How B2B-purchases have evolved due to lockdown

The business-to-business customer is changing, both due to the arrival of new generations and due to the current situation around the world. The way we do business will therefore have to change drastically if we want to remain competitive.

We see an increasing demand from our B2B customers when it comes to offering products and services through online channels. Consider, for example, purchasing quick scans, a security heath check or a digital transition workshop. Because sales people can no longer get on the road and because the physical, standard sales process is stagnating, there is an increasing need for the sale to take place online.

Business-to-business (B2B) companies thus also become a kind of e-commerce companies, although in many cases it is the less glamorous brother or sister of business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce …

Whether a company sells computer software, financial products, or management services, the homepage of a typical B2B website is often a static, somewhat overwhelming product catalog. This unpleasant user experience often sends people straight into the arms of a nicer, more responsive website, which is a growing problem for B2B companies.

This is mainly due to the fact that business buyers are getting younger. Increasingly, they are digital natives who grew up online. These business customers grew up with the speed and convenience of Coolblue, Bol.com and Amazon and demand the same seamless service that they get in the B2C environment, including the B2B environment.

Failure to meet the expectations of this growing group of decision-makers can have serious consequences for businesses. The growth opportunity is huge: in 2019 alone, sales through B2B websites increased 18.2 percent to 1.3 trillion euros, surpassing the B2C industry, according to Digital Research 360.

The B2B buying process is evolving in the wake of COVID-19

There are several reasons why B2B is overtaking B2C, but it’s partly a legacy of B2B sales that largely takes place in the physical world. It is still not uncommon for merchants of companies with product catalogs and brochures to travel across the country to acquire customers. Endless (cold) calling with potential customers has been an accepted B2B sales method for decades. Bizarrely enough, payments are still often made with paper purchase orders.

Due to the worldwide spread of corona virus, traveling sales people have become redundant. This creates an urgency for B2B e-commerce. Meeting the expectations of digitally savvy business buyers presents unique challenges for B2B enterprises. An important point is pricing. Unlike in the consumer world, product and service prices are not always visible and one customer or sector may pay a different price for the same product than another. But instead of a salesman disclosing or negotiating the price over the phone or in person, corporate customers want to see the price right now on a website. A company must have a solution for this. Without a sales mediator, companies now need to make prices transparent or come up with a solution where a potential or existing customer can log in to a specific portal where they can find tailored prices.

B2B-traditionalists must employ digital marketing skills

Businesses looking to leverage some of the B2B-e-commerce opportunity need to overcome other key differences between B2B and B2C purchases. One of them is specificity. In B2C consumers are trained to be offered substitutes, but in B2B you really have to deliver the right product.

The second is to understand the intent behind the shopping experience. Spending time searching for products can be fun when buying something for yourself that isn’t essential, but for business customers it’s not about browsing; it’s about getting the job done quickly. This means cutting back on browsing for potential solutions and shortening and simplifying the path between the first visit to a B2B-site and purchasing a product or service is vital.

Both problems can be solved by using smart content, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to predict what a customer needs based on search behavior or personas. If you use AI to teach user behavior, you understand that when someone searches for something, it is actually the specific product they want or need. Prospects can then be guided accurately and quickly through a B2B-site.

Businesses can give themselves an edge over their competitors by not only mastering the basics of e-commerce, such as custom home pages, but also creating a personalized experience. To this we can add that social media and an explosion of self-driven product research in the B2C market are influencing expectations of what a B2B-e-commerce site should look like.

We have been saying for ages: “content is king”. The new approach to B2B sales via online channels is an extension of this. We therefore encourage our B2B customers to invest in smart marketing technology and in video, for example to show people how their products work and to show customer experiences.

From AI to social media mastery, many companies have a steep learning curve to meet the demands of the new B2B buyer. It’s a very different mindset than a sales’ way of thinking on the road. Are you ready?

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