Whether it’s in the blogosphere, at conferences, or on social media, we’re hearing a lot about the growth of B2B ecommerce this year. B2B sales are moving from the phone line to online, and that has profound implications for both the B2B industry and the ecommerce solutions industry.

To facilitate this discussion and help educate professionals in the B2B and ecommerce services industry, we interviewed 9 experts on the emerging trends in B2B ecommerce. We asked some pointed questions, and we got an array of intelligent, informative answers. We hope this article will help B2B ecommerce developers, designers, and industry professionals.

Here are the questions we asked:

1. How might an ecommerce model streamline the world of B2B sales?

2. What types of innovation would you like to see in B2B ecommerce functionality?

3. Where does a professional sales staff fit into a B2B ecommerce business plan?

4. How can B2B ecommerce managers encourage their customer base to transition from phone orders to web orders?

1. Bill Osteraas – Vice President, Channel Development, Four51

Bill_Osteraas

How might an ecommerce model streamline the world of B2B sales?

There are huge benefits when it comes to an ecommerce solution - one of them being automation. By integrating your ecommerce solution with your ERP, CRM, analytics, and other current softwares, you are streamlining your processes and removing the manual steps that used to take place. This cuts down on costs, reduces order errors, and frees up your personnel to work on larger issues. In fact, we’ve seen companies like Turtle Wax go from a 6% order error rate to less than 1% after implementing a B2B ecommerce solution. Additionally, you remove the 9-5 barrier by allowing customers to order 24x7x365.

By integrating your ecommerce solution with ERP, CRM, & analytics, you streamline processes. Click To Tweet

What types of innovation would you like to see in B2B ecommerce functionality?

We face this topic with a different approach: flexibility over features. Many ecommerce softwares are rigid and companies must have a “you get what you get and you don’t have a fit” mindset. With an API-first platform, you open up the possibilities for your users immensely. Not only can they utilize the features already available, but they can customize them completely to their business. Integrations become easier than ever, allowing businesses to personalize their platform to their specific processes.

Where does a professional sales staff fit into a B2B ecommerce business plan?

Many people have proclaimed that B2B ecommerce will replaces sales reps. However, ecommerce will free up employees from monotonous, administrative tasks and allow them to have a greater impact on the company with consultative selling or working closer with customers. It’s important to have at least one employee dedicated to your ecommerce solution, especially as ecommerce becomes the main go-to-market strategy for many businesses. Adding or upgrading your online channel requires a company-wide digital transformation, which includes all employees.

How can B2B ecommerce managers encourage their customer base to transition from phone orders to web orders?

Luckily, many customers will naturally transition to web orders, as they have grown accustomed to it in their own personal lives. Many are already using their web devices to search for products - according to Forrester, 74% of B2B buyers are researching at least half of their business purchases online. For those who don’t naturally transition, set the right expectations. Tell them why it’s good for them - for example, faster fulfillment time, automatic delivery updates, and the ability to order anytime, anywhere and from any device.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bill Osteraas is the Vice President of Channel Development at Four51. Four51 offers OrderCloud, a customizable, flexible B2B ecommerce platform that’s entirely cloud-based. Bill has 20 years of experience helping customers with complex ecommerce solutions. Find Four51 online, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

2. Marcel Nanning – Founder, B2BMarketeers

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How might an ecommerce model streamline the world of B2B sales?

Ecommerce is a serious channel in B2B sales these days, and it’s still growing. I have seen customers generating 10% extra revenue the first year a B2B shop opened. That is 10% extra business they would not have had without the shop. It is exciting to see how it is used in different applications. You see some companies selling complex products online, while other companies choose just to sell parts or maintenance products with their website. There is also a difference in how customers and potential customers are served. Some companies use a B2B ecommerce channel just to take in new orders from existing customers. Others try to sell products to the whole world. B2B ecommerce is a way to increase sales, find new markets, and serve customers fast and easy. It is also a field to be further explored. Every case is different—there is no ecommerce template that fits all B2B companies.

What types of innovation would you like to see in B2B ecommerce functionality?

All the B2C innovations will be useful for B2B shops. I think we will see lots of innovations with big data and connectivity. Lots of new possibilities emerge if data is connected to the shop. If a B2B machine company uses sensors to measure the lifetime of certain parts, it could give the owner of the machine a signal if it needs to be replaced. The company could also set up the order in a shop, with some complementary products or services like a mechanic to install the product. The customer just has to approve the order and wait for the product + mechanic to arrive. Everybody wins. That’s just one example of the range of innovations that is going to take place.

Also important: we will see more shops in professional services markets. Services, like consultancy, will be productized and sold through online shops as well.

Where does a professional sales staff fit into a B2B ecommerce business plan?

Sales provides all the input for the ecommerce activities. And good B2B salespeople with deep knowledge of products and markets will always be important in sales and marketing. Call it sales, call it marketing; it is about adding value, making the connection, and being of importance to the customer.

How can B2B ecommerce managers encourage their customer base to transition from phone orders to web orders?

By helping them experience the fun and ease of it. And by giving them an essential role in the process. Most importantly, include them in the B2B ecommerce projects from the start.

Include your customer base in your B2B ecommerce project from the start. Click To Tweet

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marcel Nanning is founder and editor of the digital magazine b2bmarketeers.nl, one of the biggest b2b marketing blogs in the Netherlands. He is also Campaign Manager at GAC Business Solutions, a Microsoft partner in The Netherlands. GAC Business Solutions serves customers all over the world with smart Business Software solutions for ERP, CRM, Office 365 and B2C/B2B e-commerce. You can connect with Marcel on LinkedIn.

3. Tim Peter – Founder, Tim Peter & Associates

tim-peter

How might an ecommerce model streamline the world of B2B sales?

It really depends on your product or service. If you're offering a subscription-based SaaS tool that customers can configure on their own or aftermarket parts for your products, you can easily lower your costs and streamline your customer's purchase journey by offering self-service purchasing.

I've seen Fortune 100 companies sell components and, in some cases, complete systems online, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue by focusing more clearly on understanding that customer journey and where ecommerce activities actually improve the process.

I recommend B2B marketers look at their process in terms of "tracks," helping customers follow the most appropriate track for their particular purchase path: "fast track" (i.e., heavily ecommerce focused) for self-service or simpler purchases; a "standard" track, featuring some hybrid of person-to-person, for the typical purchase path; and a bespoke or advanced track for more complex, customized solutions, perhaps using a product configurator or something similar to start the conversation and show what's possible—and to generate leads.

Where does a professional sales staff fit into a B2B ecommerce business plan?

It's really important to remember that B2B sales often are much more complex than B2C transactions for a variety of reasons. First, unless you're selling to SMB (and even then...) you're likely dealing with multiple stakeholders within the organization. B2B offerings often feature complex and customized implementations. And, they're often at least one step removed from the actual end-user of the product.

B2B ecommerce sales are often much more complex than B2C transactions for a variety of reasons. Click To Tweet

If these cases apply to your business, your sales staff plays a key role in addressing objections among those stakeholders, walking prospects through each step in the process, and helping stakeholders realize the benefits their customers will see from your product or service.

In these situations, it's really about finding the right place in the customer journey to hand-off to a sales professional who can close the deal and assist prospects with—or, where appropriate, upsell prospects to—your more customized services.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tim Peter is the founder of Tim Peter & Associates, LLC, an internet marketing, ecommerce, and consulting firm. Before launching his own company in 2011, Tim worked in the luxury hotel and resort industry, where he helped companies achieve more than $2 billion in online revenue. He has written extensively in the digital marketing industry, and his blog, Tim Peter Thinks, has a large monthly readership. Connect with Tim on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

4. Melissa Buening – Director of Marketing, Apruve, Inc.

Melissa_Buening

How might an ecommerce model streamline the world of B2B sales?

An ecommerce model can streamline the world of B2B sales by reducing the total cost to serve and sell to customers. It can help with reducing the time it takes to find products, improving order accuracy, reducing payment friction, and reducing customer service questions. Ecommerce also allows customers to order products on their own schedule, make repeat purchases, and go paperless.

What types of innovation would you like to see in B2B ecommerce functionality?

We would like to see B2B ecommerce sites better enable buyers to apply for credit and pay on terms in an online way. Much of this process is still being handled offline with a phone, a fax machine, and a traditional A/R process, which is inefficient and costly.

B2B ecommerce sites should enable buyers to apply for credit and pay on terms online. Click To Tweet

Where does a professional sales staff fit into a B2B ecommerce business plan?

A professional sales staff can fit into a B2B ecommerce business plan through new customer acquisition, customer retention, answering specific product questions, and ongoing customer support. B2B sellers can continue to commission a sales rep for orders no matter how they come in. Sales people can spend more time selling and less time processing transactions, which should lead to an increase in sales attributed to each sales person.

How can B2B ecommerce managers encourage their customer base to transition from phone orders to web orders?

B2B ecommerce managers can simply outline the benefits to their customers. Most people say they want to order online (75% according to Forrester), so it shouldn't be overly difficult for most companies to convince their customers. Another option would be to build incentives for their customers to move online, such as better payment terms, discounts, or online-only product specials.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Melissa Buening is the Director of Marketing at Apruve, Inc. Apruve allows B2B ecommerce businesses to stop acting like a bank toward their customers. Invoices created in Apruve are paid within 24 hours, and the company also offers credit approval, financing, and account setup. You can connect with Apruve on Twitter.

5. Chris Guerra – Chief Marketing Officer, Blue Acorn

Chris-Guerra

How might an ecommerce model streamline the world of B2B sales?

The B2B sales process is extremely antiquated. In many cases buyers are still using paper and fax machines. Ecommerce provides a 24/7 mechanism for buyers to learn, build purchase orders and easily reorder items. No longer does a buyer need to wait for a sales rep to get back to them. Buyers have an "on-demand" experience.

In #B2B #ecommerce, buyers have an 'on-demand' experience. Click To Tweet

What types of innovation would you like to see in B2B ecommerce functionality?

Once companies take the first step to establish a B2B presence online they will quickly learn how valuable the analytics beyond purchase data are. From understanding what categories, product and content buyers are interacting with it helps build a deeper profile and understanding of buyer interests. This data can empower sales reps or be used to personalize the buying experience.

Where does a professional sales staff fit into a B2B ecommerce business plan?

Ecommerce will never replace "relationships". However, it can help build them. Sales staff can use the ecommerce site during various stages of the buying process whether it is to build lookbooks, bookmark items, or propose purchase orders. Again, the analytics allow for a smarter sales rep making calls more targeted and productive.

How can B2B ecommerce managers encourage their customer base to transition from phone orders to web orders?

B2B ecommerce managers should explore features like loyalty point, promotional pricing, exclusive content. Building strong "My Account" functionality and treating it like a repository for orders, communication and contact information can turn what is typically a boring portion of a website into the highest trafficked destination.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Guerra, chief marketing officer, joined Blue Acorn in 2012. Chris has over 10 years of experience working with IR500 merchants. Extensive knowledge in replatforming, digital marketing, ecommerce operations, and financial planning has led Chris to hold several leadership positions throughout his career. Connect with Chris on Twitter.

6. Dr. Sam Bayer – CEO & Cofounder, Corevist

dr-sam-bayer

How might an ecommerce model streamline the world of B2B sales?

How has ecommerce streamlined the buying of books, clothing, jewelry, electronic equipment and beauty products? It has removed the need to walk to a store, speak to a person or do either only when businesses are open. B2B ecommerce will have the exact same benefits. Only the impact on the economy will be much larger because the flow of B2B products around the world far exceeds the volume of B2C sales.

What types of innovation would you like to see in B2B ecommerce functionality?

We don't need any more innovation in B2B ecommerce functionality than we already have. We already have way more than the vast majority of B2B companies can take advantage of. The real innovation that we need is to figure out a way to make B2B ecommerce websites quicker to implement and more affordable. Frankly, the vast majority of B2B ecommerce transactions are still phone/fax and email. FAXES in 2016! Corevist is focused on disrupting the B2B ecommerce technology space by innovating on the adoption of these projects without sacrificing functionality.

We need to make B2B ecommerce websites quicker to implement and more affordable. Click To Tweet

Where does a professional sales staff fit into a B2B ecommerce business plan?

Either on the bus or they become extinct. If your value as a saleperson is delivering information that is easily available on a website and accessible via a smartphone, than your days are numbered. Salespeople need to reinvent themselves to not sell products but to help their customers become more successful from a business perspective. Websites will replace transactions but it's a lot harder for them to offer advice. That's where salespeople should evolve.

How can B2B ecommerce managers encourage their customer base to transition from phone orders to web orders?

By making it easier to do business on the website than it is by speaking to a human being for routine transactions. You can promote by offering discounts to kickstart traffic on the website, but at the end of the day, if life isn't better for your customers on the website, they won't use.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Sam Bayer received his PhD in chemistry at age 23. Career highlights include connecting IBM to a new market segment (laboratory information management systems), introducing the first B2B ecommerce website for SAP® manufacturers, and launching Corevist, which focuses on the convergence of cloud-delivered services and the consumerization of B2B ecommerce. Connect with Dr. Bayer on Twitter.

7. Brian Massey – Cofounder, Conversion Sciences

BrianMasseyHeadshot2015-840x840

How might an ecommerce model streamline the world of B2B sales?

You can easily streamline your B2B sales by NOT implementing a B2B ecommerce model. Your competitors will take care of the orders for you!

You can easily streamline your B2B sales by NOT implementing a B2B ecommerce model. Your competitors will take care of the orders for you!Click To Tweet

In a recent Conversion Sciences webinar, Jeff Philipp noted research showing:

1. 74% of B2B buyers perfer to buy through a website

2. 93% of B2B buyers prefer to execute a buy the moment they find what they are looking for.

A B2B ecommerce site can be expected to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty while reducing the cost of selling. This means higher margins and more repeat business, a powerful combination.

What types of innovation would you like to see in B2B ecommerce functionality?

Unfortunately, the ecommerce innovation that B2B companies lack is having an ecommerce offering. According to Forrester's Peter Sheldon, only 25% of all B2B companies sell online today. This is an opportunity.

However, there are some challenges unique to B2B ecommerce. Blue Fish Development Group CEO Jeff Philipp summarized thirteen of them on our webinar. Here are seven of the most common:

1. Highly complex, customizable products

2. Importance of delivery dates and ordering backlog

3. Complicate pricing formulas

4. Complex sales tax issues

5. Multiple buyer accounts and multiple locations

6. Shipping options can be complex

7. Integration with backend systems

Watch the on-demand Lab Coat Lessons webinar for all thirteen.

Where does a professional sales staff fit into a B2B ecommerce business plan?

Without proper project management, sales can be an obstacle to B2B ecommerce efforts. They may see the site as a threat. In truth, a B2B ecommerce site works well as a sales support platform. The site may actually increase phone calls for visitors that prefer the interaction of a sales person. It is not unusual for the B2B ecommerce site to be the choice of returning customers, while the sales team continues to excel at landing new customers' first orders.

How can B2B ecommerce managers encourage their customer base to transition from phone orders to web orders?

In the words of Peter Sheldon, "Buyers are way ahead of the sellers." Making the ecommerce site known to phone callers will be all that it takes to get customers to switch. A larger and larger portion of new customers will be looking for the ecommerce site first. In almost every industry, the fastest-growing segment of online traffic is mobile. All a business has to do is stop telling them they can't order via the web and offer them a great online solution.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Massey founded the website optimization company Conversion Sciences in 2007. He is a bestselling author (“Your Customer Creation Equation: Unexpected Website Formulas of The Conversion Scientist”), computer programmer, and entrepreneur. He has written for Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, the Content Marketing Institute, and others. Connect with Brian on Twitter.

8. Elan Sherbill – Corporate Blogger, cleverbridge

elan-sherbill

How might an ecommerce model streamline the world of B2B sales?

Even simple payment functionality goes a long way toward improving B2B customer experiences. Offering business buyers the ability to research and then pay for their items entirely online saves time and money for both sellers and buyers. The biggest boon for sellers is that digital shopping experiences increase overall revenue and let sellers focus on building better products.

Digital shopping experiences increases overall revenue and lets them focus on building better products.Click To Tweet

What types of innovation would you like to see in B2B ecommerce functionality?

There needs to be a bigger focus on global markets. Most organizations are so focused on their existing customer base that they ignore millions of dollars from cross-border shoppers who are simply not afforded the chance to buy from them. This is because these organizations do not offer localized customer experiences that make it possible for international buyers to conveniently pay for goods or services online.

If businesses truly want to leverage digital shopping experiences for B2B buyers, they have to make sure they are offering all customers products in local currencies, at prices the local market can bear. It also means providing customers the option to use preferred local payment methods and ensuring that the entire customer experience complies with local regulations so far as issues like taxation, privacy and security are concerned.

Where does a professional sales staff fit into a B2B ecommerce business plan?

With digital B2B customer experiences, sales teams are going to have to pivot from order takers to expert consultants. The shopping experience is going to be increasingly self-managed on the buyer's end. That doesn't mean you abandon loyal employees. Digital shopping removes a lot of the face-to-face touchpoints between customers and businesses, so you still need a highly trained sales staff who understand their customers' pain points and who helps them understand how to drive better business outcomes with the tools they sell.

How can B2B ecommerce managers encourage their customer base to transition from phone orders to web orders?

I honestly don't think it's going to take much encouragement. Every B2B customer is also an individual consumer who shops online at least once a month (if not more frequently), and they have high expectations for digital customer experiences. Business buyers want to be able to pay for their orders as conveniently as they do when they're shopping on Amazon. And it's not just about the payments. B2B customers want to self-manage all their customer account information, including upgrading and downgrading plans, adding and removing licenses, or updating payment information.

Think about your own shopping preferences. You don't like taking time out of your busy schedule to make a phone call to renew your order when you could easily accomplish the same thing with a few clicks or swipes. And neither do your customers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elan Sherbill is a corporate blogger at cleverbridge—a global subscription billing provider that helps companies build long-term customer relationships and grow recurring revenue streams. You can connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.

9. Gareth Daine – Co-Founder, Content Sleuth

gareth

How might an ecommerce model streamline the world of B2B sales?

Well, according to Forbes, the B2B ecommerce market will be worth $1.7 trillion by 2020, so, I’m not sure it’s a case of ecommerce streamlining B2B sales, as it appears it’s already in full swing. Look at Alibaba as a B2B ecommerce marketplace. While it’s had its fair share of problems and controversy, it’s hugely successful.

Look at Littlewoods (the Shop Direct Group), who used to run catalogue services, but now are solely based online. The benefits to the business are huge. They save overheads in many areas, can automate a lot of the process, and it allows them to funnel those investments into expanding the model.

Whenever anyone comes to purchase products and services, whether businesses or not, usually, their first port of call is the Internet. This presents huge opportunities for B2B businesses, as providing their products and services via an online (usually account locked) platform, like Magento, for example, allows them to offer the convenience of online ordering and user account management, as well as features such as re-ordering, back-ordering and such.

Customers find these types of conveniences extremely helpful, and it helps them speed up their ordering, dispatching and delivery processes, helping them save time and money.

What types of innovation would you like to see in B2B ecommerce functionality?

I would love to see some solid innovation in drop shipping functionality and connections with marketplaces like eBay, Amazon and Alibaba. A sort of Software as a Service (SaaS) model would be great, where companies can sign up, and the service provider would handle the rest. Could be big money in something like that, especially if they linked in with suppliers, and provided checks.

I would love to see some solid innovation in drop shipping functionality and connections with marketplaces like eBay, Amazon and Alibaba. Click To Tweet

Where does a professional sales staff fit into a B2B ecommerce business plan?

Obviously, digital marketing and social media are key, but professional sales staff of the old-school variety still have their place. Contacting current and prospective companies to offer a streamlined service, perhaps offering discounted prices for onboarding on to the online platform.

How can B2B ecommerce managers encourage their customer base to transition from phone orders to web orders?

As mentioned above, offering discount pricing for online orders and account management, web only incentives to entice customers to use the online model, a great user experience by making it simple, fast and straightforward to use. Take the headaches out of the process by automating as much as possible. There are many benefits, including re-ordering previous orders, backordering, easy account management, fast ordering, etc.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gareth is a seasoned software engineer with over 19 years’ experience in the industry. He specializes in ecommerce design and development. He is also the co-founder of Content Sleuth, a new social media automation tool for content marketers. You can find Content Sleuth on Twitter, or read their in-depth, actionable tips for social media marketing.

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