Is eCommerce a mandate for B2B? To find out the truth, we set out on a mission and interacted with one of the most trusted B2B eCommerce advisors in the USA and Europe, Brain Beck. In ‘PART 1’ of our three-part article series, Brian explained the compelling reasons for B2B companies to invest in eCommerce. In ‘PART 2’, he highlights the multitude of benefits that eCommerce brings to B2B, like improved ROI, efficiency, customer experience, and inspiring success stories. If you are eager to know how some of the known B2B brands have succeeded through eCommerce, read on.
Why are most B2B brands still relying on traditional selling?
The days of proving that eCommerce is needed are over. B2B customers have an expectation of a frictionless eCommerce experience, and companies that have invested in digital transformation are winning market share. So why are many B2B companies still hesitant to invest?
In a survey conducted by Digital Commerce 360 among marketing, sales, and executives of B2B companies, the top reason for reticence was leadership buy-in, followed closely by lack of investment capital. The fact is that senior management of many B2B firms simply didn’t “grow up” with digital as a means of facilitating sales, customer interactions, and support. They are uncomfortable with digital, and fear and uncertainty surrounding the issue can hinder decision-making. However, leadership must confront the reality of their situation and reach beyond this fear to embrace eCommerce.
There are a few other key factors that B2B companies have yet to realize that contribute to reticence in investing in digital transformation efforts:
Saying ‘No’ to digital puts limits on B2B companies’ ability to reach remote buyers
eCommerce has become a primary mode of connection between B2B sellers and buyers, particularly in the post-Covid world, when a significant portion of the workforce is still working remotely. In fact, 30% of people in the United States continue to work from home as of mid-2022.
According to McKinsey, 90% of B2B decision-makers expect the remote and digital model to endure for the long term. This is the new norm, and in-person access to buyers has become more difficult as a result. McKinsey also reports that only 20-30% of B2B buyers want to interact with sales reps in person. What does this mean for a traditional selling approach? It is a mandate to evolve and embrace digital as a key component of the sales process.
Sales reps are still important, but they are only one option among many channels.
Gartner says it well in their B2B buying journey report – “Sales reps are only ‘a’ channel, not ‘the’ channel.”
Today’s B2B buyers are more channel-agnostic after becoming accustomed to digital purchasing. When they look for information to complete a job, these buyers now turn to salespeople only if they don’t find it easily in your eCommerce store or if they need a highly consultative approach to making a purchase decision. In light of this, aligning traditional in-person (sales teams) and digital channels (eCommerce) is now a critical necessity to ensure a smooth buying experience for today’s B2B customers.
eCommerce does not spell the “death of a salesperson” (but instead gives birth to the ‘Hybrid’ salesperson)
eCommerce adoption has created a blend of digital and traditional B2B selling that is enormously powerful when implemented correctly. eCommerce doesn’t mean the end of the role of the traditional salesperson. Instead, the advent of the new, digitally-enabled buyer has given birth to a new form of the sales rep – a ‘Hybrid’ rep – one that is empowered by eCommerce tools and informed by the actions customers take via online channels. And a more informed sales rep is a more effective selling asset and is rapidly becoming the most common sales role.
When eCommerce is properly connected to traditional selling tools such as CRM (customer relationship management) systems, the sales team is enabled with powerful intelligence such as buyer expectations, products and information the customer has viewed online, purchase history, and real-time data such as stock levels. This, in turn, prepares the sales rep to make follow-up interactions more personalized, relevant, and valuable to the buyer.
eCommerce enables customer self-service. By the time B2B buyers reach the sales rep, they may have completed many phases of their purchase journey that traditionally would have been handled by the rep. This includes actions like product research, identifying where the product is in stock, comparing prices, and so on. This translates to enormous amounts of saved time for the salesperson on routine, low-value tasks and increased time for higher-value tasks such as consultative selling, solving more complex problems, and addressing detailed buyer questions.
eCommerce provides ROI on many levels – and it’s not just for the big players!
One of the biggest doubts decision makers in B2B companies have is whether an eCommerce implementation will provide sufficient return on investment. Is eCommerce just shifting revenue from offline channels to online? Or is eCommerce only reserved for big companies with enormous budgets and large teams?
The answer is a resounding “no,” and Brian has an exciting success story from his book as a testament to how eCommerce can help even small and medium-sized businesses capture enormous ROI.
Bay Fastening Systems – A mid-market B2B company almost doubles their revenue by leveraging eCommerce
Bay Fastening Systems is a traditional, mid-market distributor selling thousands of fasteners, power tools, and related items. The company launched its eCommerce site in the mid-2010s, at a time when management had many doubts and hesitations regarding how effective digital selling could be for a business in a highly competitive market where traditional relationship-based selling was the norm.
But the results defied expectations. Post-launch, the company has nearly doubled the size of its business. The company’s COO, Michael Eichinger, and the architect of the eCommerce effort attributes the growth directly to its relatively early and considerable investments into digital channels.
Soon after launch, due to digital marketing and search engine optimization efforts, the brand began acquiring as many as ten new B2B customers every week from across the United States. For a traditional, regional distributor of fastener products, this is a very significant achievement. Historically, B2B customers work with a set group of suppliers and frequently re-purchase from the same suppliers. However, Bay realized early on that a new breed of digital-first B2B buyers were coming into purchasing roles. And these buyers were using the Internet to find suppliers who were eCommerce enabled and eliminated friction in the purchase cycle. With a world-class eCommerce website and visibility on key search engines such as Google, Bay was prepared to meet this new buyer’s expectations. In addition, the company began capturing an increase in wallet share from its existing customers as its eCommerce site presented additional products to customers from Bay’s extensive catalog, enabling customers to easily add needed products to their orders and ensuring a smooth purchase experience.
The story of Bay Fastening Systems proves that eCommerce isn’t just for the big companies and shows how ROI comes from many places. The company was able to acquire new customers more quickly and at a lower cost vs. traditional approaches, increase average order value from existing customers, improve customer experience through DIY features, and save the time of its sales team to focus on other, higher value areas.
eCommerce augments both selling effectiveness and prospecting
In the wake of the Covid pandemic, it has become clear that eCommerce enables B2B companies to sell more effectively and acquire new customers in all new ways. During the pandemic, 50% of B2B buyers bought from companies they were not aware of prior to Covid. These trends are winning over previously non-believing management at B2B companies. According to a McKinsey report, 75% of B2B eCommerce companies now believe that, after living through the pandemic, eCommerce is helping to better reach and serve B2B customers.
Another great example of how focusing on remote interactions and digital self-service can drive considerable ROI is Keysight Technologies.
The success story of Keysight Technologies:
Keysight Technologies, a market-leading global manufacturer of electronic measurement equipment and software, expanded its B2B eCommerce site in 2021 to provide customers with a simplified and frictionless digital buying experience. The company set out to deliver on their customers’ expectations for more self-service via the web and enablement of remote interactions with salespeople, and the effort drove considerable results. The eCommerce expansion offers customers access to Keysight’s latest products, technical expertise, promotions, and easy and quick ways to purchase. The eCommerce-driven digital transformation enabled the brand to achieve double-digit order and revenue growth for the four consecutive quarters following the rollout.
The success of ‘Continental Office’ – A well-aligned digital transformation
Continental Office is another great example of how digital transformation in various areas of a B2B business can enable remarkable ROI from eCommerce.
From the outset of its digital commerce initiative, the company planned to reimagine its website’s design, with more emphasis on its buyer personas and well-defined requirements. Putting the customer at the center of this effort was key, and the company had a goal of enhancing customer engagement and loyalty. Management believed that focusing first on these areas, enhanced eCommerce sales would follow. The brand complimented the redesign with marketing efforts such as promotions, upsells and cross-sells, SEO, SEM, and lead scoring to better drive leads for and inform the sales team of customer preferences and behaviors completed online.
The results were startling. Collectively, these efforts enabled the company to increase average order value, dramatically improve traffic, showcase their brand more effectively to new customers, and optimize and create new content to nurture customers in various phases of their purchase journey. The brand’s traffic increased by 1,395% in the first year following the launch of the website redesign. New customer acquisition improved by 645% and within three years of launch, annual online sales hit a record-high of $135 million.
What does this prove? eCommerce doesn’t need a proof of concept. Doing digital right is new for many B2B companies, and if you are making waves and having difficult conversations, you are making progress! Embrace the difficulty of an eCommerce-led digital transformation, and if you are uncomfortable, you are doing the right thing.