Five lessons for growing your B2B e-commerce audience

Given these lessons, it is certain that you will succeed in building an audience for e-commerce.

Alex Sayyah, CEO of Aleran Software, offers five lessons for e-commerce organizations to learn to grow their B2B audience

If your company supplied popcorn tubs to movie theaters, microchips to automakers, or furniture to department stores last year, you have my deepest condolences. But rest assured: you are not the only B2B leader happy to leave 2021.

The pandemic has revealed vulnerabilities in everyone’s offices, supply chains and public health systems. Every industry has struggled to find new ways to attract, engage and serve customers. Companies have lost long-time customers they thought were strong. Everyone has been forced to pivot, retool, shut down or do worse as long-held assumptions about market demand change.

The new year, however, promises to be different. B2B is booming as commerce becomes e-commerce. Forrester Research recently predicted that B2B e-commerce in the United States will grow from $1.1 trillion in 2020 to $1.8 trillion by 2023. I’ve seen an endless array of companies – small, startups , businesses, legacy – smartly moving their entire sales process to the digital realm.

These trends provide B2B companies with a roadmap. You can’t beat e-commerce, so join it. While there are no guarantees, if you know your audience and embrace these five lessons that emerged from last year’s crucible, you will increase your chances of success.

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Relationships

Relationships are more important than ever, but no one wants to talk to you, at least right now. B2B is not only about knowing your target audience, but also your buyer journey. Frankly, your B2B target prospects probably don’t want to talk to you until they’ve spent enough time researching your products, services, company, brand, and reputation.

Keep these numbers in mind: up to 70% of B2B buyers have decided to make a purchase before even contacting sales. Over 70% research online before buying. Nine in ten say online content plays a “moderate to major” role in their purchase decision, and 62% start with a web search as one of their first three steps to purchase. 33% are looking for products now more than before COVID. Nearly 90% would simply prefer to carry out all or part of their purchasing journey themselves.

You have a lot more ground to cover long before your buyers hit the on-ramp, which means your presence, content, and messaging need to be aligned before you’ve even met your business customers. Controlling the narrative in advance is how these relationships begin.

Access

You may never set foot in the same room as your best customer again. Reluctantly or not, we were already transitioning to digital platforms in Aleran, but COVID-19 gave us a really big boost. There are certainly B2B sales teams waiting to knock on doors again, but only 20% of B2B buyers would like to return to in-person sales, McKinsey found.

This reluctance extends to all areas, including case and sample scenarios where field sales were the norm, such as medical and pharmaceutical. 75% of sellers and buyers now prefer to sell remotely, even after the end of confinement. Change isn’t just about not wanting to be in a room with a stranger. A huge social, behavioral and logistical transformation has taken place. E-commerce is the new access.

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Technology

You need to develop and maintain relationships with your target audience, but those relationships will only be as good as the technology you deploy. Your technology is your connection. I’ve seen too many organizations succumb to the fear that digital platforms will take all the flavor out of their brand. But if you choose the right solution, you will have more interaction, more connection and more opportunities to convey your brand. E-commerce takes off when it’s part of a high-quality omnichannel solution designed with the complexities of B2B in mind.

Still not sure if technology is the answer? Private equity firms, key players in the B2B ecosystem, tend to keep their finger on forward-looking concepts. You can feel which way the wind is blowing by the new talent they are bringing.

For example, private equity firm Sterling Group just hired a new chief technology officer, Carsten Weber, to lead technology value creation across its portfolio. Sterling sees technology investments as a key way to drive “meaningful opportunities for value creation in industrial businesses.” Take another look at this word: significant. A digital business growth strategy isn’t a temporary trend – it’s the differentiator. Without technology, there are no significant opportunities for value creation.

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It may seem counter-intuitive, but digital is more conducive to human connection. One of today’s most compelling paradoxes is that although markets are more complex and the buyer’s journey has a thousand twists and turns – I’ll get to that in a moment – there is a clear imperative in this complexity and this journey. Bring your digital A-game with your values ​​and best practices. Empower your sales teams to deliver the highest level of responsiveness, customization and flexibility. If you’re worried about dropping the ball, you’re probably dropping the ball. If you don’t know if there are gaps in your sales process, there probably are.

Another interesting paradox: given our reliance on remote platforms, B2B and B2C are more intertwined than ever. B2B has always looked to B2C for clues on how best to attract and build a customer base. Now you don’t have to look that far. Without focusing on each individual consumer transaction, you are still focusing on people. Often the B2B buying process involves between six and 10 decision makers who each do their own research with their own agendas, concerns and relationships with each other. In some sectors, this decision is also a moving target.

Along with the rapid changes caused by the pandemic, there is a rapid pace for technology and process developments. New competitors emerge all the time. Your job is to make the process of decision-making and therefore connecting easier, simpler and – here comes that word again – more meaningful.

Contact is loyalty

In one of his recent columns, author and angel investor Maynard Webb spoke of the heartbreak and surprise companies feel when they lose customers they assumed were “locked in.” As a former COO of eBay, Webb knows a thing or two about the field that moves under his feat. Businesses always need to know what customers think of their relationship, he wrote. You shouldn’t have to ask. If you don’t know, you’ve lost touch.

Leverage the power and reach of an omnichannel marketing strategy that integrates online and offline marketing tools (yes, you can still make a phone call) and a smart sales team that works in tandem with the marketing. You will be able to keep this contact alive. Aim to forge lasting connections and relationships with all decision makers involved in a purchase. Make sure every one of those six to ten people is accounted for.

While it’s essential to already have all the information available, provide even more to your teams – demos, tours, printouts, digital assets, interactive catalogs – so that every touchpoint is also an opportunity to educate. and illuminate. Your audience should be able to understand and appreciate your features, functions, and value. The more they know, the more they can buy the value you provide.

Everything is happening right now. While it’s a pleasure to say goodbye to 2021, these realities have been coming to the fore for years. The beauty of the evolution of B2B is that we now have the tools, the technology, and the wisdom to know how to create a successful multidimensional B2B sales strategy. We just have to follow.

Written by Alex Sayyah, CEO of Aleran Software