How to get into the business of B2B eCommerce
Akvilė Les has always been a visionary. She has long been at the forefront of fashion, luxury interiors, and hospitality design—even amassing an international clientele for her PR and marketing consultancy, AL by Akvilė Les.
On top of this, she dons another title under her belt: lead designer and founder of Akvilė Les Artwork. Her artwork has graced various office walls, galleries, and hotels—earning features in Cosmopolitan, Business Insider, and other global magazines.
“It happened naturally, really,” she says. “I have over 14 years of experience in both the consumer and B2B sectors and I certainly enjoyed both…however, the B2B space feels even more collaborative, since the client represents another business with a challenge. My job is like a puzzle that requires me to merge my creativity with my commercial mindset. That’s my favorite convergence.”
If you’ve stumbled across this blog, then chances are that you’re also eyeing an opportunity within B2B eCommerce. Like Akvilė, you may be looking to start an eCommerce business that serves as another revenue stream for your service business. Or, you may be looking to sell your consumer products to a B2B audience.
Read Also: How to start a business
In any case, there are several tips to keep in mind as you jump in. Keep reading for an overview of how to sell to a B2B audience using the online channels and tools at your disposal.
What is B2B eCommerce?
While business-to-consumer (B2C) involves a transaction from a business to a private individual, business-to-business (B2B) is the sale of goods (or services) from one business to another.
As a B2B merchant, you could be selling anything from digital downloads to software, and machinery to office supplies.
Today, nearly two-thirds (65%) of B2B companies sell on eCommerce channels—up from 53% in early 2021, according to McKinsey. It was even found that, for the first time ever, B2B sellers are more likely to sell online than in person. And, these sellers are investing fully into eCommerce, as opposed to creating a basic website and calling it a day.
Key differences between B2C and B2B eCommerce
B2B eCommerce is typically considered more complex than B2C eCommerce for several reasons:
B2B sellers usually work with fewer customers, which means they need to move larger volumes and/or sell at a higher price to cover costs and turn a profit. Relationships are vital to success, at times impacting pricing (e.g., you may need to negotiate prices) and demanding a more hands-on customer service or account management team.
B2B buyers usually involve multiple stakeholders. In fact, one study by Garner found that a B2B sale usually involves six to 10 decision makers, each with a separate process and timeline for researching products.
Fewer impulse purchases. Because of the complexity of the buying process, B2B transactions are rarely impulsive. On the contrary, they may take weeks—if not longer—to close, as several stakeholders within the company come together to make a decision. On the bright side, a good experience could yield a more long-term relationship with regular purchase orders from the same buyer.
Many B2B buyers seek bespoke solutions. Be it a marketing team looking to purchase new swag, or an office manager looking to buy new office supplies, some B2B buyers may request products to be tailored to their unique needs. Beyond this, your product catalog, shipping policy, and payment options may need to be adjusted for particular clients.
Brand ambassadors are essentials, especially when you’re selling to a large company. If your brand ambassador happens to leave the company, then you may find yourself needing another point of contact who can help champion your brand internally.
There’s a long lineup of players that stand to benefit from B2B eCommerce. Among them:
Manufacturers - While catering to various types of businesses and buyers (including brands, wholesalers, distributors, or other manufacturers), manufacturers can leverage eCommerce to simplify the order process. Buyers can search and purchase products on their own. Meanwhile, manufacturers can better track, monitor, and centralize data, improving operations like inventory forecasting.
Wholesalers - Wholesalers that have an eCommerce store can make the purchasing process much easier for their partners, while expanding their reach through online sales channels.
Distributors - Distributors who sell to a variety of customers can sell on multiple channels to reach new audiences. They can also provide more personalized experiences through their eCommerce sites, adjusting price lists, product catalogs, and messaging to specific buyer segments.
B2M brands - Business-to-many brands that exercise multiple selling models (e.g., B2C, B2B, or B2B2C) can create separate websites for each customer type. They can additionally sell on multiple channels at once, honing in on platforms that already have the trust and loyalty of their target buyers.
D2C brands - Brands that prefer to cut out the middlemen can now sell directly to enterprise or business customers. Their D2C eCommerce sites can showcase their full range of products, while allowing them the freedom to control their branding, pricing, and more.
Agencies and consultants - Service providers looking to supplement their core business with a side hustle can develop an eCommerce strategy that still caters to the types of audiences they know best.
Popular B2B eCommerce channels
Depending on how you plan to operate your B2B company, there are several types of channels to consider selling on. Of course, you can (and should) sell on multiple channels at once to maximize your reach:
Online store - Often the most flexible and straightforward option, an online store allows you to engage directly with business clients. You may choose to sell solely to B2B audiences, or create a separate members-only space on your B2C site.
B2B marketplace - Under this option, you list your products to a third-party marketplace that connects you to potential buyers, but owns the customer experience (including how products are listed, how you can interact with customers, etc.). Think: Wayfair Professional, Alibaba, AliExpress, and Amazon Business.
Social media - Certain social channels may be very valuable to your B2B brand, and with the rise of social commerce tools, you could find yourself taking orders directly through channels like TikTok or Instagram. Of course, you’ll want to test and analyze channels carefully to find the ones worth investing in.
6 tips for getting started with B2B eCommerce
Now that we’ve got the basics down, it’s important that we cover essential tips for setting up your business—the right way. Heed these tips as you jump headfirst into the world of B2B eCommerce.
01. Pick your eCommerce platform wisely
Your website builder serves as the backbone of your online store. With a plethora of options out there, deciding on the right platform can seem daunting and you may even consider hiring a developer to build your store from scratch.
However, the right eCommerce website builder can dramatically simplify your work, while helping you launch and scale faster.
Wix Payments - As a first-time online seller, it's not always clear how to accept various types of payments online and how to do it securely. With Wix Payments, you can accept major credit cards, debit cards, Apple Pay, buy-now-pay-later options, and more. This is backed by strong security protocols; Wix Payments achieves the highest level of PCI compliance.
Catalog and listing management - Maintain one source of truth for all of your product data, and create product collections and/or listing variations that speak to your B2B customer segments. Enable bulk buying by listing multipacks of products with special pricing.
Order and inventory management - These are basic must-haves for any online business. As your products are for sale 24/7, you need a system to accurately and automatically record and route orders to avoid shipping errors, overselling, or other costly mistakes.
Memberships - Create restricted (i.e., password-protected) store pages for your B2B customers. This is useful if you want to service both B2C and B2B clients from the same site or want to create a special experience for loyal customers.
Product subscriptions - Offer a subscription service for curated boxes or recurring orders on a single item.
Print-on-demand (POD) and dropshipping integrations - Sell made-to-order products while outsourcing fulfillment with the help of a POD supplier.
Wix Chat - Enable live chat on your site so customers can find answers on the spot, or reach a customer service agent as they're shopping.
Multichannel expansion - Easily connect to popular marketplaces, like Amazon and eBay, without leaving your Wix dashboard. This saves you the headache of re-entering product details on each channel by hand, plus lets you automatically sync any changes to your listings from channel to channel.
Global eCommerce - Automatically translate and localize all facets of your online store. Add a currency converter to your Wix store and start selling to a global audience.
02. Apply B2C principles to your B2B site
Treat your business customers like any other human customer.
After all, the people behind a company are the ones doing the shopping—and like the rest of us, these shoppers are already familiar with how an online transaction should work, based on their personal shopping habits.
On your site, make sure to:
Organize your products into clear collections
Make it easy to find your products using clear navigation menus, filters, and more
Use high-quality product images that show the actual size, features, and intended use of your products
Create unique and detailed product descriptions
Optimize the mobile shopping experience
Integrate videos, including user-generated ones, on your site
Include social proof, like customer testimonials, product reviews, and/or case studies
Offer multiple shipping and payment options
Provide clear return and exchange policies
Provide clear contact information, as well as a live chat option on your site
03. Encourage self-service shopping—whenever, wherever
Many B2B buyers prefer to help themselves and research products at their own pace. In fact, B2B buyers complete almost 70% of the buyer’s journey before actively reaching out to a vendor.
For this reason, you’ll want to make sure to offer lots of self-service tools, such as chat boxes, blog posts, navigation menus, FAQs, and more.
You can prod customers along by sending automated abandoned emails, adding “related products” banners to your site, or activating a remarketing campaign. Moreover, you'll want to meet customers where they are by engaging on multiple channels. Different stakeholders may prefer different channels for research, whether that’s social media, a marketplace, or an offline channel.
As you tap into various marketing and sales channels, make sure to create a unified experience. A staggering 93% of customers expect a vendor’s digital experience to be the same as, if not better than, its in-store experience. This includes everything from your branding, to your payment options, to the amount of information provided about your available products.
Harness a proper omnichannel retail strategy and keep the experience consistent, so that no matter where your buyers find your products, they’re confident about their purchases.
04. Create a full-service experience
Track the full customer journey with your brand. Dissect the various types of clients that you’ll be selling to, as well as their familiarity with your brand.
While it’s not possible for your site to be all things to all people, you can develop a space that services both first-time buyers and returning ones, as well as large-ticket sales and small-ticket sales.
The trick is to be intentional about the purpose of each store page. Analyze who lands on which pages, and from where. While your homepage primarily speaks to new clients, your members' pages may speak to returning customers. The main CTA on your homepage may be to “explore products” or “contact us with your questions” whereas your members' pages may highlight subscription options, pre-order buttons, and receipts of a customer's past purchases.
05. Combat choice paralysis with personalization and smart design
While the typical B2B buying cycle may take a relatively long time, it always helps to think of ways to make the experience more convenient and engaging.
Elements like a “best sellers” tab or social proof can have a positive impact. Or, consider creating product collections based on specific buyer needs. Remember that even small details—such as enabling site search, adding a “sort by” option, or offering a generous return policy—can prompt faster sales.
In addition, your online store can offer a wealth of data. Wix Analytics, for instance, allows you to understand consumer behavior via their purchase habits, bounce rates, click-through rates (CTRs), and more. With these insights, you can make informed decisions about the products you highlight, the messaging you use, and more.
Once someone is ready to checkout, make sure that your site supports a smooth, self-service checkout experience. Offer multiple payment options. Be clear about estimated shipping times. And regularly update customers on the status of their orders.
06. Establish a strong marketing strategy
Establishing your sales channels is just half the battle. The other half involves creating a strong eCommerce marketing strategy.
“Just because an eCommerce website is launched, it does not necessarily mean that it will gain traffic immediately,” notes Akvilė. “Treat your site as a new avenue and spread the word to your existing clients.”
There are various tactics and channels worth exploring at this stage:
Referral / word of mouth - Announce your new venture to your existing contacts and network. You could even incentivize them by offering special discounts in exchange for referrals.
Social media - A reported 84% of B2B execs use social media as a research tool, seeking real-life reviews before committing to a purchase.
SEO - Boost the visibility of your site on Google search engine pages by incorporating keywords into your web copy, optimizing site speed, and following other eCommerce SEO best practices.
Ads - Platforms like Facebook Ads or Google Ads can immediately get your business in front of new audiences.
Email marketing - Send a newsletter, abandoned cart emails, or promotional emails to keep your brand top of mind among customers.
Content marketing - Be it through a blog, YouTube videos, or customer reviews—content can help you to build trust and demonstrate the benefits of your products.
Sell online, the B2B way
All in all, eCommerce is as much a space for B2B merchants as it is for B2C sellers. Avoid leaving money on the table and get started today.
“I’ve noticed that people in the B2B space tend to often hesitate to launch,” Akvilė adds. “Don’t wait and postpone launching [your eCommerce business] until you get better, get more experience, or get bigger clients. Just do it and adjust along the way.”
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Editor, Wix eCommerce
Allison is the editor for the Wix eCommerce blog, with several years of experience reporting on eCommerce news, strategies, and founder stories.