perks to incentivize top customers to keep coming back, B2B VIP and loyalty programs can do the same.
- Pricing transparency. Many B2B companies are reluctant to publish their prices—and that can get in the way of a B2C-style eCommerce experience. So they’re finding workarounds: like only displaying prices after a verified customer has logged in.