The biggest challenges for B2B e-commerce

Julia Łączyńska

he B2B sector differs significantly from B2C in terms of the challenges online retailers face. In this article, we analyze how to use e-commerce opportunities to increase sales and customer satisfaction.

B2B e-commerce is on the rise, but…

The importance of e-commerce solutions in the B2B sector is growing all the time. According to a McKinsey report – 18% of all B2B sales come from digital channels - as much as from direct sales. Furthermore, in 2022, 65% of B2B companies will offer online sales (compared to 53% in 2021). Today, the online shop is no longer just an add-on, but one of the main sources of revenue for B2B businesses.

Share of e-commerce in B2B sales

Despite this rapid growth, many companies are further reluctant to start selling online, facing doubts about how to transfer the best buying experience and operational efficiency to the digital world. In this article, we discuss the biggest challenges facing B2B sellers and how to deal with them.

The challenges of B2B sales

1. Maintaining customer relations

A large part of B2B sales is based on a direct relationship with a sales representative. Regular customers who order a lot and often expect the company to give them special attention, offer a better price with the possibility of negotiation. This individual approach in return for a high order value is part of business etiquette. Meanwhile, e-commerce is still associated with an impersonal, automatic approach to the customer. And this is not necessarily true.

Solution: High-quality customer service

Online trading allows customers to make their own purchases but does not deprive them of support from a consultant. In the B2B model, customer service is much more advanced than in B2C. Each customer, from the online shop client account, can access the account manager, who knows the situation of one’s business and will guide the client through the entire purchasing process. An interesting example of a project where the online customer relationship is the priority is the case study of Orno, with whom we worked on advanced personalisation of the customer experience.

2. Complicated purchasing process

Business customers are used to the convenience known from B2C platforms. Unfortunately, B2B shops often require users to follow multiple steps and procedures to finalise a purchase. A complicated process, an unintuitive interface, insufficient product information and difficult searches can discourage people from trying an e-commerce platform. 

Solution: Improving the customer experience

Good UX is not reserved for the B2C segment, and business platforms that invest in user experience will gain a valuable competitive advantage and customer satisfaction. Personalisation and segmentation of the offer, intuitive product categories, an account for logged-in users advanced search, a clear interface and support from the customer service department will significantly improve the customer experience in the online shop.

3. The need for advanced personalisation

Each business customer has specific needs and is interested in different products. Going through the entire catalogue and manually searching for each product can be very time-consuming and discourage exploration of the shop. Business buyers also expect the shop to take the nature of their business and the size of their order into account when preparing an offer - a loyal customer who buys a lot expects more attractive pricing, and new customers expect an initial discount as an incentive.

Solution: Individual price lists and offers

The best B2B e-commerce allows full personalisation of the offer even at the individual customer level. The retailer can price each product for each customer individually. This scale of personalisation is unprecedented in the B2C segment. The retailer can also segment customers according to keys such as average order value and frequency, length of relationship with the shop, preferred payment model and most frequently ordered products to tailor the shopping experience and product range.

4. Reduced supply of systems and services

The B2C segment is more open to technological innovations and novelties, which is why most e-commerce solutions are developed with them in mind. Unfortunately, not all of them can also be implemented in the business segment, which is why there is a growing demand for tools created from start to finish with the specific needs of B2B shops in mind. Finding a business partner and a solution that includes functionality for this sector is a major challenge.

Solution: Service package tailored to B2B needs

Many leading e-commerce platforms offer modules tailored to B2B sellers. It is also worth taking advantage of implementation accelerators, i.e. solutions that include a package of functionalities such as customised price lists and offers, the assignment of customised roles and rights to administrators and customers, support for multiple currencies and foreign markets and product information management. In this case, a business partner experienced in B2B projects is no less important than the tool itself.

5. Long and costly implementation

E-commerce platforms for the B2B sector are often much more complex and require more customisation than those for B2C. As a result, retailers are concerned about high costs and long implementation times that will delay the return on their investment.

Solution: Templates and implementation packages

Companies that want to start selling as soon as possible and optimise costs can use solutions based on ready-made templates. Such a service significantly speeds up implementation time and is cheaper than a fully customised platform design. Thanks to the use of templates, functionalities do not have to be designed from scratch, but are modified and personalised for a specific business. An example of such a solution is the B2B Box package.

6. A highly customisable platform

E-commerce platforms in the B2B segment are complex and highly differentiated: they require advanced personalisation, management of large product, customer and order databases and industry-specific solutions. This poses a major challenge in terms of design, implementation and expansion as, for many companies, more than a standard application template may be required.

Solution: Integration with external tools

E-commerce platforms designed for the B2B segment offer extensive customisation possibilities through integration with additional tools. CRM, PIM or ERP systems, additional payment or delivery methods, marketing and administration tools can be freely implemented in the platform by the implementation company. The basis for the flexibility of the application is the Composable Commerce approach, which consists of building the software from specialised modules.

7. Many people involved

In B2B sales, there are many people involved who are responsible for the various stages of order fulfilment. Customer service, product management, price acceptance, stock control, delivery order - each step for which other specialists are responsible complicates the platform management process from a back-office perspective.

Solution: Roles and permissions

Sales platforms tailored to the needs of the business sector provide extensive opportunities to give customised roles and permissions to all company employees. A clear administration panel makes it easier to manage data and control the process, as well as enhancing the security of the platform, as only those who need it have access to specific information and permissions. In the B2B sector, custom roles and permissions can be given not only to the platform's administrators, but also to its customers to better manage the ordering process.

8. Specific search criteria

In order for an e-commerce platform to successfully replace direct sales, the shop has to accurately offer customers the items they are looking for. In the case of B2B, this issue is complicated by the fact that the range is very large, products often do not have a standardised name from different suppliers and the technical specifications are extensive. Having to search for the required item for a long time in a catalogue can discourage customers from buying. 

Solution: Advanced search

The advanced search tool relies on machine learning to suggest the best results to customers based on the most frequently searched keywords. The customer does not need to know the exact name of the product; the system will show him the desired item in the catalogue based on the batch number, assigned keywords, application or part of the description. Typos or synonyms will also not be an obstacle. The basis of a successful search is well-developed product information, so the PIM (Product Information Management) tool will help optimise the process.

9. Attachment to the current business model

The B2B sector faces many technical challenges, but one of the biggest hurdles in the development of online business sales is attitude. Many sellers assume that since the current business model has worked successfully for so many years, there is no point in changing it and looking for optimisation. Innovative solutions are associated with costs and risks, and adapting to new sales standards takes time. Thus, change is slow, and the B2B sector is not keeping up with technological developments despite customers being ready for change.

Solution: Openness to optimisation

The only way to digitally transform a business is to be open to the optimisation that modern e-commerce tools offer. Of course, this is a process that takes time, commitment and resources, but progress is unstoppable and B2B customers increasingly expect the retailer to rise to the occasion and offer them a simple and convenient shopping path that they are familiar with from their everyday B2C online shopping experience.

There are no problems without solutions!

E-commerce sales are a natural progression for the B2B sector. Although it poses many challenges for sellers, each is finding solutions in the form of modern technology and functionality. What's more, awareness of online business commerce is growing not only among sellers but also among service providers. E-commerce agencies are increasingly familiar with the nature of the B2B sector, its specific needs and challenges, and can therefore offer effective solutions with greater efficiency.

Work with us!

At Strix, we have been implementing e-commerce projects for the B2B and B2C industry for more than 14 years. This is documented by our extensive portfolio! If you want to start selling online, rebuild your existing platform, migrate to another system or perform an audit to see what is holding back your sales - contact us! We will accompany you every step of the way, from idea and strategy to implementation and maintenance.

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Let's work together

If you want to move your sales to the online world, are looking for new ideas for strategy or innovative e-commerce technologies - write to us! We will be happy to talk about the best solutions for your business.