We all know b2c eCommerce was the pioneer in changing the way the world shopped for and purchased goods.
It created a new channel that very quickly caused massive disruption in buying behavior and continues to lead in game-changing online directions.
But b2b? Well, “that eCommerce thing” wasn’t really made for b2b, right?
While first Amazon Supply and now Amazon Business were gaining share of b2b business, many manufacturers and distributors thought the answer for growth was adding more sales reps. That increased costs, lowered effectiveness and in many cases was the catalyst for change, via failure.
Fast Forward—The Future Is Here!
There still are a lot of b2b companies who haven’t dipped their toes into eCommerce.
They are concerned about lack of management sponsorship, the risk of damaging partnerships, negative distributor reaction and not being able to really manage the complex sale of their products online. Some even feel it and it just isn’t suited to their business.
However, the landscape has already changed.
• The b2b eCommerce market in the U.S. is forecasted to be about $780 billion in 2015, according to Forrester, or about twice the size of b2c eCommerce. (Not a typo.) And it’s growing faster than b2c eCommerce.
• Forrester forecasts that 1 million U.S. b2b salespeople will lose their jobs to self-service eCommerce by the year 2020, as b2b buyers increasingly favor do-it-yourself online options for researching and buying products and services.
• Old form b2b businesses have become world-class eCommerce sellers. Grainer is a great example, with its $4 billion in eCommerce sales in 2015 now representing 41% of total sales.
• GE Oil & Gas launched a new b2b eCommerce website in July 2015, with high expectations of enhancing margins and sales. GE? Oil & Gas?
As millennials increasingly move into buying roles (Google says 26% of b2b buyers are now millennials!), this tectonic shift will move the b2b market more to M2M interaction.
When I ran eCommerce at United Airlines, we had one guiding goal: to make the online user experience superior to a human interaction. (Think calendar search vs. calling customer service.) This is exactly what the b2b eCommerce opportunity is now.
With b2b eCommerce, all this is possible and happening:
• Quickly and conveniently find the products and services you need—research, purchase and get them delivered—faster and better than via any other method.
• Eliminate low-value order taking by “sales persons” to make re-ordering faster and with significant cost savings.
• Aim merchandising and guided selling to every customer and prospect.
• Vastly improve focus on small-and-medium-business segments that sales and broker/distributor reps don’t have time for.
• Personalize and incentivize buying behavior.
• Enable testing in low-risk, controlled-access formats.
• Build customer involvement and community growth to improve products and usage.
• Enhance broker and distributor effectiveness with integrated targeting and marketing automation.
• Provide mobile ordering and real-time delivery updates for time-sensitive products and services.
• Make it preferred to a human interaction.
The Missing Link
To borrow a comment made by Kathy Button Bell, CMO of Emerson, at a 2015 Business Marketing Association meeting, “If you are not thinking about eCommerce, you will be.”
We see many client requests for “disruptive change,” to “improve UX” and to “enhance social initiatives”—and they are all splendid and valid goals.
Before determining “how” and spending $$$ on software platforms and development work, you really need to know the “what.”
• What are the specific goals?
• What should the strategy be for your business situation and digital vision?
• What are the best opportunities to move the dial?
• What to do and in what priority?
• What KPIs will measure success?
At Slack/AZ, we leverage our team of experienced business leaders who have created transformational growth to:
• Assess your business situation and goals to develop an integrated business and digital strategy
• Marry that strategy to digital innovation to deliver the transformational growth
We have done these things for varied b2b businesses:
• Uncovered customer segments primed for increased growth, developed the pitch and coordinated broker and distributor network delivery, offline and digital, driving 20% conversion in just four weeks.
• Designed segmentation strategies and plans by vertical and behavior. Married to UX innovations that deliver personalized content, driving over 50% sales growth.
• Designed UX innovations that expedite re-ordering process eliminating costly support
• Innovated remote inventory replenishment capabilities run by IoT
• Designed integrated data input for eCommerce personalized product guidance resulting over 100% conversion increase for a top 50 US site
• Created unique online-only product offerings, doubling sales level.
While b2b eCommerce has been the laggard…that is true no more. If you are behind, there is time to catch up and vault ahead, but the time is now!
Pete Peterson is the Chief Strategy Officer at Alphazeta Interactive. AlphaZeta is an award-winning interactive agency and digital consulting firm that matches digital know-how with marketing savvy to bridge the worlds of brand and business.
Starting in brand management with S.C. Johnson and Kellogg’s, Pete jumped into eCommerce as co-creator of iExplore.com. He later became president of United.com, driving multi-billion-dollar growth and later GM of Motorola global eCommerce, where he launched b2b eCommerce. He’s been helping clients achieve transformational growth for the last six years.