The Complete Guide To B2B Ecommerce

by Jason Vaught
The Complete Guide To B2B Ecommerce

While the idea of ecommerce for B2B companies originates at the very beginning of online shopping, this ecommerce category has been slow to adapt.

Agencies, ecommerce platforms, and B2B companies will agree when we say that B2B ecommerce integration had more than a rough start. While the technology existed, capital investments by B2B companies did not match the requirements to account for the complexities of business purchases. And those companies who made a significant investment into ecommerce found purchasers preferred to pick up the phone and call. 

But as we come to the brink of web 3.0, B2B commerce is now a requirement if capturing purchases from consumers who prefer a digital form of communication is your hope. Since B2B manufacturers, distributors, and suppliers see this inevitable trend, they are putting their foot into the water in financial commitments and employee resources. Unfortunately, many who dip their toes into this form of commerce will stop short or, worse yet, retreat from ecommerce. 

Here’s why.

There are Higher Stakes For B2B

A key reason B2B ecommerce has experienced such a slower transition than B2C ecommerce is that there are greater stakes and more significant risks. While some purchasers feel empowered at the thought of completing their purchases, others find it risky, as they have to own the mistakes made for these purchases. 

The B2B company also feels greater risk because of personnel. They assume their customer service team will have less influence on the purchase and cannot create the dialogue necessary to ensure we exceedingly satisfy the purchaser with this business relationship. The fear of dehumanization exists in the minds of B2B brands, which prevents them from pushing forward to find solutions to these problems. Instead, they return to the old way and miss out on orders from the business buyer more interested in digital commerce than the traditional B2B transaction format. 

What Type of B2B Are You?

Here, we will discuss the different B2B companies that can (and should) do business through an online B2B platform. Not because you don’t already know your business and who your customer is but because we believe you should look at related industries and business models to generate ideas. That’s why we have included ecommerce companies crushing it in the B2B sector. 

Manufacturers Selling Direct To Businesses

If you own a business in any industry, you’ve received a free pen with your company logo at some point. These pens included a fancy sales letter that brought so much life to the lifeless object that you’d think they were telling the story of a natural person. 

Manufacturing ecommerce, where companies sell directly to offices, was the first to adapt to this form of selling. It very well could be since manufacturing companies who sold through the mail saw this as a less expensive means of customer acquisition. Since manufacturers often spent six figures per month on postage, it made sense to include a link to a website where people could buy the product online. 

Manufacturers Selling to Distribution Suppliers

Built from the same framework of selling directly to businesses, some manufacturers had the idea of leveraging ecommerce when selling to distributors. Here is where things got complicated. With 54% of manufacturers choosing to sell directly to consumers, that distribution is dead. 

Instead of elimination, there is integration. Distribution is still an effective means of commerce for many industries. These industries hire younger purchasers who are more inclined to purchase from a B2B online platform than spend excessive time developing a purchase order. 

What has changed are the opportunities for distribution. Many B2B distributors are permitting manufacturers to showcase their products and reducing their risk by having the company ship the product directly. Distribution partners may find it easier to place B2B orders, so they do not have to look up UPCs and product identification numbers. 

In the State of International Ecommerce Report, over a third of manufacturers projected at least 25% growth in B2B ecommerce sales throughout 2021 and 2022. 

Distribution Suppliers selling to Businesses

Since we understand now how distribution isn’t dead but is different, it makes sense that distribution companies are transitioning to ecommerce friendly business models. By starting with an ecommerce focus, the shape of distribution to business looks different. Still, it accomplishes the same goal of making it easier for companies to purchase multiple products simultaneously. 

A good example is SnackNation, which sells office snacks to, well, offices. Their business model doesn’t have the same stigma as traditional distribution and appeals to the “less boring” purchaser. They create articles that educate HR about employee gifts and well-being to promote their business. 

Distribution Suppliers Selling to Service Providers

If you’ve had a car breakdown, you’ve probably heard your mechanic state how they need to “order the part.” Can you imagine how time-intensive it must be to submit purchase orders for every part you need to order? What a nightmare. Thankfully, many distributors have adopted advances in wholesale ecommerce technology and use it to sell to service providers such as mechanics, dentists, and cleaning companies. 

But innovation in wholesale ecommerce doesn’t stop there. Entrepreneurs are using ecommerce to launch their unique, one-of-a-kind ideas. One such example is Mii Estilo, which rents maternity dresses to photographers.

Wrap your head around that for a second. Do you see how great of an idea this is? But how well would Mii Estilo do without a streamlined B2B ecommerce interface? 

Creating a Hybrid B2B Ecommerce Model

One benefit of b2b ecommerce is that you are not required to box yourself into a particular model. Instead, you can create a hybrid model that serves various business types with your specific products. For example, a sports nutrition company manufacturing protein can create a personalized buying experience for consumers, distributors, retailers, and smoothie stores. Of course, you don’t want to spread yourself thin, but if there’s an opportunity to capture market share that fits your business constraints, why not get it?

A unique ecommerce company is Well Trained Mind Press, which sells homeschool curricula to families. While that might be their D2C ecommerce approach, they also have other revenue streams where they sell into the public school system. They also sell physical copies of their books to online and brick n mortar bookstores.

Does Your Industry Prefer Ecommerce?

Before you can decide how to approach your B2B online store, you first need to conclude where your industry is at as it pertains to online purchasing. Not any less important, you also need to understand who the purchasers are for your products. More than a brief thought, you need to know where your industry is going and who will make the purchases. 

Are you in a new industry with a younger customer base? Or is it an older industry where employees with long tenure make purchases? Maybe you are in a more senior industry with incoming “fresh blood” and are looking for a company to adapt to a new way of making B2B purchases.

Understanding your industry and buyer demographics establishes the b2b ecommerce strategy. It ensures you satisfy existing customers while embracing potential customers wanting a new way of doing business.

Why You Should Build a B2B Ecommerce Site Now

Even an industry full of tenured employees must have an ecommerce site to support future growth. An undeniable fact, but the “why” behind all companies having an ecommerce site might differ from what you’d expect.

The reason is (drum roll please) that your ecommerce efforts will also drive more phone and purchase order sales. When you engage in B2B ecommerce, you develop a new means of collecting valuable purchasing data for all your b2b marketing efforts. From the percentage of abandoned carts to the time on a particular product page, you will learn new insights about your business when you have a well-built ecommerce website. 

Steps To Starting A B2B Ecommerce Business

Whether you’ve yet to create an ecommerce site or are looking to advance your existing one, take each step seriously. The actions on this list are as strategic as they are practical. Some are important reminders of what’s essential, and others involve the latest B2B ecommerce technology innovations. 

Assuming your team is in place and you’ve set up your product fulfillment, here are the steps to launching or re-engaging with business-to-business ecommerce. 

Lead With Relationship Building

Age is irrelevant regarding the importance of building relationships with B2B customers. What changes for ecommerce is how you engage with existing and potential customers. We have replaced handshakes with virtual high-fives and phone call follow-ups with check-ins. But just like the old way of doing things, A B2B customer can sniff out a fake from a mile away. 

Digital communication with clients must be as authentic as in-person or on the phone. 

Put Yourself In The Shoes of the Purchaser 

It’s one thing to assume what your B2B buyer wants from your ecommerce website, but it’s another to hear their wants and frustrations firsthand. Before you start the build, create a handful of b2b buyers willing to be interviewed and potentially walk through the website experience. 

Uline understands this. As one of the largest B2B business websites, they know that its customers are busy service providers, retailers, distributors, and manufacturers. They amplify their website success with one of the best phone ordering experiences ever. The phone does not ring before someone answers, identifies your business, and is ready to take your order. 

The previous statement is a reminder of how ecommerce increases sales through other channels. 

Outline Your Product Catalog

Before developing your site, consider the products you already stock and those you plan to carry in the future. Understanding your future catalog will help you design the user experience with these additional products. Laying out your product catalog in advance will also give you ideas for promoting your products through ecommerce content marketing.

Choose Your B2B Ecommerce Platform

You’ve waited long enough. We are now at the point where we can discuss the importance of having a suitable ecommerce platform for your B2B business. To determine if an ecommerce platform is an appropriate fit, you need to walk through your site features with either an ecommerce agency or the platform team. 

The big players in this space are Shopify Plus, Bigcommerce, and WooCommerce. Each will have overlapping features and some differences that make them more appropriate for some businesses than others. 

Invest in Site Search

We’ve set expectations for site speed, stability, and functionality. The next question to ask an agency or the platform is, what can I do to increase the speed and improve the experience of my site search? At scale, your website becomes a mini search engine, and if your site search has a mediocre response, it will cost you revenues and customer satisfaction. 

B2B Ecommerce Marketing Strategies

With the ecommerce fundamentals in place, it’s time to shift to specific strategies you can use to encourage a smoother transition into online ordering. 

Ecommerce Page Experience

The old way of ecommerce included basic images and a cookie-cutter product description. While this was probably never a good idea, it certainly isn’t a good idea while living in the experience economy. Even for B2B buyers, a page must include an enriching experience that adds value to the viewer to satisfy their time commitment. 

So the page must be informative, engaging, and enriching if you hope to leave a lasting impression on B2B purchasers.

If a product page is essential to your business, consider how you can solve problems and keep people interested. You can add videos, 3d renderings, colorful fonts, audio elements, testimonials, and more. Make the page shine, but not to where it hinders site speed.

Personalize Your Team

Building a relationship is hard if you don’t know who handles your business. You may have some visibility at trade shows, and through print or digital media, your ecommerce website re-humanizes the experience. Consider putting a face (and voice) on your team to do this. 

Here’s an example: Include a team member discussing a specific product use case or a customer service agent finding common ground within their interaction. 

Content Marketing

Did you know that nearly 60% of people say they don’t engage with a salesperson until they are halfway through the purchase? If that’s true, how did they find the business in the first place? Perhaps through referral, but most likely through some means of advertising or marketing. 

Content marketing on your ecommerce site is a fantastic way to engage with prospective customers before they are ready to buy. Let’s say that you are a janitorial supply company selling toilet paper to luxury hotels: 

To inform, you might create an article about “The Best Luxury Toilet Paper For Hotels.” 

To astonish you, you might create an article about “How Luxury Hotels Hang Their Toilet Paper.” 

Together, these articles build your topical authority for the term toilet paper, helping to improve the rankings of your products. 

Include a speed-ramped video on the page that shows luxurious ways to hang toilet paper and an infographic with a step-by-step guide. 

All of this works to leave a lasting impression on the customer’s mind so they feel comfortable doing business with you in the future. 

Set Up Retargeting Campaigns

Whether the owner, office manager, or purchaser, these team members get busy and forget to finish their purchases. A hardware supply company that doesn’t have retargeting set up on their site might lose the customer with an abandoned cart to Amazon or the nearby Lowes.

Retargeting helps to protect your customer acquisition investment. You can find the most opportune means of re-engaging with a customer with a retargeting campaign through your website data analytics. 

One Click Checkout

To reiterate, purchasers are busy, which is precisely why Ecommerce marketers created the one-click checkout. Those who oppose a one-click checkout state how on-page checkouts reduce the ability to increase the transaction size through up-sells and checkout promotions. But if this were true, companies like Amazon wouldn’t have implemented them. 

One-click checkouts improve the user experience and create a dopamine release that can become a habitual response they look for in the future. 

Subscribe & Save

Subscriptions are a fantastic way to save the buyer hassle and help the ecommerce company forecast future revenues. While it doesn’t work for all products, having the ability to create a subscription on your site if you sell products that people forget to re-order. 

Customer Loyalty Programs

After all these years of customer loyalty programs, you might think we’d be past the point of letting this marketing tactic affect our purchasing decisions. Still, we’re not. Statistica reports consumers will spend 30% more when a free loyalty program is in place and 60% more when it is a paid loyalty program

Let’s say a customer spends an average of $1200.00 per year, and you decide to introduce $5.00 for every $100.00 they spend on the loyalty program. The customer pays $1560.00 the following year because of this offer and receives $75.00 in loyalty bucks for their purchases. Is $360 in revenues worth the $75.00 kickback? In most industries, the answer is yes. 

Integrate Terms Payment options

Cashflow constrictions can prevent some businesses from making the purchases necessary for running their business. That said, offering terms may not be realistic for your company. Thankfully, more and more creative payment methods are available to ecommerce brands at a minimal cost. Klarna is one such company that will take an additional 3% from the transaction but spread out the customer’s payments interest-free. No credit checks and no hassle. 

Text To Chat

Live chat is good, but it is interruptive to the user experience. Text messaging, however, fully aligns with the way humans communicate in this day and age. It personifies the brand and makes it feel like human interaction. 

Apple is an excellent example of this. You can text them with questions such as “How long will an iPad take to reach my address” or “where is my order”? A human jumps on the line and gets the information you need. 

The cost of staying in touch with your potential customers is only pennies per text. Therefore, every B2B ecommerce business should have this in place. 

Sponsor Digital Events

Since Covid, there has been an explosion in digital conferences. If you want to increase your digital footprint and advertise your B2B ecommerce initiative, get in front of eyeballs adapting to an online experience. Sponsoring digital events is a great way to promote your B2B organization in a trackable manner. 

Leverage LinkedIn

While you should still consider social media platforms like TikTok for ecommerce, B2B can benefit through organic and paid LinkedIn marketing campaigns. Business-to-business conversations are a natural fit for LinkedIn, and if you have something worth mentioning or promoting that is helpful to a business audience. LinkedIn is where you should share it. 

Lead Gen For Big-Ticket Items

It’s not the best idea to list and sell every product through ecommerce. Certain items require qualification to ensure customer satisfaction, or the ticket size is so large that you must manually underwrite the payment plan. 

But this doesn’t mean we should leave these items off our ecommerce website. Instead, create a lead generation form for these products instead of an add-to-cart button. Keep it short and sweet, so you do not lose the interested customer to their busy day.

Create Ordering Tutorials 

Leave no stone unturned in making the purchaser comfortable navigating your ecommerce website. Create easy-to-find ordering tutorials where you have written an article and recorded a video about how to order a product on your website. From login to checkout, ensure you have a resource for buyers transitioning into this new ordering method.

B2B Ecommerce Tips

We reached out to Paris Vega, our growth director, and partner at The Nine, for tips (or the secret sauce) for B2B Ecommerce. Here’s what he had to say.

  • Use AI-driven campaigns on search and social ad platforms to deliver relevant recommendations and Behavior-Based Personalization.

  • Don’t sleep on email marketing to stay connected to past customers. It still works!

  • Create price personalization for larger customers or unique purchasing

  • Make social proof about ease of ordering and customer service a mainstay throughout the buyer journey. 

  • Use website analytics to drive better marketing decisions and improve cross-team communication.

The Future of B2B Ecommerce

The future for all ecommerce is exciting, but this is especially true for a B2B brand or distributor. With the development of augmented reality and digital currencies, a shift in commerce mustn’t blindside B2B companies. We expect the future of B2B Ecommerce to bring 

To stay on top of the latest innovations, look to an Ecommerce expert or agency whose job is to keep in tune with any changes in ecommerce. 

What To Look For In a B2B Ecommerce Agency

Even enterprise companies with large teams look to an ecommerce agency to help them facilitate growth with the latest trends in digital marketing. The goal of any agency engagement is proper communication, a collaborative strategy, proper execution, and transparent reporting. 

The Nine

We are a digital ecommerce agency focusing heavily on ecommerce. In one case study, we helped an ecommerce client rank #1 for their top 4-transactional keywords, representing a total monthly search volume of 267,200. Our focus is always on pulling the right marketing levers that give our clients the greatest return on investment. 

Jason Vaught

About Jason Vaught

Business and entrepreneurship came early for Jason, with his candy selling business being shut down by the middle school principal, which led to his suspension. Taking a break from marketing and strategy until after his formative years, Jason began his first “real” business at 22, which he held until December 2021. Throughout this time, Jason owned various businesses in many industries, which gave him a unique lens to look through. He channeled the information gained from these various perspectives through article content writing. He quickly realized that it took more than good content to rank in Google. This is when his fire for SEO and content marketing first started. Now, Jason focuses all his efforts on SEO and content marketing, finding that he enjoys helping other companies more than his own. There is something special (and spiritual) about being a part of someone else’s success. Personally, Jason most enjoys spending time with his 5-kids and beautiful wife. He’s also passionate about golf, gardening, and reading good books.