Because of COVID lockdowns, consumers and businesses alike were forced to replace many human interactions with virtual ones — and to the surprise of some, these forced digital interactions worked out exceedingly well. Going forward into 2022, this preference for virtual commerce should[must?] motivate B2Bs with no e-commerce capabilities to develop them, and B2Bs with existing capabilities to expand and refine them. Here are eight B2B e-commerce strategies and best practices to keep in mind as you lay out the next phase of your e-commerce strategy.
1. Refine Functionality with Existing Customers
B2B e-commerce is more complex than the B2C variety since a higher level of integration is required between buyer and seller operating systems. While thinking about e-commerce as a tool only for new customer acquisition is tempting, testing and rolling out new e-commerce features is most effective when the focus is on existing customers. Why? First, you understand the integration needs of existing customers, whereas you can only guess about the needs of prospects. Second, you have a comfortable working relationship with existing customers, making problem resolution more comfortable. One mistake with a new customer could end the relationship immediately.
2. Give Customers Self-Service
The more admin control you give customers, the better. This is not just a matter of control; it’s also a matter of security, speed, and efficiency. Customers know who within their organizations should be given e-commerce access, and what level of access is appropriate. Since personnel changes can occur rapidly, customers do not want to be at the mercy of a seller’s timetable to make updates of this type. In addition to user access, giving customers control over order entry, workflows, reporting formats, and payment options also helps strengthen buying relationships.
3. Provide Accurate, Complete, and Real-time Supply Chain Data
Online order tracking is essential for most B2B customers: the more questions they can answer for themselves, the better. Can your customer see order status with the click of a mouse, anywhere from production to delivery? If not, you have work to do. Beyond providing raw information, you also add more efficiency by enabling customers to set up alerts for orders behind schedule, ahead of schedule, delayed in transit, etc.
4. Improve Customer Interface
User experience (UX) is important for keeping customers enthused about using your e-commerce platform, attracting new customers to the platform, and onboarding new users. Whether a simple design refresh is enough to enhance the user experience or a major front-end rebuild is required, the longer updates are postponed the more expensive and difficult they will be. In addition to optimizing design and customer interaction, page loading speed, data security, and the availability of chatbots are other important user issues that will be increasingly sensitive [Correct word? Better: desired? required?].
5. Cross-sell and Upsell
Displaying related products on applicable pages within the customer portal is an effective way to cross-sell and upsell if your product recommendations are relevant and effectively displayed. Simply listing product numbers and brief descriptions may not be enough to convey the value of the related product or service. To increase conversions, consider adding more detailed descriptions, product specifications, images that convey key features and benefits, and short video clips.
6. Prepare a Mobile E-commerce Timetable
Mobile e-commerce has become essential for most consumer enterprises, but in B2B, the importance of mobile varies widely. To develop a strategy for mobile e-commerce, the starting point is understanding the size and nature of your website’s mobile traffic. Most likely, a growing and possibly significant number of site visitors access product pages for product information via mobile devices. To confirm, consider conducting customer surveys and in-depth customer interviews. If your website already receives a high percentage of mobile traffic and/or mobile e-commerce use, aggressive plans to expand functionality and improve UX may create a significant competitive advantage.
7. Investigate Headless Commerce
Headless commerce is a trending form of e-commerce architecture where the front end of the site is separated from the back end. This allows manufacturers to quickly and inexpensively customize customer interfaces to fit the unique needs of customers, customer groups, and e-commerce platforms — while still consolidating data fulfillment on the back end. For B2Bs with an e-commerce presence on multiple platforms (e.g., their website, Amazon, Facebook, etc.), headless commerce may be a significant driver of cost reduction, and improved customer acquisition and retention.
8. Stay Focused on the Customer
Continual engagement with your e-commerce customers is critical to keep your platform aligned with their needs. Asking for feedback is essential. Give customers an opportunity to share their experiences using your platform, perhaps with every session. Feedback given while the experience is fresh in the customer’s mind is extremely valuable. To balance immediate feedback, which is sometimes exaggerated after an unusually positive or negative experience, ask for more general feedback at quarterly or annual customer review meetings. And of course, be sure to act on the feedback. When customers know you are responding, they know you value them.
Brad Shorr is Director of Content Strategy at Straight North, a Chicago-based Internet marketing company that specializes in SEO. With decades of marketing, sales, and management experience, Shorr has written for leading online publications including Forbes and Entrepreneur, and for the American Marketing Association.