In the world of B2B, direct sales models certainly have their benefits.
Without third-party distributors, brands can have a direct, more personalized relationship with their corporate customers.
Yet when the pandemic hit, for some industries this traditional B2B sales model was no longer sustainable. The hand sanitizer industry, for instance, saw some of the most dramatic fluctuations in demand in the market: first, from consumers scrambling to stock up, and then a second wave led by corporate buyers looking to protect their customers as businesses began to reopen.
For hand sanitizer brand Touchland, this volatility led to the need for a more efficient, automated way to enable business customers to purchase items — or, in the very least, understand quickly whether hand sanitizer was even in stock.
"Around April, we saw some of the highest demand we've ever seen — thousands of percent more than what we would normally expect," said Ed Krafcik, head of U.S. business development at Touchland, in an interview with PYMNTS. "Our supply chain was constrained as everyone was trying to figure out how to produce at-scale."
To tackle this friction, Touchland launched its own B2B eCommerce platform, a project that Krafcik noted had to take into consideration both the unique demands of corporate buyers amid a pandemic, as well as the long-term requirements of corporates shifting away from sales reps and toward digital commerce platforms.
A New Buying Experience
One of the biggest benefits to the direct, inside sales model is the ability for corporate customers to call up a sales representative and have a conversation about product availability, pricing and more. Yet for many sellers across industries that experienced supply chain disruptions, panic-buying and unpredictable inventory meant the manual process of calling a vendor was no longer efficient.
"The pain point we discovered was, if a company was trying to buy hand sanitizer in the midst of the pandemic, they wouldn't even get a call back [from the sales representative]," said Krafcik. "That's hugely important. In eCommerce, you no longer have to wait for a call back. You can see what's available, get your order confirmation, shipping notifications, all without having to have an individual human be responsible for the customer account."
While an eCommerce sales model inherently provides enhanced visibility and efficiency, due to the unprecedented nature of the pandemic and demand for hand sanitizer, Krafcik explained that Touchland had to implement several features into its platform not traditionally seen in a B2B eCommerce model.
Pre-order and down payment capabilities were critical, for example.
Organizations knew that hand sanitizer availability was scarce, yet also understood that they would eventually need to purchase the product in anticipation of the economy reopening. For business buyers, that meant requiring the ability to pre-order products and pay either 50 percent of 100 percent of that order immediately, even though neither the buyer nor seller knew when, exactly, product would be back in stock.
"In some cases, it would be undetermined — there was no actual ship date," he said. "It was just, 'We know we need this, and we want to reserve this while we can.'"
An Enduring Shift
The hand sanitizer market hit what may just be its most volatile period in its history, and unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. In addition to pre-orders and down payments, Krafcik noted that many businesses nixed payment term requirements that they would normally deploy in order to secure their purchases.
There is likely a third wave of hand sanitizer demand on the horizon, said Krafcik, as commercial real estate companies ready for professionals to gradually return to work.
While implementing specific requirements for buyers to address these peak demands, they aren't likely to be permanent shifts in corporate buying habits. Indeed, as Touchland moves forward with its B2B eCommerce strategy, the company will be looking to implement more traditional features, like support for companies that require purchase orders and payment terms in order to buy goods.
"Because hand sanitizer is in such high demand, we've seen a lot of payment terms waived because people just need to find a way to buy hand sanitizer, and do it quickly," Krafcik said. "There are certainly customers we work with where it's not possible to do a credit card or ACH payment because their entire accounts payable system on their side is built around the PO and net-30 terms."
There are also opportunities to add value to the traditional B2B eCommerce model in areas like spend management for corporate buyers with multiple locations making purchases independently.
While the pandemic has created an unorthodox environment for many product categories, the agility of B2B eCommerce platforms offers the opportunity to address these unique pain points. At the same time, as the pandemic accelerates enterprise digitization, it will be important for B2B eCommerce solutions across industries to not only meet the needs of buyers today, but ready for a long-term shift as businesses migrate away from sales reps and toward online portals — permanently.