Although already widely established in some countries such as the USA, B2B e-commerce is still not very developed in France. Indeed, emails and phone calls are still the main channels used to place orders between companies. However, B2B e-commerce has strong growth potential as it is a natural progression in today’s digital world. And as more and more companies are proving, the digital migration of sales operations presents massive efficiency and cost reduction opportunities for B2B salespeople.
But this migration also has its challenges. Of course, B2B online customers are also B2C consumers who are used to ordering their products from successful e-commerce sites. They expect similar satisfaction when shopping on behalf of their company. However, there are several differences when the customer is in a business context.
The buying mechanism
While B2C buyers are guided by their emotions when making purchases, B2B buyers are much more pragmatic. It is important to keep in mind that B2B buyers are better informed than non-business consumers. They know their industry and the needs of their company. Moreover, the B2B buyer is usually responding to a request from their manager and is not alone in the buying decision. They will therefore take few risks and look for a supplier that best meets the “objective” characteristics they are looking for.
To do this, the B2B user needs to easily find precise and comprehensive information, not only on the products but also on the company, its expertise, its services, as well as on the sales and after-sales process, in order to make their decision rationally. Unlike the individual buyer, the B2B buyer will only pay attention to the design and ergonomics of the platform at a later stage, the main objective being to find what they are looking for as intuitively and quickly as possible.
This fundamental difference in the purchasing mechanism must be taken into account when designing a B2B e-commerce site. Indeed, a B2B site has completely different functional characteristics from a B2C sales platform.
The customer account
When selling to individuals, the creation of a customer account is not always mandatory and access to an online shop is unlimited.
However, if your e-shop is aimed at businesses, you must only allow access to people who are logged in as trade customers. This means that anyone who wants to see your prices and place an order will have to register, and there will be a verification process to confirm their identity and their role in the company that hired them. We also recommend that you offer the option to create multi-user accounts so that your customers can manage their permissions according to their role.
The whole point of limiting access lies in the ability to customise your interface to each individual who logs on. The information, product range and prices that are displayed can therefore vary according to the needs or characteristics of the customer.
For example, user X may only see the categories that are relevant to their business, while user Y sees all the categories because they are all relevant to them. Similarly, X may be entitled to a 30% discount when they order a certain amount (because they have an agreement with you), whereas Y may only be entitled to 15% because they don’t buy as regularly as X.
In B2C, personalisation is equally feasible and even recommended, but the methodology will not be the same and customers will be segmented based on totally different criteria (such as their age, gender or geographical area).
The ordering process
Finally, the ordering process is more complex in B2B than in B2C. It will be necessary to migrate the processes of the “physical” sale to the CMS of your e-shop. These are new ways of operating, and staff will need to be trained in them. To be successful online, companies must therefore develop their skills and be flexible.
In terms of functionality, if the B2B customer orders regularly, it will be important to make it easy for them to do so, for example, by offering them the option to “reorder“, by creating a predefined shopping cart template for them, or by offering them a quick order by entering item numbers in a form. All these features (and others) are described in our previous article.
Another option that many companies often use is the ability to request a quote. Companies usually order large quantities of products and need a quote to make their final decision. This option should therefore also appear on your B2B sales platform.
In conclusion, B2B e-commerce presents many opportunities for growth and profitability. Despite the challenges, moving to online commerce will enable B2B sellers to respond better and better to the ever-increasing demands of their customers.