Unlocking B2B commerce: Part 1 – The B2B Evolution

This article is the first in a series brought to you in collaboration with our partner, Amplience, an API-first, headless content management platform for enterprise retail. Their content and experience solutions for headless commerce enable teams to do more, better, faster. To learn more, visit amplience.com.

It’s no secret that the eCommerce landscape has shifted dramatically over the past few years, and not just for B2C businesses. Even before the pandemic hit, B2B businesses were contending with the disruption of traditional sales channels and methods, looking at how they can adapt and keep pace.

Covid-19 did strike though, ultimately exasperating the need for many to pivot their resources and efforts to keep up with the change in customer expectations and buying behavior. Digital was brought to the fore far quicker than many had planned for.

We’ve taken a look at how B2B businesses have gotten to this point – essentially the evolution of the B2B sale – and why digital adoption is now a must for any B2B business. It’s the first in our series of B2B-focused blogs with partner, Amplience, that will see us explore how B2B can look to transform their approach through better content and commerce experiences, including real use cases and examples.

The Personal Touch

Historically, B2B sales processes have been different from B2C. It’s natural given the difference in audience, products, order size, etc. B2B has relied heavily on field sales representatives to bring in new customers and to also drive loyalty and repeat purchases from enterprise accounts. Showrooms, trade shows, and in-person sales and onboarding have been the norm, as has printed material like catalogs for marketing and distributing product information.

While these methods were tried and tested, the reliance on them has meant B2B businesses have been generally slower to adopt new digital technologies throughout the sales process, especially in comparison to B2C. A lot of that hesitancy has come from the idea that online commerce models and online storefronts would mean replacing the sales teams, but in fact, it doesn’t have to be a trade off at all.

B2B Customer Expectations Are Changing

A new generation of buyer is starting to take over within the organizational structure at many B2B businesses. These buyers are a lot more digitally savvy and have less (or no) inclination to continue to do business as it has always been done. When business buyers were surveyed by Salesforce after the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, 85% of business buyers placed the same emphasis on flawless engagement and they did on product quality, noting these buyers’ “high standards underscore the critical nature of customer experience for B2B and B2C companies alike.”

The unique position of B2B companies is that B2B buyers are, first and foremost, B2C buyers with the same digital commerce expectations that they see from the brands and retailers they love. They look for products and services online just as they would if it was for their own personal consumption. But in doing so, they’re bypassing the traditional sales route and the chance for salespeople to lend their expertise and experience to the process or to build traditional relationships with them.

This has meant that the interest in trade shows and face-to-face sales meetings has been waning. And now with Covid making in-person meetings essentially impossible at times over the past year, the traditional sales process, timelines, and flow have been completely disrupted.

All of this is also coming to the fore when competition is rife. With new players in almost every industry, B2B marketplaces for small businesses like Faire, JOOR, and Abound, not to mention the behemoth that is Amazon always looming, the technical B2B marketplace is as competitive as ever.
So now when we look at it, B2B businesses are staring at newly empowered buyers, a disruption in sales channels, and new and increased competition. It all adds up to a bit of chaos, and a lot of change.

B2B Must Digitally Mature

Given B2B customers have evolved to be a lot more digitally native, their expectations are forcing B2B businesses to play catch up with their digital channels. They’re now expected to offer the types of digital experiences that are inherent in the B2C world – connected, relevant and content-rich experiences that help buyers get to what they want quicker than before, that help buyers find new products even easier, and that ultimately build trustworthy and meaningful relationships online instead of in person.

Essentially the need for B2B to digitally mature and match B2C is paramount. It’s no longer a nice to have, it’s a must have.

Where to next?

B2B businesses can start to set themselves apart by looking to new and streamlined digital commerce technologies. To help you understand more about the integration of digital commerce and how a focus on content will need to play a bigger role going forward, keep an eye out for the upcoming blogs in the series.

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