The digital future of B2B E-commerce
In this playbook, we will guide you through five actionable steps that will empower you to navigate the complexities of the current B2B E-commerce landscape, empowering you to not just survive but thrive in this era of digital transformation.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving digital leadership. As we navigate through a complex web of macroeconomic instability, global supply chain disruptions, rising material costs, and the ongoing ripple effects of the pandemic, B2B commerce is ripe for disruption. Customers, once passive buyers in the B2B sphere, have evolved into active co-creators of value within the e-commerce ecosystem demanding personalised products and services to a similar level of excellence as seen in the B2C landscape. This shift is powered by data-driven product and innovation strategies, cost pressures and competition, compelling businesses to place an emphasis on true customer-centricity.
No two e-commerce platforms are identical, they each offer unique features and functions, varying in specialisation, customisability, and the quality of the customer experience they deliver. In this dynamic environment, choosing the right digital tools and platforms is important; the competitive advantage is in understanding which features align most closely with your business needs and can make it easier to build the exact online presence you need to win.
8 out of every 10 buyers will switch their supplier if the digital buying process disappoints
of B2B buyers prefer ordering or paying through digital commerce
of B2B buyers are more likely to buy from, and 37% more likely to renew a contract with, a seller that delivers an excellent customer experience
increase in B2B mobile ordering since 2020
Sources: McKinsey, Deloitte & Gartner
The digital future of
E-commerce in the B2B sphere
The shift to digital engagement and the remarkable growth in e-commerce revenue in both B2B and B2C sectors is evident. What's striking is that modern B2B consumers' expectations for digital presence and purchasing experiences have surpassed pre-pandemic levels. Notably, B2B companies are transitioning to digital go-to-market sales models, with 41% using video conferences and 23% relying on online chats, while traditional in-person methods have seen a significant 52% decline (McKinsey, 2020). With Millennials and Gen Z now in key decision-making roles, their preference for minimal or no interaction with sales representatives during B2B transactions has significant implications for the B2B landscape.
This playbook emerges as a vital compass, offering insights and strategies to navigate the landscape by creating efficient and engaging B2B e-commerce journeys, potentially accounting for up to 95% of the total purchase time (Gartner, 2020).
Define your customer
Define your customer!
In B2B e-commerce, every transaction involves a complex decision-making process with various stakeholders. Recognising the diversity of buyers and their business models is crucial for success. To thrive, you must deeply understand your customers, where they gather information, and why they engage with your platform. This knowledge forms the basis for creating effective customer journeys that convert needs into purchases.
Identify customer profiles before diving into your digital strategy. Each profile has unique needs, preferences, and objectives. Avoid one-size-fits-all approaches; instead, create and refine multiple customer personas to effectively segment your audience. Successful B2B commerce firms emphasise tailoring digital platforms to cater to the distinct needs of these customer personas and delivering value propositions.
Actions you can take
Define and decide
Define and identify key customer profiles or personas for your website. These personas represent your target clients or visitor types. The number of personas required depends on your product/service range and industry focus.
Start with one persona, analysing their search intentions, business goals, needs, requirements, budgets, frustrations, and stakeholders in purchasing decisions. This helps refine parameters for tracking and engaging your audience, enhancing your value proposition.
B2B e-commerce success often comes from tailored product content and interfaces that cater to defined customers, aligning with their industry and buyer's needs. Understanding your target audience can uncover new audiences, expanding your Total Addressable Market potential (TAM).
Engage and research
Engaging with your actual customers is invaluable for testing your site's appeal. User research and user-centred design, done in collaboration with customer success and sales teams, provide real-time insights into visitor behaviour. This research involves techniques like user journey mapping, behaviour analysis, interviews, and eye-tracking technology. E-commerce journeys are task-oriented, so experience blueprints tie these journeys across time and touchpoints while highlighting important enabling processes and tools.
Encourage product teams to adopt a customer-focused approach to better understand thoughts, actions, and needs. Teams should also focus on feedback, involving different teams and stakeholders in journey mapping. This approach yields a prioritised series of problem statements for e-commerce. The goal is to observe and test user experiences to identify enhancement opportunities in UI design, product messaging, and purchase functionality. Customer journey mapping can benefit from data analytics for more personalised insights.
Measure and analyse
Measure your engagement strategies' success and track customer decision-making and purchasing journeys through data from interviews, surveys, focus groups, and analytics. Web metrics like visits and bounce rates gain significance when viewed in the context of specific customer personas and initial touchpoints.
User testing metrics, like System Usability Scores (SUS) and Single Ease Questions (SEQ), serve as proxies for website usability. A/B testing, or split testing, is a great method to compare variations of webpages or marketing elements and improve performance. Additionally, test colloquial or industry-specific messaging for effective customer engagement.
Continuously adapt your approach to evolving customer personas and industry dynamics to maintain a customer-centric B2B e-commerce platform. Leverage Customer Data Platforms (CDP) for data analysis and personalisation strategies to refine the purchasing journey.
B-2-Be a Winner! APM Terminal Case Study
APM Terminals stands as an exemplary B2B firm, exhibiting remarkable digital leadership that has redefined the landscape of logistics supply chain management and e-commerce. The digital transformation stems from their profound understanding of their customers, leading to the seamless integration of digital tools that not only streamline the customer journey but add value while mitigating operational bottlenecks. APM Terminal’s data-driven strategy uses a combination of cloud services to handle integrations across B2B, E-invoicing and an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) integration with partners and customers. This robust cloud infrastructure ensures the most secure and reliable communication ecosystem for their clients.
APM Terminal invested heavily in understanding their customers' needs as part of developing their digital strategy. This helped them identify and then solve the complex issues customers face when ordering and tracking shipping containers. Through customer feedback and web analytics, they understood that clients who use multiple software tools wanted a way to bring APM Terminals data into their systems, processes and across applications. In response, they launched the developer-friendly API store opening a new revenue stream for APM Terminals, with zero marginal cost. This enhanced digital connectivity across the purchase journey helps a range of stakeholders including APM’s Terminal Operating Systems, into their internal systems such as Logistics or Transport Management Systems (TMS). Customers could now buy respective API capabilities tailored to their supply chain needs. Access to critical container, terminal or appointment data can now be achieved securely and cost-effectively, and crucially, in real-time. The integration of such data signifies an opportunity for customers, providing them with the data-driven tools necessary for real-time decision-making. This, thereby improving their supply chain processes and enhancing overall operational efficiency, illustrates APM Terminals' commitment to improving the customer journey beyond the point of transaction.
APM Terminal’s fusion of IoT sensors with advanced artificial intelligence enables customers to promptly select automated repairs or solutions for their containers at terminals, creating a streamlined and impactful upselling strategy. Customers can also request additional services - such as container fumigation or photography – which used to be processed and managed by email, phone or in person. This service not only elevates the customer experience but also bolsters revenue generation. Furthermore, the company has expanded its service portfolio to include Truck Appointment Systems (TAS), enabling flexible transfer and deployment options. Customers can now easily book, merge, and reschedule slots for container drop-off and pick-up, thus improving customer retention rates. Furthermore, they now have the opportunity to offer dynamic pricing to incentivise appointments at quieter times to manage terminal traffic flow.
Lastly, APM Terminals offers a suite of personalised services on the website, including tracking alerts, shipping line dashboards, saved container watchlists, and email notifications. The benefit of these capabilities is that they provide entry points for the customer into or to continue the e-commerce journey, providing a self-service journey for the customer and additional incremental revenue to APM Terminals. These features form a robust delivery tracking system that enhances transparency for customers.
Justify the customer's purchasing decision
You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression!
Your website has gained a new visitor, and securing their attention in B2B e-commerce purchasing behaviour requires efficient content and marketing strategies. The initial interaction sets the stage for trust-building and future engagement, making the first impression crucial in line with identified customer personas.
To cater effectively to diverse customer personas, implement a robust product or service and supplier information governance framework. This framework ensures a seamless and personalised experience by matching the right products, services, or suppliers with unique customer requirements.
Streamline website content to align with what customers are seeking, focusing on their needs rather than internal structure. Emphasise your product, service, or supplier's value propositions to stand out in quality or cost compared to competitors, always in the context of meeting the customer's specific business needs.
Actions you can take
Align and prioritise
Align your Marketing, Search Engine Optimisation SEO, Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and content strategies to ensure you rank where it matters. High organic search results are e-commerce essential. Implement content governance and prioritise in-demand products or services for better SEO. Use industry-specific terms in the backend to cater to diverse customer knowledge levels. Inbound links boost credibility and serve as effective B2B marketing, be sure to keep your XML sitemap updated and use SEO tools for auditing and tracking.
Embrace programmatic Account Based Marketing (ABM) for personalised B2B messaging. Consistency in user experiences drives loyalty and conversions. Account management personalizes content. Design Systems ensure consistency and mobile optimisation for SEO. Optimise for mobile and alternative devices due to varied purchasing channels.
Use Google Ads geo-targeting to bridge online and in-store experiences for nearby customers and local SEO enhances visibility in map listings. Implement multi-language content management for global reach and include geolocation features, native currency forecasting, and local sizing data for international strategies.
54% of US and UK marketers expect to spend more on content creation and strategy in 2023 (Integrate and Demand Metric, 2023)
Focus and engage
Focus on the customer discovery phase in B2B e-commerce. The landscape is evolving rapidly with more touchpoints in the buyer's journey (according to McKinsey, touchpoints have doubled since 2016!). Buyers access your site through various channels like emails, in-person interactions, phone calls, supplier websites, mobile apps, and more. Align your content with these touchpoints and capture data on buying preferences and behaviours to better match products with customer needs. Retail Media Networks (RMNs) leverage customer data for advertising and enhance traffic across digital and physical stores.
B2B firms should develop sales channels and social media strategies, including one-click checkout and mobile-friendly product catalogues. For many customers, the preferred point of sale is shifting, from in-stores to e-commerce and into nearly all social media platforms and mobile apps. In the East, the ad-to-purchase funnel has boosted customer engagement and is expected to spread to the US and European markets. Social commerce accelerates the shift from in-store to e-commerce, with 87% of consumers acting after encountering products on social media or websites (Nosto). Leveraging influencer and user-generated content (UGC) plays a valuable role in enhancing customer engagement and advocacy, much like B2C strategies.
The metaverse offers new opportunities for engaging content by online influencers, but brands should carefully consider sustainable revenue growth versus marketing value in this space. The use-case for metaverse investments is yet to be proven (IMRG).
78% of buyers use multiple channels to start and complete a transaction (Salesforce, 2023)
66% of buyers now opt for remote human interactions or digital self-service (McKinsey, 2021)
Consider and convert
Consider the anonymous visitor, who will be the majority, and facilitate frictionless access to remove any barriers to them getting the information they need through a carefully considered navigation and breadcrumb implementation. Converting high-intent anonymous visitors into known ones is a valuable opportunity. Strengthen relationships across application stacks like research, cart, and checkout by offering membership benefits, industry insights, and search guidance. Add competitor comparisons and retargeting ads for improved conversion rates.
For new omnichannel customers, create customer service tickets and send targeted marketing materials to them for a personalised approach to customer success. After-sales services can enhance trust and encourage the sharing of personal details for customisation. Guest checkouts can highlight the benefits of creating a business account, and offering trade credit, discounts, and promotions.
Use ABM tools to identify the visitor's company and personalise based on sector and intent to turn anonymous traffic into valuable leads.
B-2-Be a Winner! Materials Market Case Study
Materials Market has pioneered customer segmentation and building targeted approaches to e-commerce, setting the standard for innovation and customer-centricity. One of the standout features is their bespoke pricing widget (leveraging Configure, Price and Quote (CPQ) technology), utilising innovative machine learning algorithms, empowering customers to customise their pricing options based on product iterations. Customers can instantly see how changes in product specifications impact costs, ensuring transparency and informed decision-making. Furthermore, they have integrated geolocation technology to tailor pricing and delivery options to the specific needs of each customer. This personalised approach enhances the customer experience, fostering trust and loyalty.
To ensure that customers can easily find the products they need, Market Materials employs a robust SEO strategy. They utilise different keywords in the backend of their website to optimise search engine visibility for a wide range of customer segment key search terms, ensuring that their products rank organically. Upon landing on the Market Materials website, visitors are immediately greeted with clear signposts highlighting the benefits of creating a trade account. This encourages more customers to register and access exclusive features, fostering long-term relationships and repeat business. They also frame the supplier account set-up call-to-action and portals on their landing page; this approach caters to their diverse customer base, empowering suppliers to manage their interactions seamlessly while fostering a sense of partnership. Finally, trade credit and purchasing options are prominently displayed on the landing page, allowing customers to make informed decisions about their buying process. This transparency builds trust and provides convenience for customers, further confirming Market Materials' reputation as a customer-centric platform.
Market Materials strategically displays top product categories and bestsellers on their homepage, simplifying the product discovery process for customers. Customers can also easily navigate through various product verticals via their sub-page navigation feature. This intuitive navigation system ensures that customers can quickly find the products they need, increasing sales and customer satisfaction. Featuring a carousel of trusted brands bolsters their credibility and reliability in the eyes of customers and instils confidence in the quality and authenticity of their offerings. Additionally, having bulk discounts as a navigation option empowers buyers to make cost-effective purchases when ordering in larger quantities. They also provide options to view prices inclusive of VAT, simplifying the purchasing process for customers further.
For customers who require assistance, Market Materials offers a virtual buying assistant alongside contact information to reach sales representatives and customer services. This demonstrates their dedication to providing exceptional support and guidance throughout the purchasing journey. Industry-verified reviews are displayed prominently, highlighting the positive feedback from satisfied customers. This transparency reinforces their commitment to quality and customer satisfaction.