10 B2B Ecommerce Trends: Characteristics for Growth in the New (Online) World

10 B2B Ecommerce Trends: Characteristics for Growth in the New (Online) World

This is a special guest contributor post by Lucas MIller, CEO of Echelon Copy.

If you grew up in the 90s, you doubtless remember the insane popularity of products like Tamagotchis, Beanie Babies, or Bop It.

But … do you remember the Nintendo Virtual Boy or Microsoft Bob? What about the Sony MiniDisc? The Apple Newton? Chances are — if you remember these products at all — you only remember them as total flops.

So, what made the difference … and what does any of that have to do with B2B ecommerce?

Their failures came from a host of causes: poor marketing, underestimating technology limitations, or simply not understanding the competition or target audience. But in the end, frenzy or flop is about a business’ ability to recognize and capitalize on trends.

As far as your business is concerned, you might think you can get away with a small group of interns, some in-house PR, and maybe even a bit of do-it-yourself credit repair.

Just like those nostalgic and not-so-nostalgic products of the 90s, if you’re not up to date on the B2B ecommerce trends and B2B ecommerce characteristics, you’ll soon fall behind.

Fortunately, ten B2B ecommerce trends — many of which are just now emerging — will give you the competitive edge you need:

  1. Supplier-Agnostic Content Is B2B Lead-Generation Magic
  2. Transparent and Tiered Pricing for Discounts Are a Must
  3. B2B Social Selling Isn’t About Ads, But Person-to-Person Contact
  4. Brands Must Give B2B On-Site Video the Attention It Deserves
  5. Live Chat Is a Halfway House Between Self-Service and Sales Teams
  6. Mobile Contact Is a Can’t-Miss B2B Ecommerce Trend
  7. B2B Buyers Prefer the B2C On-Site Search Experience
  8. Help Businesses Stay On Top of Timelines and Order Status
  9. Step Aside, Black Friday and Cyber Monday—July’s for Finding B2B Buyers
  10. Conversion Rate Optimization as a Rising B2B Ecommerce Trend

Let’s look at each one …

1. Supplier-Agnostic Content Is B2B Lead-Generation Magic

B2B ecommerce marketers are slowly waking up to the traffic-driving and lead-generation power of “supplier-agnostic” content. It’s a term coined by the authors of CEB’s The Challenger Customer to describe quality content that provides value in advance of and independent from a product or service.

That’s pretty counterintuitive. Whoever heard of supplier [content] that doesn’t include the actual supplier?

However, during initial investigative stages, B2B ecommerce buyers usually aren’t looking for a specific brand. Instead, they’re looking for information to solve a problem. Producing supplier-agnostic content brings these people into your sales funnel by focusing on the problems they are aware of as well as the problems they don’t yet know exist.

The first B2B ecommerce trend is supplier-agnostic content

It’s a simple formula really. Provide value. Earn trust. Generate leads (this can be done by having site visitors submit their contact information in exchange for guidebooks and other materials). Then, lead scoring and nurturing can begin. Solid content is one of the most crucial B2B ecommerce characteristics — indeed, a survey by Content Marketing Institute found blogs to be the “most critical” tactic for B2B marketers in 2017.

2. Transparent and Tiered Pricing for Discounts Are a Must

Brands who conduct business with you expect you to value their bottom line as much as your own. As such, a major B2B ecommerce trend is to be as transparent with pricing as possible — no tricks, gimmicks, nor hidden fees.

As surprising as it might sound, “transparency in pricing and product details is the number one factor in repeat B2B orders.” Lower prices, by comparison, is only the fourth most important.

Transparent pricing does more than ensure that you won’t have angry customers demanding to know why their subscription fee skyrocketed after three months. It also makes it easier for B2B decision-makers to gather information so they can feel confident in their decision.

Likewise, tiered discounts — sometimes referred to as “dynamic pricing” — is also crucial. Thankfully, Shopify Plus merchants can implement a variety of pricing options for B2B ecommerce:

  • Shopify Scripts for automatic price adjustments at the cart level based on customer tags (i.e., B2B segmentation and loyalty programs), order size, product volume, and delivery location
  • Draft Orders API for negotiated deals or first-time B2B customers who prefer a human touch
  • Wholesale Channel for resellers, high-volume customers, and independent retailers to access a customized and password-protected storefront just for them
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One-on-one guidance for B2B ecommerce growth …

Shopify Plus hosts ecommerce’s largest ecosystem of Merchant Success Managers, ecommerce Gurus, and award-winning Agency Partners.

Those are just a few of the reasons — along with a dedicated Wholesale Channel for B2B sales — our merchants are growing 126% year over year.


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3. B2B Social Selling Isn’t About Ads, But Person-to-Person Contact

Most brands consider “social selling” to be little more than frontline LinkedIn ads or retargeting on Facebook. The truth of the matter, though? Social selling is an important B2B ecommerce characteristic and requires authentic, real-time, person-to-person communication.

This means that B2B sales representatives need to be active and intentional on social media, sharing “supplier agnostics” content — whether from their own company or not — as well as connecting directly with leads in the process. Focus on solving problems, asking questions, and crafting personal relationships … rather than making a sale.

The Harvard Business Review reports, “B2B buyers are five times more likely to engage with a sales rep who provides new insights about their business or industry,” while 72% of B2B salespeople who are active on social media outperform their competitors.

Developing this personal brand online requires time and dedication, but it enables earlier contact in the B2B sales cycle and greatly increases your chances of bringing in new business.

As Mark W. Schaefer, author of KNOWN: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age, told me:

“I get so many random and irrelevant sales pitches that at times I feel like I’m under attack! So many seem to rely on a sales strategy aimed at automated spam instead building social capital that leads to actionable business relationships. There really is no shortcut.”

Or, in the words of frequent CMO by Adobe contributor and native advertising mastermind, Johannes Ceh:

“While a lot B2B marketers sharply control their campaign ROI, some tend to forget that marketing and sales is a people business. Yes, ads and bots can be used to optimize performances, but behind every single bot, tweet, share, comment, etc. sits a human giving it a mission.”

“Digital provides us an infrastructure to build one-to-one relationships and thereby making business with people we never met before. Successful social selling requires dedication and full-body-contact.”

4. Brands Must Give B2B On-Site Video the Attention It Deserves

Today, few content types engage prospective buyers as well as on-site videos. Yes, media-rich content like guides, webinars, white-papers, and original research cater to B2B’s love of self-service, but on-site video provides a much-welcomed change from the norm.

While guides and whitepapers can certainly be informative, they aren’t always able to build trust and increase brand interest like a quality video. Video content can do much more than inform — it can also showcase your brand personality, helping cultivate that “person-to-person” feeling that is so vital to B2B ecommerce sales.

The real key to mastering this B2B ecommerce trend is to create at least two types of videos: (1) short, cinematic videos illustrating your product or service at a high-level and (2) tactical videos — often, little more than well-narrated screen-captures — the show that same product in action.

Take, for instance, the dramatic difference between these two Shopify Plus videos both for Launchpad:


 

While the first video serves top-of-the-funnel prospects and makes for engaging social-media content, the second serves both bottom-of-the-funnel prospects as well as current customers interested in the nitty-gritty details.

Social Media Today reports that landing page videos and product videos increase conversion rates by an average of 80%. What’s more, over 70% of B2B buyers use video content to guide their decision throughout the purchasing process, with product features, how-to’s, and reviews proving particularly influential in guiding further research.

5. Live Chat Is a Halfway House Between Self-Service and Sales Teams

B2B ecommerce is swimming in email. While this can be a powerful lead nurturing tool, transitioning between on-site self-service and your sales team can be tricky for a prospective customer — especially since a user-submitted email address will rarely tell you how ready a customer is to fully enter the deal process.

Because of this, an increasing number of B2B companies are using on-site chat and chatbots to communicate with inquisitive visitors. Some predictions indicate that “by 2021, more than 50% of enterprises will be spending more per annum on bots and chatbot creations than traditional mobile app developments.”

Take PPC agency KlientBoost as a model. Navigating through their site, visitors are given a variety of chat invitations that correlate to the pages they’re on:

Live chat is the fourth B2B ecommerce trend

Visitors to KlientBoost’s homepage are greeted with a general message from founder Johnathan Dane.

To be effective as B2B ecommerce trend, live chat must be contextual

As a visitor goes deeper, new chat invitations appear contextually driven page by page.

This “halfway” option between self-service and sales teams has proven extremely popular with customers and has had a direct impact on sales and lead generation. As The Next Web notes, 38% of surveyed chatbot users enjoyed their chatbot experience, compared to only 11% who reported negative interactions.

Ultimately, live chat is a convenient way for B2B customers to quickly get the information they need, and thanks to incredible advances in machine learning, it can often be automated.

6. Mobile Contact Is a Can’t-Miss B2B Ecommerce Trend

As valuable as live chat can be, designers of B2B ecommerce sites must continue to emphasize mobile contact. Yes, the B2B sales funnel starts with self-service, but buyers ultimately want contact with a real person before making a purchasing decision. In a day when over two-thirds of emails are opened on a mobile device, emphasizing mobile contact is an essential element of the B2B world.

Mobile Contact Is a Can’t-Miss B2B Ecommerce Trend

From their homepage to product pages to the shopping cart, B2B retailer ScaleTrains place their mobile contact information front and center (in both US and International forms)

The fact that B2B ecommerce sites must be optimized for mobile users should be fairly obvious at this point, and anything you can do to improve mobile contact can make a significant difference. This should cover both the investigation and checkout phases of a buyer’s journey, making it easy for them to get in touch with a living, breathing person from any device, at any time.

7. B2B Buyers Prefer the B2C On-Site Search Experience

While B2B ecommerce characteristics are unique, certain parts of the B2C buyer’s journey are well worth investigating — particularly enhanced on-site search. Recent research has found that 62% of B2B customers rank “Enhanced Search Functionality” as “Increasingly Essential” to their shopping experience.

While it might feel strange to implement a B2C tool on your B2B website, many companies have already seen a sharp increase in the number of successful transactions thanks to this feature — especially when paired with product ratings and reviews.

For example, V-Belt Guys — with help from the Shopify app Live Search — have made on-site search the heart of their B2B experience. This includes three separate search options on their homepage, auto-completion, and previews of both images and prices while visitors type. As a result, buyers can quickly gather information, find products, and place orders.

B2B Buyers Prefer the B2C On-Site Search Experience

    8. Help Businesses Stay On Top of Timelines and Order Status

    As a supplier, do everything within your power (even when inconvenient) to tell your B2B ecommerce customers precisely when orders will arrive. Like other B2B ecommerce trends, this pattern derives from B2C — sites like Amazon have created the expectation that customers can immediately learn the status of their order at any time.

    As valuable as this information is for B2C, it is even more important as a B2B ecommerce characteristic. After all, in B2B transactions, the timely arrival of your shipment could very easily impact your customer’s ability to stay on top of timelines with their customers. This makes it essential that you establish clear expectations and deliver quality results, right from the get-go.

    In the words of Ben Chidiac, co-founder of Beard & Blade:

    “Without a doubt, the biggest myth in wholesale is that the self-service ordering model used in retail won’t work in a B2B setting. As in retail, business customers benefit greatly from the time and effort savings of online ordering, in their own time, with full visibility of the status of their order.”

    Help Businesses Stay On Top of Timelines and Order Status

    Taking steps to ensure order accuracy and timely delivery will have a significant impact on your ability to gain repeat customers. The businesses you work with will be drawn to ecommerce brands that take shipment accountability seriously.

    9. Step Aside, Black Friday and Cyber Monday … July’s for Finding B2B Buyers

    Thanks to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, each November has B2C ecommerce “gurus” chomping at the bit to make a boatload of sales. B2B, on the other hand? Not so much. In the B2B realm, it’s vital that brands get in front of the retailers with whom they’ll partner in November.

    Because of the heavy emphasis on B2C at the end of the year, November is far too late to make a move. After all, with a sales cycle that can take anywhere from two to 12 months, the last thing you need is to try targeting your top prospects (who are regular customers, too) when they’re distracted by Black Friday deals.

    Instead, find prospective business buyers in July. Then, in the coming months, you’ll have plenty of time to educate, pitch and close the deal.

    10. Conversion Rate Optimization as a Rising B2B Ecommerce Trend

    Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is a term closely associated with the B2C slice of ecommerce, but it has significant and growing relevance for B2B companies as well.

    CRO essentially measures the percentage of website visitors that took a desired action — be it signing up for an email list, becoming a paying customer, or something else entirely — and then experiments to raise that percentage.

    These days, with more emphasis being placed on CRO, you can expect B2B conversions to improve across the board — and you don’t want to get left behind. Your best option is to find ways to improve the overall buying journey and eliminate frictions that could trip up your B2B customers.

    As Chris Goward of WiderFunnel explains, simplification is often one of the best ways to achieve this: “Don’t assume your prospects know your industry jargon. You should cater to all levels of knowledge. Speak in the simplest language possible to reduce cognitive load.”

    CRO is such a rising B2B ecommerce trend, we reach out to seven leading experts — including CRO masterminds like Peep Laja from CXL and Bryan Eisenberg, co-author of Be Like Amazon: Even a Lemonade Stand Can Do It — to get their best advice. You can read all of it right here.

    Staying Ahead of the B2B Ecommerce Trends

    So, what’s it going to be — frenzy or flop?

    If your business is set on bypassing the pitfalls of Polly-Pocket proportions, don’t only read about the latest and greatest in B2B ecommerce trends, but begin putting them into practice today:

    1. Supplier-Agnostic Content Is B2B Lead-Generation Magic
    2. Transparent and Tiered Pricing for Discounts Are a Must
    3. B2B Social Selling Isn’t About Ads, But Person-to-Person Contact
    4. Brands Must Give B2B On-Site Video the Attention It Deserves
    5. Live Chat Is a Halfway House Between Self-Service and Sales Teams
    6. Mobile Contact Is a Can’t-Miss B2B Ecommerce Trend
    7. B2B Buyers Prefer the B2C On-Site Search Experience
    8. Help Businesses Stay On Top of Timelines and Order Status
    9. Step Aside, Black Friday and Cyber Monday—July’s for Finding B2B Buyers
    10. Conversion Rate Optimization as a Rising B2B Ecommerce Trend

    In fact, just pick one. If you haven’t added easy mobile contact or invested in robust search, start there. 

    Chat with Shopify Plus

    And, if you have any questions …

    Shopify Plus hosts ecommerce’s largest ecosystem of Merchant Success Managers, ecommerce Gurus, and award-winning Agency Partners.

    Those are just a few of the reasons — along with a dedicated Wholesale Channel for B2B sales — our merchants are growing 126% year over year.


    Connect today

    About the Author

    Lucas Miller is the founder and CEO of Echelon Copy LLC, a media relations agency based in Provo, Utah that helps brands improve visibility, enhance reputation and generate leads through authentic storytelling.

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