As more manufacturers and other sellers migrate their sales strategies online, they're seeking to please online shoppers the same way Amazon has done for individual consumers.
But B2B eCommerce is not the same beast as B2C. Certain experience can, indeed, be replicated across a consumer-to-business shopping context, and end-goal in both scenarios for marketplaces is to please the online shopper. Yet as Justin King, vice president of B2B Strategy at Salsify, told PYMNTS, in order to optimize the B2B eCommerce experience, understanding the differences in what initiates the shopping must first be understood.
"The core difference between B2B and B2C is that in B2B, the individual researching and buying has a job to do,” King said. “They didn't want to be there, necessarily — they have to be there. It is their job. On top of that, the buying cycle for B2B is often much more complex and lengthy, and involves many different decision makers, often with their own priorities."
For brands and their manufacturers, Amazon can be a powerful influence. But as King explained, these B2B enterprises must understand what corporate buyers need, and don't need, in order to provide a consistent and pleasing experience not only across their eCommerce channels, but across the traditional sales channels, too.
A Unique Experience
Brands and their manufacturers today continue to rely on legacy technologies and manual processes to sell products online, said King.
"Anyone in the business knows that this process is slow, clumsy and overly complex," he said, noting that Salsify has recently rolled out its Commerce Experience Management (CommerceXM) platform, a solution designed for brand manufacturers to bring the buying experience they yearn to give to the digital landscape.
The purpose, noted King, is for buyers to achieve a "consistent experience" regardless of their shopping setting. For corporate customers, "ease-of-use and utility" are No. 1 priorities.
"You must think, 'How can we make our buyers' jobs easier through eCommerce?'" noted King. "It's a small but fundamental difference in mindset between B2C and B2B digital transformation."
The payments experience is part of that. Today, paper checks continue to be the dominant form of B2B payment. Yet in order to optimize the B2B eCommerce experience, ACH and commercial card transactions need to be accounted for when building the online business shopper experience.
This is particularly true, said King, as a result of the global pandemic. As a result of work-from-home requirements, accounts payable (AP) professionals cannot be in the office to print and mail paper checks. King noted that with employees now forced to keep check stock at home, the friction of making payments after making a purchase online has elevated.
"Because of this shift to remote work, B2B organizations have been forced to leverage digital payments, simplifying the process," he stated.
Shifting Business Models
B2B payments aren't the only shift that the pandemic has initiated in the world of B2B eCommerce.
Changing business models have added extra pressure on the way brands sell across channels across business models. It's also accelerated the digitization of B2B sales.
King said that the rise of direct-to-consumer (D2C) has opened up opportunities for sellers to collect valuable data from their shoppers, pointing to Dawn Foods as one such customer of Salsify that has recently taken the opportunity to, as Dawn Foods explained, "connect with their customers and end-users, leaning their behaviors, and getting direct feedback."
Amid this shifting landscape, Amazon has once again emerged as a model to which B2B brands should pay attention.
King cited research from Salsify partner Enceiba, which revealed 70 percent of B2B manufacturers expect Amazon to emerge as a key player in the B2B commerce world in the years ahead.
"This is partially due to COVID," said King, "but also due to the fact that millennials now have an incredible influence on the B2B purchase cycle. They expect their business products to be listed on the same sites as their consumer needs, and B2B brands need to pay attention to that if they aren't already."
Overall, said King, B2B brands and their manufacturers have to be "nimble" in order to stay competitive. While the pandemic has indeed accelerated digitization and heightened both consumer and corporate shopper demands, many of these changes will be long term.
Digital sales models must also be ready for the unexpected. No one could have predicted the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on the world of B2B commerce, for instance, so any investment in digital will be beneficial for future-proofing sales in the long run.
And as King noted, B2B brands and their manufacturers need to think beyond the basics of digital commerce to not only meet "Amazon-like experience," but to also meet the unique needs of corporate buyers that require complex payment and ordering processes.
"It's not enough today to even have the right technologies and processes in place to handle the next pandemic," he said. "You have to make the investment in digital transformation today, and have the right internal mindset, to be able to handle any unforeseen circumstance."