Embrace Ecommerce for Complex B2B Products

B2B companies must overcome the burden that by selling more complex products, their sales process is more difficult to execute. They can’t just sell their sophisticated manufacturing equipment or high-dollar products like you would sneakers or household items. The general commerce solutions don’t apply to them. They’re different.

This has led to a slow adoption of mainstream technology trends, none more than the idea of selling their complex products online through an ecommerce platform like their B2C counterparts. Many in the B2B space made the move online after the COVID-19 pandemic, even if just slightly, and consumer expectations are adding fire to move online (we have advice on how to meet those expectations). 

But those in the manufacturing and distribution industries specifically have been slow to adapt. These organizations are continuing to opt for spreadsheets and manual processes rather than leverage the benefits of digital commerce. Now is the time for that to change. Here’s why. 

Efficiency is Key

Budgets and balance sheets are always top of mind, but coming out of the pandemic and a period of economic uncertainty, doing more with less is a top priority. That’s not possible if you’re still selling products only through human sales members on spreadsheets or paper order forms. 

The only way to scale your business with these methods is through the hiring of more sales people. That, of course, brings about more overhead. However, the right ecommerce solution is built to scale with you. For starters, you can go further with your existing sales team because of the time and effort saved by routing buyers through an ecommerce site and not processing orders out of a catalog or over the phone. The time spent by sales members previously dealing in spreadsheets and filling out forms can now be spent selling. 

Soon, You Won’t Have a Choice

Yes, it makes business sense to shift to an approach centered around digital commerce. But it’s also what buyers are demanding. The B2B leaders you sell to are getting tired of looking through a printed catalog and dealing with orders over the phone or in person. They are busy and want to take care of business on their time when it’s most convenient. 

It’s also not how they operate in any other aspect of their life. Just two years ago, it was reported by the Harvest Business Review that more than 70% of B2B decision makers were Millennials (between the ages of 25-39). The younger half of this generation and the quickly rising Gen Z grew up with phones in their hands and computers in their houses. They can buy everything from shampoo to a trip around the world in a couple of clicks and they want to be able to do the same when it comes to their business dealings. 

Customization and Risk 

As I mentioned earlier, these organizations don’t have the same operations and buying process as, say, a consumer goods brand. Some of you reading this may have already tried your luck around the pandemic with an ecommerce site and didn’t think it worked. Or maybe the fear of risk is keeping you from moving forward. 

Success or failure will largely depend on the solution you build. And the notion that your organization’s operations are so different will likely lead you to a number of customizations. That’s not a bad thing in itself, but so many people start out trying to develop a fully customized platform and run into trouble. Customizations make it incredibly difficult to manage and scale your platform over time. 

Start with the basic functionality of a reputable B2B commerce platform – like Salesforce B2B Commerce Cloud – and make customizations when necessary (and beneficial) from there. Salesforce releases new versions of its products with bug fixes and new features consistently. But you can’t take advantage of that if you’re on a fully customized site. Instead, if something breaks or you need to adjust to new best practices or regulations, it’s all on you and the manual work to fix it. And that time comes with a price tag and time. 

The right ecommerce site isn’t just an efficiency upgrade, it’s also an accuracy upgrade. With such complexity in the orders, some leaders argue that’s why manual processes are superior, but the likelihood of human error or losing a non-cloud-based document is much higher than an issue with your ecommerce site. And the biggest risk of all? Losing those Millennial customers because you refuse to keep up with the evolution of the industry. 

If you want more on how to adapt your B2B selling for 2024 and beyond, we recently published an ebook – Making the B2B Commerce Jump – which you can download here

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