Businesses hoping to take a slice of the B2B ecommerce opportunity must overcome other key differentiators between B2B and B2C purchasing. One is specificity. For example, if a hospital client wants to buy medical-grade supplies, they must receive the correct product. “You can’t be kind of right with business transactions,” says Augustine. “In B2C, consumers have been trained to be OK with substitutes, but in B2B you really need to get the right product to them.”
The second is understanding the intent behind the shopping experience. Spending time perusing products can be enjoyable when you’re buying a non-essential for yourself, but for business customers “it’s not about browsing; it’s about getting the job done”, she says. This means reducing fruitless browsing, and shortening and smoothing the path between first entering a B2B site and a closed sale is vital.
Both issues can be resolved, she suggests, by deploying artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning to predict what a customer needs from often vast inventories of business products. “If you use AI to learn user behaviour, you start to learn that when someone’s searching for something, this is actually the specific product they mean or need,” says Augustine. They can then be guided through a B2B site accurately and quickly.
Businesses can give themselves an edge over their competitors by not only mastering the ecommerce basics, such as tailored homepages and prompt delivery speeds – Amazon Prime has trained us to expect we will get our products within 24 to 48 hours, Augustine points out – but by also creating the content-rich personalised experience consumer websites have spearheaded.
Forrest adds that social media and an explosion in self-led product research in the B2C market are influencing expectations of what a B2B ecommerce site should look and feel like.
“We’ve had a decade of people saying ‘content is king’,” he says. “It’s really just an extension of that idea in this very specific sphere. We encourage our B2B clients to invest in video, for example to show people how their products operate and to show client testimonials. Facebook and Instagram are generating really good quality leads for our business clients too, because they engage people.”
From AI to mastering social media, many businesses have a steep learning curve if they are to meet the demands of the new B2B buyer. As Forrest concludes: “It’s a completely different mindset to the sales-rep-in-a-car way of thinking.”