B2B Needs to Adopt an E-Commerce Approach

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Just like consumers, business-to-business buyers want 24/7 access to providers and purchase options, making traditional marketing and sales techniques obsolete, Forrester Research says in a new report.

Operating a robust e-commerce venture requires substantial strategic, operational, and leadership shifts, according to Forrester. However, according to the research firm’s 2023 marketing survey, only a little more than a quarter (27 percent) of B2B leaders are expecting to introduce new sales models and routes to market within the next year.

“Traditional routes to market hamper efficient growth,” the report says. “During economically challenging periods with limited resources and mounting cost pressures, compounded by increased market competitiveness, providers must enhance productivity.”

One of those shifts is to offer B2B buyers more self-service, seamless, and personalized buying capabilities like they enjoy from consumer-oriented businesses.

The most significant form of personalization for buyers is when vendors tailor their offerings and solutions to meet individual needs rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach, the report says.

By embracing self-service and e-commerce channels, B2B sellers will capture more customer data, the report says. Electronic systems automatically capture this information about customers and their behavior, much of which isn’t collected when traditional channels that rely more on human interactions are used.

B2B and B2C buyers have about the same number of interactions throughout their buying process, according to Forrester. Many of the average of 18 interactions that B2B buyers have with sellers are time-consuming, requiring significant resources to manage, according to the research firm.

Most B2B buyers want greater efficiency in the process. So B2B sellers should consider digital route-to-market strategies that will reduce the cost of customer acquisition and expansion by selling more to current customers.

Companies focusing on B2B sales build a customer-obsessed business strategy, according to Forrester. “Crafting a B2B e-commerce strategy requires customer-centricity and organization-wide alignment. The B2B e-commerce strategy must always place the buyer first when solving the complexity inherent in B2B purchasing. It must also comprehend the intricacies of the buying process and buying groups, the products and service portfolio, and what will be offered via e-commerce.”

Companies also must know what won’t be offered via e-commerce and why; pricing models and promotions; and the organization’s partner ecosystems and related implications, among several other concerns, according to the research firm.

Differentiation is also a key to the process, according to Forrester.

“Dominating in a marketplace of intensified competition hinges on differentiation,” Forrester says. “In a saturated B2B marketplace where solution capabilities are similar, organizations must embrace their different strategies so they better attract customers through e-commerce. Embracing e-commerce can serve as a powerful differentiator for B2B organizations, especially when contrasted with competitors who still rely on traditional contact sales methods.”

To lean into an e-commerce model, Forrester offers the following advice:

  • Start with the buying process, customer segmentation, and insights. Center the e-commerce strategy on customer segmentation and what each segment expects for the e-commerce experience, their needs, and preferred channels for marketing engagement.
  • Define e-commerce’s contribution to business objectives. Set definable and clear goals for e-commerce that align with the company’s growth objectives. These goals should include an outlook for e-commerce revenue growth over the next three to five years.
  • Align on readiness, activity, output, and impact metrics. Many digital strategies fail due to a lack of alignment.
  • Forge a robust, dynamic, real-time monitoring system. Such a system helps provide transparency and the data to keep pace with the ever-changing e-commerce landscape.
  • Establish governance at the outset. Organizations should designate an e-commerce leader and other top roles, along with associated accountabilities and responsibilities.
  • Cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset and action. The e-commerce leader must embrace and instill an entrepreneurial spirit throughout the team responsible for e-commerce strategy execution and ongoing operations.
  • Steer change proactively. The e-commerce leader steers the corporate direction but doesn’t bear sole responsibility. For successful e-commerce, organizations need companywide commitment, alignment, and cross-functional collaboration.

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