The exploding popularity of B2B eCommerce is one of the most significant trends in the global business landscape. It’s expected to grow annually by over 10% before 2027, while offline sales steadily decrease across the same period.
As traditional methods stagnate, B2B businesses unable to adapt to digital commerce risk falling behind. But while digital laggards struggle, companies that successfully navigate this transformation can tap into transformational opportunities.
By leveraging cutting-edge technologies, autonomous customer experiences, and hyper-efficient sales processes, they can cater to a new generation of business decision-makers who favor online over in-person interactions.
In this article, you’ll learn what B2B eCommerce is and the forces driving B2B businesses online. You’ll also discover the powerful technologies and marketing strategies you can use to grow profits as you transition toward online channels.
Let’s dive in.
Driving Forces Behind B2B eCommerce Adoption
B2B eCommerce is snowballing. It’s now valued at six times that of the B2C market, and transactions were expected to reach $1.8 trillion in 2023, accounting for 17% of all B2B sales in the US.
The driving forces behind the increasing adoption of B2B eCommerce are multifaceted, reflecting shifts in market trends, technological advancements, and evolving buyer behaviors.
Here’s a closer examination of these driving factors.
Transition to Digital Sales Channels
Digital sales channels are dominant, replacing the traditional face-to-face sales pitches that B2B was built on.
With over 50% of US adults purchasing products online at least once a week and 98% of 18 to 49-year-olds buying through their smartphones, it was only a matter of time before the mass adoption of digital sales for B2C influenced the B2B space.
In fact, some 80% of all B2B transactions will be conducted through digital channels by 2025. Only 20 to 30% of buyers want to interact with in-person sales reps.
Buyers demand more efficient and accessible ways to conduct business transactions, which digital channels like eCommerce websites deliver.
Moreover, while B2B transactions were once deemed too risky for eCommerce, this has changed, and some 99% of B2B buyers are now comfortable using self-service eCommerce channels with transaction values of $50,000 or more and 70% with values of up to $500,000.
McKinsey found that even ultra-high B2B purchases of $10 million are commonly transacted with little to no in-person interactions.
Shift in Buyer Demographics
One of the leading B2B eCommerce trends is a major shift in buyer demographics.
With more millennials entering B2B purchasing roles (93% of millennials make purchase decisions for their companies), the importance of digital channels like search engines, vendor websites, and social media for product research is growing.
Tech-savvy B2B buyers have a level of digital expectation that isn’t served by old methods. Plus, as indicated, a large proportion of buyers simply don’t want to interact with people in person.
Mobile devices are also becoming essential in the product research phase, emphasizing the need for B2B eCommerce solutions that support mobile and omnichannel strategies.
Personalized Customer Experience
56% of B2B buyers now expect personalized experiences similar to B2C transactions, where you receive email correspondence, tracking updates, discounts, newsletters, etc, as you might from your favorite online retailers.
B2B eCommerce isn’t just about delivering online purchasing channels–it’s about backing those up with effective digital support and aftercare.
Global Reach and Data Insights
The driving forces of B2B eCommerce don’t solely revolve around external factors.
Businesses, realizing the benefits of digital sales, are pushing for eCommerce themselves.
For one, B2B eCommerce allows manufacturers to break out of local markets and engage customers worldwide.
In tandem, analytics collected through eCommerce stores provide valuable insights through behavioral data, including site searches and product views, which can enhance customer experiences and increase sales through personalization.
The benefits have proven a tremendous asset to businesses, with a majority (35%) of B2B sellers ranking eCommerce as their number one sales channel, outstripping in-person sales (26%), video conference (12%), email (10%), and telephone (8%).
Challenges of B2B eCommerce
B2B eCommerce comes with its fair share of challenges.
Selling to end customers strategically differs from selling to business buyers, demanding innovative approaches and technical solutions that vary from business to business.
Let’s examine the leading challenges in detail:
High Transaction Values and Lengthy Sales Cycles
B2B transactions are often distinguished from B2C by their high transaction values.
The larger the financial commitment, the more detailed risk assessments and approvals. Sometimes, it’s necessary to negotiate bespoke guarantees, service level agreements (SLAs), and other tailor-made add-ons.
Due to financial stakes and negotiation involved, over 30% of B2B companies report sales cycles ranging from one to three months. That’s a far cry from the near-instant decisions of B2C online retail.
In the context of eCommerce, businesses face difficulties in tailoring their negotiation strategies to digital channels. It’s a balancing act—digital selling offers buyers flexibility, but businesses still need to close in on sales through follow-ups.
Numerous Decision Makers
B2B transactions typically involve negotiations between numerous stakeholders, each with their own decision-making authority and priorities.
This relates to shifting B2B purchasing demographics, as decision-makers are younger and not necessarily senior-level executives. So it’s not just a matter of navigating the preferences of different decision-makers but also varying buyer demographics.
Greater Demand for Customization
Whether that’s designing new features for a SaaS product or offering custom components and branding for industrial machinery, B2B clients often expect personalized or customized products or services.
B2B negotiations favor those who can deliver precisely the products and services businesses require.
The challenge lies firstly in collecting custom product information from buyers and ensuring their choices are actually viable, and secondly in producing products to the specifications without undue error or delay.
The more complex the product and level of customization offered, the trickier this balancing act becomes.
Changes in Purchasing Experiences
B2B eCommerce fundamentally impacts purchasing experiences.
With B2B eCommerce, while a buyer might become aware of your business through any physical sales channel (e.g., a showroom), they’ll instigate the purchasing process on a digital channel (typically your website).
This moves at least part of the purchasing experience online, an arena where your website needs to do much of the talking. Your company website and any other digital sales channels, therefore, must be smart, well-optimized, and intuitive for visitors.
Offering advanced tools for prospective buyers to interact with, customize, and purchase products can be a powerful differentiating factor.
B2B pricing is rarely fixed and often subject to negotiations and adjustments based on factors such as order volume, customer relationships, and market conditions, to name but a few.
Flexible pricing structures in B2B transactions complicate the sales process, requiring a dynamic approach to pricing that can adapt to each deal. This is particularly true for customizable products—buyers want instant pricing for their complete designs.
Web sales tools like Configure, Price, Quote (CPQ) enable businesses to build pricing flexibility into the product catalog itself.
Integration with Back-End Systems
Effective integration of B2B eCommerce platforms with existing systems, such as ERP (enterprise resource planning) and CRM (customer relationship management), is crucial for building smooth sales pipelines and democratizing data access across the company.
A well-integrated software stack vastly increases operational efficiency, with 58% of businesses increasing investment in well-integrated systems.
Tight alignment between sales, marketing, and other business departments results in higher revenue than businesses that fail to integrate their systems efficiently.
However, achieving seamless integration is technically challenging, demanding systems that push and pull data between platforms while maintaining integrity.
Cloud software has simplified software integration, but it remains crucial for businesses to choose software vendors that understand the need for harmonized systems.
Integrating Sales, Engineering, and Production
When we think of B2B eCommerce, it doesn’t exist in isolation from a business’s other sales channels. In other words, eCommerce should contribute to a growing omnichannel strategy.
A common difficulty here is linking sales across both physical and digital channels with engineering, design, and production.
When businesses collect orders for custom products, they need an efficient means of passing these on to engineering/design and production teams with minimal friction, regardless of where that order originates from (sales rep, online store, etc).
Smoothly integrating sales and engineering minimizes discrepancies between sales promises and production, particularly when businesses offer customized products that require detailed engineering work.
Software like CPQ bridges sales and production, ensuring front-end sales channels are tightly integrated with back-end engineering and manufacturing processes.
Read on to learn more about CPQ and how it supports B2B eCommerce.
Overcoming Challenges in B2B eCommerce with CPQ Software
CPQ, which stands for Configure, Price, Quote, is a software solution proven to help businesses overcome challenges in B2B eCommerce.
It takes the form of a software app that lets users build and configure custom products, complete with pricing, invoicing, and manufacturing automation features.
Here's a breakdown of how CPQ works:
- Configure: This involves customizing products or services to meet specific customer requirements. In B2B settings, where products can be highly complex with numerous possible configurations, customers can tailor products to their exact needs.
- Price: Pricing in B2B transactions can be complicated, involving various factors such as volume, customizations, contractual agreements, and more. The pricing component of CPQ software addresses this complexity.
- Quote: Once a product is configured and priced, the next step is to present a quote to the customer. In B2B purchases, quotes are often detailed and need to include a breakdown of costs, terms, and conditions.
CPQ can be deployed across both web and in-person channels. For example, you can embed a custom CPQ configurator on your website and provide the same tool to sales reps across physical showrooms.
Let’s now examine how this comes together to support B2B eCommerce strategies.
Enhanced Product Visualization
CPQ software dramatically transforms the way complex products are presented and understood. Customers can interact with and customize products to their specific needs through advanced visualization tools, such as 2D and 3D modeling.
Visual engagement is crucial, especially when handling intricate or highly customizable products. It also helps decision-makers, as customers can see and tweak product features in real time, ensuring their order aligns perfectly with their requirements.
Incorporating technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in CPQ platforms like Epicor CPQ elevates this experience, allowing customers to envisage products in real-world settings before they are manufactured.
This bolsters customer confidence in their purchase decisions and enhances their overall engagement with the product.
In B2B, where pricing can be highly variable and contingent on multiple factors, CPQ software provides much-needed dynamic pricing. CPQ automatically calculates pricing as the user configures their product.
This dynamic pricing model ensures customers receive immediate and accurate pricing feedback as they configure products.
Businesses can also use CPQ to send dynamic pricing data or discounts to different channels. For example, you could run a web sale and only alter pricing through a CPQ tool embedded in your website.
CPQ software vastly minimizes errors in the ordering process.
By implementing automated rules and validation checks, CPQ systems ensure that the configurations chosen by customers are feasible and manufacturable.
These rules consider the compatibility of components, engineering constraints, and manufacturing capabilities.
CPQ slots right into existing B2B software stacks. Orders can be logged and monitored with ERP, customer data sent to CRM, and production data like CAD files sent to manufacturing systems.
This level of integration is vital for ensuring consistency and accuracy of data across departments. It also facilitates an efficient flow of information from sales to production, minimizing delays.
For businesses that deal with complex orders and require coordination across multiple departments, the integration offered by CPQ systems is invaluable.
Scalability and Security
As businesses grow and evolve, their needs change and expand. CPQ software is designed to be scalable, accommodating new products regardless of their complexity and modularity.
Additionally, security is paramount in CPQ systems, particularly given the sensitive nature of B2B eCommerce transactions.
These systems employ robust security measures to protect the data and privacy of businesses and their customers.
Appeal to Modern Buyers
The modern B2B buyer expects a seamless, intuitive, and interactive digital experience, and CPQ software delivers on these expectations.
With user-friendly interfaces and advanced configuration tools, CPQ systems cater to the preferences of tech-savvy purchasers. Epicor CPQ offers smart, aesthetically pleasing 3D configuration tools that feel great to use.
This delivers on both the demand for smooth, self-service B2B purchasing, the need for customization, and the desire to purchase products with minimal human interaction.
Future of B2B eCommerce
B2B organizations worldwide are finding innovative methods of cultivating a more holistic, future-proof strategy.
Tools like CPQ fit into this ecosystem, offering state-of-the-art software solutions for the unique challenges of B2B eCommerce.
However, as the B2B online sales space evolves, it’ll adapt further, taking on new technologies that break down silos and connect buyer experiences across touchpoints.
Here are some key trends and technologies to stay abreast of:
Augmented and Virtual Reality
Integrating augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) into eCommerce platforms, which CPQ software enables, enhances the online shopping experience through immersive product visualization.
AR and VR enable customers to visualize products in real-world environments, aiding decision-making and enhancing customer engagement.
Full End-to-End Automation
CPQ software already enables full end-to-end automation in the B2B sales process, from product configuration to pricing, quoting, and integration with manufacturing.
This automation streamlines the sales process while reducing errors between sales and production.
The future points towards increasingly integrated systems where automation extends beyond the sales process, encompassing aspects like customer service, inventory management, and post-sale support.
Rising Popularity of B2B Marketplaces
B2B sales leverage third-party marketplaces like Amazon Business and Alibaba to extend customer reach.
Marketplaces offer businesses a platform to reach a wider audience, increase sales channels, and benefit from the network effects of large, centralized platforms.
As marketplaces continue to grow, they’re expected to become a more dominant channel in B2B sales.
Integration of Advanced Analytics and AI
Advanced analytics and AI are already being integrated into eCommerce platforms to offer insights into existing customer behavior, optimize inventory management, and personalize the shopping experience.
The future will likely see a deeper integration of these technologies, enabling more predictive and intelligent systems to anticipate customer needs, optimize operations, and drive strategic decision-making.
The key to a successful B2B eCommerce business lies in adaptability and innovation.
As technological advancements and market demands shift, businesses must embrace new strategies and tools to stay ahead.
By adopting a customer-centric approach, integrating eCommerce tools, such as Epicor CPQ, and ensuring seamless omnichannel experiences, businesses can survive and thrive in this competitive environment.
The goal is clear: to deliver an unmatched customer experience underpinned by efficiency, personalization, and trust.
What is B2B eCommerce?
B2B eCommerce is the buying and selling of goods and services between businesses through online channels. B2B eCommerce is overtaking traditional offline models, enabling companies to reduce costs, automate processes, and offer advanced technological solutions.
How big is the B2B eCommerce market?
While estimates differ, the eCommerce market was valued at US$17.9 trillion in 2021. That’s a staggering 5 times more than the value of the B2C eCommerce market. Moreover, it is expected to grow 10.7% annually until 2027.
What’s the difference between B2B and B2C eCommerce?
B2B eCommerce involves transactions between businesses. This model is characterized by extended sales cycles, bulk order quantities, and a focus on building lasting relationships.
On the other hand, B2C eCommerce targets individual consumers. B2C typically features direct, often swift transactions, emphasizing user experience, product variety, and immediate fulfillment.
In essence, the key difference lies in the target audience and the nature of the interactions. Recognizing these fundamental differences is critical for any business looking to navigate the vast and varied digital eCommerce landscape effectively.
Why are B2B companies switching to eCommerce?
B2B commerce businesses are increasingly moving online for several key reasons:
- Combating inflation: The sharp increase in inflation has raised costs in manufacturing and selling, making it challenging to deliver cost-effective solutions. Moving to eCommerce can increase profits by automating business processes and expanding customer reach through online channels.
- Addressing the skills gap: With a significant portion of manufacturing businesses reporting skill shortages, moving to automated online services can alleviate the need to hire skilled staff.
- Shifting buyer demographics: As Millennials, who often prefer digital, interactive, and self-service purchasing experiences, become a larger part of the B2B customer base, businesses must adapt to these new expectations with an online presence.
- Global competition: B2B brands are now highly globalized. Expanding B2B into global markets necessitates differentiation from competitors. An online platform provides access to new technologies that enhance customer experience and help compete in the global marketplace.
- Supply chain challenges: Supply chain bottlenecks that cause delays and shortages can be better managed through online platforms offering helpful insights and inventory management.
- Leveraging advanced technologies: Tools such as CPQ encourage B2B merchants to move online, where they can utilize tools to streamline operations, enhance customer engagement, and offer cutting-edge, customized products. B2B eCommerce marketing helps businesses discover and sell to new customers.
What are B2B eCommerce platforms?
B2B eCommerce platforms enable B2B eCommerce businesses to sell products through their applications. Businesses choose eCommerce platforms, like Adobe Commerce, Shopify Plus, Salesforce Commerce Cloud, and WooCommerce B2B, to help them access new customers and streamline the sales process. Digital commerce tools, in general, have proliferated hugely in recent years.
The term “B2B platform” may sometimes be used to refer to B2B eCommerce websites and tools.