What Is B2B eCommerce

B2B ecommerce has become vital to the global economy. According to forecasts, the global B2B ecommerce market size was estimated at $6.64 trillion in 2020 and is projected to reach $26 trillion by the end of 2028. Considering the rapid growth of the online market and changing behavioral patterns during quarantine, the numbers are likely to climb even further. Even now, while the pandemic is receding, we see a global trend that many consumers do not return to visiting offline stores.

For B2B ecommerce, the trend is similar, as the people responsible for business-to-business transactions prefer to meet via Zoom calls rather than in person. Negotiations on the contractual terms in B2B are now mostly carried out online. It is difficult to accurately predict B2B market growth further down the road, but it is likely to accelerate significantly in 2022 and beyond.

B2B (business-to-business) is focused on the sale of products, services, or information to other businesses, and stands in contrast to B2C (business-to-consumer) and B2G (business-to-government) models.

The Internet allows companies to increase their prospect pool. Full online presence grants access to many more potential consumers and partners than traditional advertising models. Since B2B customers increasingly use search engines to research companies and products before committing to purchase, the Internet becomes an essential trade channel for B2B ecommerce and ecommerce technology -- a critical success factor.

A B2B company is typically built around a business relationship between a manufacturer and a wholesaler, or a wholesaler and a retailer. With that said, it’s important to note that a supply chain usually involves more than two parties since products and resources may be provided from a number of suppliers. Such goods as plastic, grain, or chemicals don't always have a practical use for consumers but are important for wholesale distribution, which is the basis of the business-to-business model. The success factors of B2B companies include an effective account management team, good process optimization, and technological innovation.

Types of B2B eCommerce

Apart from the standard ecommerce B2B model, where a business directly trades with other businesses, there are many other types of B2B ecommerce, which we’ll look at below.

B2B2C (business to business to customer)

B2B2C or business to business to consumer is an ecommerce B2B model that combines a bit of both worlds, that is -- business to business (B2B) and business to consumer (B2C), and represents a collaborative effort in creating mutually beneficial service and product delivery channels. In a typical ecommerce scenario, companies practicing a B2B2C model reach new markets and customers by partnering with consumer-oriented businesses. For example, an enterprise service provider might buy and assemble a software solution to later resell it to consumers.

B2B2B (business to business to business)

B2B2B or business to business to business is a B2B sub-agent model. To better understand how B2B2B works, consider bill.com, the website for enterprises to manage their payments to vendors. To use the platform, vendors also create accounts that they can use later for billing their future customers.

D2C (Direct to customer)

D2C or direct to consumer is a business model whereby companies manufacture and sell their products directly to customers. The customer doesn’t necessarily have to be an individual consumer but an entire organization. The key point here is to sell directly thereby bypassing middle-man such as distributors.

B2M (Business to many)

B2M or business to many is a business model where a company sells products or services to both businesses and consumers.

B2E (Business to employee)

B2E or business to employee is a business model where a company sells its products or services to its employees. An online insurance policy management application within an organization can be a good example of a B2E model.

B2G (Business to government)

B2G or business to government is a business model where a company provides goods or services to governmental organizations. An example of B2G is the U.S. General Services Administration, or GSA, that provides the US federal agencies with an online portal to manage the procurement of goods and services they need for their jobs.

B2B eCommerce Mythbusting

It’s time to set the record straight on some common B2B ecommerce myths. In this section, we’ll look at the most typical misconceptions around B2B selling online and how B2B ecommerce really works.

B2B customers don’t want to order online

Recent research indicates that ecommerce has become the most popular route to market for B2B companies, which is not surprising considering the implications of the pandemic. According to McKinsey, half the B2B buyers are ready to buy online provided the supplier has such an option. Since the number of interested buyers continues to grow, it’s only natural to develop online sales channels. Among the key decision factors for buying online, McKinsey’s findings point out the availability of relevant information and efficiency of a selling platform, which means that investing in innovative technology and providing comprehensive information on products and services must become management’s top priority.

eCommerce requires price transparency

The B2B pricing is indeed quite complex but its implementation flexibility will largely depend on the chosen ecommerce platform. Provided you invest in innovative software with complex account-based pricing, you’ll be just fine. Moreover, platforms that can handle account-based pricing will significantly simplify the jobs of your accounting and sales personnel. Virto Commerce pricing module, for example, can handle account-based personalization with ease, so that each corporate account ends up seeing contractually agreed-on price lists and any other relevant pricing information based on their account status.

B2B products are too complex and are not suitable for online sale

Since B2B products often include a variety of attributes and configurations, it’s a common misconception that such product combinations cannot be translated into an ecommerce reality. However, with a good enough ecommerce solution, those product combinations can become even more efficient. Online product configurations allow buyers to not only customize products but also choose substitute parts in case some inventory is not available, minimizing the number of errors and increasing order efficiency and speed.

Social selling doesn’t work in B2B

While most of us are on Twitter and Facebook, we still think that advertising on the platform for B2B customers doesn’t work or might be considered offkey. Since social selling has significantly transformed in recent years, it’s no longer a mauvais tone to use social networking websites to target business users. In fact, it’s a current marketing trend and a highly effective strategy. According to various reports, more than 70% of executives admit that social media influences their buying decisions. The percentage is more than enough to convince even an inveterate skeptic that social media marketing is extremely important in the modern-day world. In a later section, on B2B marketing, we’ll look at social marketing in greater detail.

B2B eCommerce only supports simple payments like credit/debit card

Most people assume that online payments only comprise things like PayPal and credit/debit card payments, but it’s false. There are a lot of payments available for B2B, such as bank transfers, purchase orders, check and money orders, credit lines, and so on. B2B merchants have a variety of payment processing options, so they can choose whatever option is most preferable under the circumstances.

Future of B2B eCommerce

We believe that the future for B2B ecommerce is very bright. Before the pandemic, only 48% of B2B companies were conducting the purchasing online, something that had changed dramatically during the quarantine. With little chance to avoid digital, B2B companies have been streamlining their digital adoptions at an unprecedented pace, challenging the old assumptions of industry being slow to adopt new media and channells. To prepare your company for the upcoming changes and avoid future disruptions akin to those happened in the first months of the pandemic, you need to put yourself on the frontline of change in your company, adopting new technology, improving your ecommerce platform, investing in integrations, and advocating for the change in mentality.

Advantages of B2B eCommerce Platforms

Advantages of B2B e-commerce platofrms

Reaching new customers

B2B ecommerce opens up plenty of possibilities of broadening your company’s market outreach, testing new geographies, expanding operations to other states and countries with minimal effort and expense. Leveraging the power of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and investing in marketing campaigns including paid advertisements, you’ll be able to increase your search rankings, thus improving your company’s brand awareness and getting the attention of new customers who might look for similar products or companies.

Better management of suppliers and customers

eCommerce is the key to increasing sales and profit margins, improving both customer and supplier relationships. Some of the crucial areas that ecommerce can address and that can make a real difference in customer experience include easier checkout process, easier repeat ordering, quick delivery, and efficient tracking. eCommerce also enables better and more effective supply management through such things as maintaining better contact between suppliers, planning and forecasting demand surges and plunges, automating business processes, enabling smarter inventory management, and reducing human-prone errors that can either make or break a deal.

Scalability and growth

As ecommerce strengthens your business, wards off lagging competitors, and attracts new customers, it allows your business to grow and scale accordingly. By investing in an easily scalable and headless solution, you can open up as many frontend stores as you want, while connecting them to one back office.

Better data analytics

eCommerce solutions provide better data analytics and reporting. With a B2B ecommerce platform, you can generate different types of reports for different KPIs, track sales effectiveness, site engagement analytics, cart abandonment rate, and so on. Armed with those reports, you can better predict your future growth and understand how your business is progressing in general.

Start your own B2B eCommerce with Virto Commerce

In case you’re looking for a reliable and flexible ecommerce solution for your B2B business, then the Virto Commerce B2B ecommerce platform might be a good choice to consider.
Below is the rundown of the key functionality of Virto Commerce:

Pricing
  • Customer-specific pricing 
  • Integration of multiple price lists with ERP and price engines
  • B2B account-based pricing 
  • Contract-based catalogs
Promotions
  • Promotions and marketing campaigns
  • Product, customer, and shopping cart promotions
  • Coupons
  • Personalized banners
Merchandising
  • AI-powered personalization
  • Upsell/Cross-sell functionality 
  • Rule-based recommendations 
Corporate Account Management
  • Account granularity
  • “Login on behalf” functionality
  • Access levels, roles & permissions  
  • Invoicing
  • Account-based personalization  
  • Real-time B2B financing
  • Guest user accounts
Catalog
  • For buyers: B2B personalized catalogs  
  • For sellers: account-restricted catalog management; required login functionality
  • B2B catalog search   
  • Personalized customer experience
Order Management
  • B2B inventory management  
  • EDI/Punchout and dropship   
  • B2B order management
  • Warranty support and RMAs  
  • Facilitated communication between sellers & buyers
  • Saving and retrieval of multiple shopping lists
  • Quick reorder functionality
Order Draft (Cart) & Checkout​
  • Payment method control & Purchase Order management   
  • Quotes & Request for Quotations (RFQ)
  • Saving and retrieval of multiple shopping lists
  • Quick reorder functionality
Integration with Different Apps and Tools
  • ERP Systems, CRM, CMS, PIM, SAP
  • AI recommendation systems
  • Configure Price & Quote (CPQ) solutions
  • Search engines (Elastic, Azure Search)  
  • Google eCommerce analytics
  • Payment processing systems
  • Tax automation systems
  • Logic Apps, among others.

B2B eCommerce Marketing Tips

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Inform customers about products, features, and promotions.

Transparency and providing easy access to quality and accurate information is the key to building a great customer experience and nurturing customer relationships. Transparency here applies to not only communication of accurate pricing, order calculations, and shipping terms, but also to giving your customers access to correct inventory levels and order statuses. Being consistent with your promises and acknowledging your mistakes will guarantee your customer satisfaction and loyalty long term.

Create quality content

Firstly, creating quality content that targets important SEO keywords helps your customers discover your products through the search engines. Secondly, providing good quality blog posts and educational materials on products and services increases your brand awareness and helps address your customers’ existing and potential reservations about your offering. Such premium content as webinars, podcasts, and presentations can help you in your inbound marketing campaigns targeted at both new and existing customers. Such content also increases your industry authority and brand reputation.

Invest in account-based marketing

Account-based marketing implies the combination of several marketing activities that maximize specific account opportunities. For example, personalization of content and product suggestions can significantly increase conversions and contribute to customer loyalty. Account-based recommendations should not be aimed at increasing customers’ final check, but rather at helping customers seamlessly progress through their shopping experience with as little chance for mistakes as possible.

Collect reviews and testimonials

Collecting reviews and testimonials serves two purposes. Firstly, feedback helps you understand if your existing customers are satisfied with your products and services, and secondly, in case they are satisfied, those reviews and experiences help you attract new customers.

Deploy programs that generate loyalty, order value, and purchase frequency.

Loyalty programs have been effectively and successfully employed by many B2B businesses across different industries. In the next section, we’ll look at how one of the Virto Commerce clients has built a loyalty portal to get access to valuable customer data and actionable insights that would have been otherwise impossible if not for the loyalty portal. Besides providing good incentives to return and buy again, loyalty programs create long-standing relationships between suppliers and customers and help attract new customers. These are a few examples of loyalty programs: referral programs, reseller and third party programs, tier incentive programs, and so on.

B2B eCommerce Examples

B2B eCommerce examples

Bosch Thermotechnik

Bosch Thermotechnik

Bosch Thermotechnology (Bosch Thermotechnik) makes heating and air conditioning solutions for residential, commercial, and industrial applications. Traditionally, the company relied on its distribution channels for completing the final sale. To gain access to important customer information and insights into how and where customers used the company’s products, Bosch decided to build a loyalty solution. At this point, Bosch sought Virto Commerce development expertise and used Virto Commerce modules to build the final product.

As Bosch wanted to manage its own front-end development, Virto Commerce developed a solution around the company’s front-end technology stack. The result has been the development of the Bosch Thermotechnik Sales Digital Unit, a loyalty portal where partners register Bosch Thermotechnik products in return for points that they later spend for marketing materials, professional tools, or clothing - all related to the Bosch brand.

Standard Bookhandle

Standard Bookhandle

Standaard Boekhandel is a large Belgian bookstore chain of approximately 150 stores and 15 million products. In addition to selling millions of books, the company sells stationery, music, games, gifts, and toys. Looking to strengthen its position in a fiercely competitive online book sales market, Standaard Boekhandel, Belgium’s largest book retailer, embarked on a digital transformation. Unfortunately, the existing platform didn’t answer Boekhandel’s ambitious goals so the company chose to re-platform. Re-platforming to Virto Commerce allowed Boekhandel to extend their product offering and handle millions of products daily in near-real-time, integrate efficiently with different channels, and improve the search functionality for their two brands.

Zoeller

Zoeller

Zoeller Company is one of the USA’s oldest family-owned manufacturers of submersible pumps, systems, and controls for moving and treating water. When Virto Commerce first embarked on the Zoeller project, its existing ecommerce solution was far from perfect. Most notably, Zoeller suffered from poor catalog management, lack of self-service functionality, and important ERP integrations.

During the Virto Commerce tenure at Zoeller, the following functionality was developed:

  • Real-time inventory for the distribution centers;
  • Role-based access for employees, sales reps, vendors, and customers;
  • Requests for quotation (RFQ) and their approval by the sales reps;
  • Onboarding of customers and service prospects;
  • Efficient contract management;
  • A pricing system and payment management with the addition of credit/debit card payments and purchase orders.

Thanks to its partnership with Virto Commerce, Zoeller significantly increased its search rankings and sales, which equated to significant numbers in added revenue. The most important achievement was that Zoeller was able to self-implement after one week of training. Self-implementation allowed Zoeller to massively reduce the total cost of ownership and reliance on expensive implementation partners without sacrificing the solution’s quality, functionality, and upgradability.

FAQs

What is B2B ecommerce with example?

B2B ecommerce is an ecommerce model where a business sells products or services to other businesses. For example, batteries manufacture might sell batteries to a car manufacturer, or an accounting service provider might sell accounting and tax services to corporations. 

What do you mean by B2B ecommerce?

B2B ecommerce is a type of electronic commerce, that is -- the exchange of products or services -- between businesses rather than individual consumers.

What is the difference between B2B and B2C ecommerce?

B2B ecommerce implies the exchange of products or services between companies whereas B2C ecommerce -- between businesses and individual consumers.

What are some benefits of having a B2B ecommerce site?

There are plenty of benefits to having a B2B ecommerce website, such as improved efficiency and scalability, new customers and partners, increased sales, reporting, and better data analytics.

What is the B2B ecommerce market size?

The B2B market size was estimated at 6.64 trillion dollars in 2020 and 7.72 trillion by the end of 2021. According to various optimistic forecasts, the revenue forecast for 2028 is expected to be around 26.65 trillion dollars with a growth rate of 18.7% from 2021 to 2028.

What are examples of large companies that utilize B2B ecommerce?

Some of the notable examples include UPS, General Electric, Intel, Oracle, FedEx, Shell, Citi, Hewlett Packard.

What are some critical features of B2B ecommerce sites?

The optimal B2B ecommerce site needs to have the following features: customer registration,  granular account and user management with varying degrees of controls and access levels, account-based catalogs and pricing, responsiveness, search, and preferably a quick order and RFQ functionality.

What makes a great B2C-like buying experience for B2B?

Quick order functionality, easy and flexible checkout process, fast deliveries, personalized content, and effortless customer experience are B2C-like features that make B2B ecommerce a bliss.

Do you have to be a supplier to sell B2B online?

No, you don’t have to be a supplier to participate in B2B ecommerce: you can be a wholesaler, a distributor, a reseller, and so on.

How can B2B ecommerce serve personalized experiences?

Account-based personalization allows you to serve personalized content on an account-to-account basis, that is -- when a company representative logs in to their account, they will see contractually agreed on prices and catalogs, rather than generic catalogs that your guest users see.

How can a B2B ecommerce website support custom ordering?

One of the main features of custom ordering is the Request for Quote functionality. By enabling customers to request for quotation, you allow them the freedom to choose the required amount and bargain for their preferred rates.

What integrations should i consider as part of my B2B ecommerce solution?

Your B2B ecommerce platform needs to integrate with your internal systems like ERP, PIM, CMS, and so on, as well as any third-party systems or engines like a recommendation engine and search engine.

How is the B2B buyer journey different from that of B2C?

The B2B customer journey is very different from B2C. We’ve written extensively about the differences in shopping behavior and general preferences of B2B and B2C buyers in our article on personalization, so you’re welcome to peruse the subject deeper at your leisure.
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Marina Vorontsova
Technical author and eCommerce advocate