E-Commerce Provides Fertile Ground for B2B Growth

Business-to-business firms view increased online activity as an effective way to boost their growth, according to a new report fromCloudCraze.

Eighty-nine percent of the 400-plus B2B decision makers CloudCraze surveyed in the United States and Europe expected digital commerce would help their businesses grow.

Other findings:

  • Forty-eight percent already offered their full line of products online;
  • Eighty-eight percent expected to sell products primarily online in the next five years;
  • Fifty-six percent believed the greatest value of digital commerce was customer retention; and
  • Fifty-four percent said the major value of digital commerce was customer acquisition.

“The stats are within range,” said Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

“Constellation forecasts that by 2020, online B2B sales will account for about 65 percent of the total, averaged out between North America and [Europe, the Middle East and Africa],” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Learning from B2C Companies

“It behooves all B2B companies to take a page from the B2C playbook and make it easier for customers to buy — if they wish — without human interaction,” suggested Rebecca Wettemann, VP of research at Nucleus Research.

New tools have been emerging to enable B2B firms make the transition, such as a fully configurable white label mobile app from InsiteCommerce.

“Customer expectations are higher now,” noted Cindy Zhou, a principal analyst at Constellation Research.

“Every B2B buyer is also a consumer in their personal life. They expect the ease of use for product automation and shopping to be similar,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

On Getting and Keeping Customers

Among the survey’s other findings:

  • Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they could acquire new customers more easily online;
  • Fifty-two percent believed their customers were eager to adopt new technologies and processes;
  • Fifty-one percent said digital commerce let them upsell/cross-sell with current customers more easily;
  • Fifty-one percent said their customers could serve themselves more easily online; and
  • Thirty-nine percent said an automated ordering system gave them more recurring orders.

A Fortune 500 aviation products manufacturer, one of Zhou’s clients, moved to an e-commerce platform to give its customers “a consumer-like experience,” and it has seen a “300-plus percent stock price growth over the past three years,” she said.

Sales’ New Role

E-commerce has altered the role of sales teams, the CloudCraze survey suggests. Among the notable changes:

  • Forty-two percent of respondents said the sales professional’s role had morphed into the role of strategic trusted adviser;
  • Thirty-nine percent said sales teams had shifted their offers to marketing or other departments; and
  • Thirteen percent said sales teams had refocused on high-volume customers.

“As more and more B2B buyers look online for product information, comparisons and other information, and [use] tools for intelligent buying. like AI-driven configurators and the like, the role of the transactional sales person — just an order taker — is shrinking,” Nucleus Research’s Wettemann told the E-Commerce Times.

Service With a Smile

The roles of service teams also have been shifting:

  • Forty-two percent of respondents said the service team had become more involved in commerce experiences;
  • Twenty-two percent said the service team was spending less time servicing high-volume customers; and
  • Twelve percent said the service team could better service customers through enhanced customer care.

“Far more interactions happen between customer service and customers than between sales and customers,” Wettemann noted.

“Service is in more of a position of value, because they’re resolving a problem or challenge a customer faces,” she observed. “Smart companies will make more of service agents’ ability to sell in the moment, when they’re solving customers’ problems.”

With cross-selling and upselling, service will evolve “from a cost center to a profit center,” Constellation’s Wang said.

The walls between sales, marketing and service will come down, Constellation’s Zhou predicted. “The collaboration between the three departments is critical to future B2B sales success.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology. Email Richard.

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