How digital transformation can save B2B trade in the COVID-19 era?
The reduction of face-to-face contacts, the closure of trade fairs, the shift of traders to remote working, the lack of direct sales opportunities - all this brought the coronavirus to the B2B sector. COVID-19 surprised those B2B companies that have not yet invested in their own e-commerce services. What can they do in this situation? Is the digital transformation of B2B the only right strategy? Is it possible to implement the B2B e-commerce system in a short time? Read the article to get answers to these questions.
According to the U.S. B2B Ecommerce Market Report - 75% of manufacturers, distributors, and wholesalers that did not operate an e-commerce site in 2018 planned to launch them within two years. Those B2B companies that have managed to connect offline and online channels over the past year can sleep a little more peacefully during the coronavirus epidemic. What about the others? There is a group on the market that has so far only rely on direct sales. The companies that belong to this group face a serious problem because their most important sales channels have been closed due to the coronavirus. Exhibition fairs were canceled en masse and it is not known when the situation will return to normal, so B2B companies cannot reach new customers with their offer. Salespeople will also no longer enter the from the back of many organizations and will not visit offices due to the restrictions imposed on direct contact.
B2B companies without e-commerce systems found themselves in such a situation: grounded salespeople + zero possibility of direct sales + no possibility of reaching consumers through the online channel.
A COVID-19 crisis as a driver for change
So far, the coronavirus epidemic is still developing (update 03.04.2020). This forces many B2B companies to act quickly to protect themselves against negative consequences. Digital sales channels will be of decisive importance for their development and their functioning in general. Already, online sales in the case of brick-and-mortar shops with an online store have increased by 52% compared to the same period a year ago, and the number of online conversions has increased by 8.8% since the start of the coronavirus epidemic (data from the US market according to SaaS Quantum Metric platform).
In order to seize the crisis as an opportunity, B2B companies have to bet on two things:
First, bust the myth of direct selling
Many B2B companies still believe in the myth that customers only want to work with them face-to-face. Meanwhile, the generation of digital natives, who grew up with the internet and smartphones, has also changed the way they shop in the B2B sector. It is a big mistake to think of B2B consumers in isolation from their normal lives, where they spend a huge amount of time online every day. According to the latest data in global, Internet users spend over 6 hours a day online. And if they spend time online, they also buy there, shaping their shopping habits. When a company needs a product or service, buyers, instead of calling the seller to arrange a meeting, first reach for the search engine. What's more, more than 70% of searches start with a general search such as "CRM software" rather than a brand-specific search (Google/Millward Brown Digital, B2B Path to Purchase Study, 2014).
Privately we buy online for convenience, time-saving and better prices. 80% of internet users look for product information online (Jan 2020). These habits are also transferred to the professional sphere. B2B buyers go to work, they have to make an order for their company, and they beat their head against the wall because they cannot place it in the web. Until recently, there was still the possibility of a meeting, which ended with the arrival of coronavirus. Now is the time to break with this myth and focus on the fact that B2B customers buy online, which is also confirmed by the data. According to the Accenture report, 61% of all B2B transactions start online. Forrester Research analyses said that 93% of B2B customers prefer to shop online rather than directly from a salesperson.
Secondly: investment in B2B e-commerce
Due to the coronavirus epidemic, more and more customers are turning to online shopping. Preparing the B2B e-commerce system is the only chance for many companies to sell in this situation. Moreover, the e-commerce service must meet the needs of B2B customers. This means that it is necessary to implement a convenient, reliable and complete online store, which will convince customers to do their shopping and prevent them from running away to the competition.
Why is it worth implementing a B2B e-commerce system?
- Accelerating expansion into new markets - thanks to an effective e-commerce system, B2B companies can reach new customers who are located virtually all over the world, and this is an opportunity for them to open up to new channels and markets.
- Process streamlining - an online store can be integrated with other systems - PIM, ERP or CRM, which allows for easier insight into all business processes and ensures the standardization of sales processes, which strengthens competitiveness.
- Sales support - a well-prepared B2B e-commerce service provides huge sales opportunities. It allows, among other things, to display appropriate and personalized product recommendations, as well as enables cross-selling and up-selling, and the introduction of unique solutions tailored to the needs of a given business, e.g. a tool for calculating individual prices for B2B customers in real-time (read case study).
Two main reasons that clients want access to a digital sales channel according to senior B2B executives worldwide: ease of digital purchase & not having to wait for a sales rep to contact (B2B Ecommerce 2018, eMarketer).
Isn't it too late to implement a B2B commerce system?
How do we suddenly go through the digital transition? After all, it takes time, preparation, resources, plan. Such doubts certainly appear in the heads of many entrepreneurs. As the demand for online shopping is increasing, in fact, now is the right time to use digital channels to ensure revenue and further customer service. The decision to implement a B2B e-commerce system may be accelerated by two questions.
The first is whether there will be any changes in customer behavior? The answer is yes. Most of the predictions indicate this - the world works in home office mode, it may happen that after the epidemic, many companies will stay in this model of work, performing most of the tasks online.
The second question is: what are the possibilities of implementing an e-commerce solution for B2B in a short time? The answer is: yes. You can build a basic version of the store, which will contain the most important features for online sales. One such solution is to use the Magento e-commerce platform, which allows for efficient implementation of an online store for B2B, using the capabilities of native functions, as well as modifying them to the needs of the business.
What are the most important features of the Magento B2B e-commerce platform?
- management of price list catalogs
- negotiations and inquiries
- trade limits
- determining the organizational structure of the company
Also, when creating a B2B e-commerce system, it is worth remembering to ensure full product information - the B2B e-commerce platform should provide accurate, complete and up-to-date information about the offer, as well as the level of their availability in the warehouse. The orders placement functions must be well optimized so that customers do not have problems with making purchases, returning products or tracking the order. Entrepreneurs must also provide them with access to order history and shop availability 24/7 - customers should be able to view product information around the clock. It is also important to have access to the order history and account details in the online store to make buying as easy as possible for them.
Everything will be fine for B2B
In times of crisis, there are moments when it is difficult to look at the future in bright colours. Some B2B companies will struggle with the consequences of the epidemic for a long time to come. The winners will be those who can adapt quickly to the situation and use digital channels as the main engine driving sales.
Don't you know where to start the digital transition from? Are you taking your first steps in e-commerce and looking for a trustworthy partner? Check our offer for B2B commerce & Magento implementation.