E-commerce has changed the face of B2B sales. B2B companies are increasingly adopting online channels as at least an element of their overall business strategy, while a sizable majority of B2B executives consider B2B e-commerce critical to their long-term success.
But it isn’t just the shift to the web that has transformed B2B sales. E-commerce itself has evolved over more than two decades in a predominantly B2C context. The rise of e-commerce giants like Amazon and eBay have all but hard-coded certain best practices into e-commerce platforms, setting a standard for convenience, security, and customer self-service.
This, in turn, has led to what we call B2C for B2B. The B2B sales cycle is longer and more complex than its B2C counterpart. It involves multiple decision-makers and the careful evaluation of numerous criteria (as opposed to emotion and impulse-driven B2C purchases).
But B2B buyers are still B2C customers in their personal lives, and the B2C e-commerce model has thus set the standard for B2B shopping online. Platforms supporting B2B sales nevertheless incorporate the key features of the B2C buying experience, such as product and price transparency, simplified ordering, and 24/7 account access.
Self-Service B2B Sales
Perhaps more than anything else, e-commerce has given rise to unprecedented B2B buyer independence. Omnichannel engagement keeps the customer at the center of a range of touchpoints, from brick-and-mortar stores to social media, providing a consistent experience when doing business with B2B brands.
B2B e-commerce websites make comprehensive product and pricing data available to the customer at all times. They feature powerful search tools that connect customers to items quickly. And ERP-integrated e-commerce automates orders and invoicing with no delay or risk of error.
The ability to accept orders around the clock from anywhere in the world means virtually unlimited potential for growth. At the same time, self-service lowers operational costs. It enables customers to resolve issues that previously required intervention from support. ERP integration allows customers to update shipping addresses and payment information from their account.
Even something as simple as order status updates in a customer account can save a B2B company more than $25,000 per year in post-order costs while consistently growing online sales.
The New B2B Sales Role
Naturally, a greater emphasis on “auto-pilot” self-service e-commerce raises the question: what happens to traditional B2B sales? Have traditional B2B sales reps become obsolete?
Not by a long shot.
For one thing, sales reps will always be needed for high-value B2B sales. The bigger the deal, the more likely a B2B client is going to want to speak with an actual human. The automation of an ERP-integrated e-commerce platform lets your sales team give more attention to these high-value clients.
But the B2B sales role itself has changed. The unparalleled freedom of self-service e-commerce and the sheer volume of information facing customers presents new sales challenges.
While customers prefer to research and compare, in many cases they become paralyzed by the number of options. Even with extensive deliberation, it can be difficult to make the right choice. Worse, up to 40% of B2B customers end up with post-purchase anxiety.
The solution? Your B2B sales reps.
Unlike in the past, where the emphasis was on closing the deal, today’s B2B e-commerce sales reps are best suited as guides. B2B sales have always been built on customer relationships. Here, the sales rep gets to know the customer’s business and their specific needs. The rep’s deep product knowledge allows them to lead the customer not just toward a purchase—but toward the right purchase.
In other words, they don’t just close the deal. They foster customer confidence… and thereby customer loyalty.
ERP Integration for B2B E-commerce
ERP-integrated B2B e-commerce is indispensable to this new sales role.
On the customer side, ERP integration means that your clients are always getting comprehensive, up-to-date product and pricing information. They can see which products are available, how much they cost, and get complete product data at all times.
But just as importantly, this same information is available to your sales reps. This might seem obvious, but ERP integration streamlines your company’s business data, including pricing information. It ensures that a single version of all data exists in a unified database.
This eliminates the “information silo” problem many B2B companies struggle with. When customers come to your team with questions, your reps have all the answers at their fingertips. This helps build a more customer-centric relationship in which the sales rep acts as an advisor to the client.
B2B Customer Service
These same principles extend to customer service.
The first responsibility of any business is to take care of its customers. Providing strong self-service options for placing orders and updating accounts is part of this. But your business needs to be available for customers when there are problems they can’t solve for themselves.
Often this can be as simple as offering the customer a means of contacting your company offline. This is frequently a deciding factor. Up to 47% of shoppers look elsewhere when they don’t see a phone number.
So just as with sales, the human factor makes a critical difference in the e-commerce sector. Far from replacing the need for personal interaction, ERP-integrated B2B e-commerce has actually repurposed and even strengthened that need.