B2B e-commerce via websites, online shops and marketplaces is growing significantly faster than for B2C online retail. And there is still much more potential to be tapped into. After all, the share of online sales is below that of the B2C segment. The digitalisation of sales is being driven by the change in generations and further reinforced by the current social distancing rules in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Dirk Harzer, Solution Sales Manager at Sybit, supports the realisation of B2B e-commerce platforms. The full-service digital agency with a focus on the customer experience develops customised and holistic digital concepts for B2B enterprises. In an interview with Dirk Harzer, he explains what needs to be kept in mind when it comes to the transformation to e-commerce.
Mr Harzer, are B2B companies without an e-commerce platform even competitive in the long run?
E-commerce platforms are an important building block within the entire sales strategy, regardless of the products or services on offer. And the latest situation centred round the coronavirus has reinforced this awareness once again for many companies. But, of course, a reasonable business model should be behind any kind of thoughts in this direction. On the one hand, the digital processes must function smoothly; and on the other hand, potential and existing customers must also find out that there is even such a platform.
If B2B companies now want to be more active in online trade, how should they best go about this?
First, B2B companies should clearly know which target groups they want to reach with their offer and precisely what this offer should look like. Then they have to decide if the offer is best sold via an own website, an external web shop or a B2B marketplace. When it comes to purely selling products and product placement, marketplaces are an affordable and very much recommended alternative. However, companies should be aware that the purchasing process must also be tied to an own system.
When it comes to industrial products or services which are very individual at times or need explanation, an own shop solution is your best bet. In the B2B segment, the offer of a company often also goes beyond just selling a product. This can include providing high-quality content that matches the offer or after-sales service such as monitoring. These sorts of extras cannot be showcased via marketplace solutions.
But don’t customised shop systems involve a high investment?
The creation of a digital sales channel naturally costs a lot of money, but in contrast to tradition sales, it can be scaled much better. To give you an idea: including an SAP commerce solution with interfaces to your own ERP system, the investment for an automated, customised B2B shop solution is about 300,000 to 500,000 euros.
In your opinion, what makes a digital commerce platform for B2B companies successful over the long run?
Buyers must say: thanks to this portal, I can do my job better. This first includes the standards, such as the quality of the product data. Just by providing comprehensive information, which does not lead to the customer having to clarify things by phone either before or after the purchase, creates a competitive advantage. Then there are naturally things like an attractive visual appearance, intuitive use, filters that make sense and, above all, information about the availability of products are all important to keep in mind.
In the B2B segment, it’s often about selling more than just a product. A good e-commerce shop offers sales services like delivery requests by the hour, with integration into the logistics systems, invoicing management or predictive maintenance systems. And another aspect should not be underestimated when it comes to the digital transformation: the decision-makers should integrate the traditional sales force into the change so that they stand behind it. If the employees see the e-shop as a competitor, both sales forms will perform worse in the end.
Dirk Harzer is solution sales manager at Sybit
A B2B web shop also has to be seen to justify the investment. How does the advertising work?
On the one hand, the sales force can promote the shop among existing customers. This makes sense mainly when there is regular personal contact with the customer and the products are rather complex, such as machines. Especially when it comes to after-sales, a platform offers options in addition to the shop functionality which the sales force can actively use and advertise. On the other hand, an e-shop can also naturally be advertised via marketing automation or campaigns for winning new customers. Either via text message, email or social media channels.