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B2B Ecommerce – Everything You Should Know

Today’s digital evolution has opened new business opportunities to sell online, grow online stores, and generate unimaginable profits.

However, selling to individual customers is not the only option business owners can consider. B2B eCommerce concentrates on running an online store created for business buyers. 

In the UK, the B2B eCommerce space has gradually grown in the past few years. 

Between 2021 and 2023, B2B companies’ revenue from digital channels grew from 33% to 46%. Based on projections, this revenue is expected to reach 56% by 2025

In the following sections, we explore the B2B eCommerce industry in detail, uncovering:

  • What is the B2B eCommerce industry?
  • How does B2B eCommerce work?
  • What are the different types of B2B eCommerce?

We will also explore the stages of growing a B2B eCommerce business, the best B2B marketing tactics to explore, and more. 

What is the B2B eCommerce industry?

B2B stands for business to business and represents a business model where companies sell products or services to other businesses rather than individual consumers. 

In B2B eCommerce, this sales process is characterised by online transactions, where multiple decision-makers are involved before purchasing. 

The B2B eCommerce industry consists of multiple businesses that all share a common goal – attract more businesses as customers and minimise cost-to-serve. 

It’s essential to study the topic in depth to understand better how this form of business works and how online purchases are generated.

How does B2B eCommerce work?

As noted above, B2B eCommerce is the process of selling goods and services directly between businesses via an online sales portal.

In this scenario, sales reps traditionally involved in the process are replaced by digital tools and online platforms to generate online sales.

Instead of relying on a sales rep, B2B eCommerce companies may invest in social media marketing, SEO, paid advertising, and other marketing methods to reach their audience. 

In most cases, transactions in B2B eCommerce occur between manufacturers and wholesalers or wholesalers and retailers. For example, a business may purchase raw materials online to produce its products. Once complete, the products can be sold to other companies or individuals.

Types of b2b ecommerce

Types of B2B eCommerce

When discussing B2B eCommerce models, it’s key to note that not all business-to-business relationships are the same. Different structures can be created via digital channels. 

Below, we dive into the B2B eCommerce types in detail.

Wholesale eCommerce

The wholesale business model involves large quantities of products customers purchase and resell at retail value. 

This process is possible in wholesale eCommerce thanks to a B2B eCommerce platform. Such solutions enable businesses to market products online, create a convenient customer experience, and enhance sales revenue.

Some of the most popular industries where B2B wholesale eCommerce prevails include: 

  • Retail;
  • Food services;
  • Construction;
  • Medical.

These are markets where B2B dominates, and the wholesale model perfectly fits businesses’ requirements and expectations.

Manufacturers 

On the other hand, B2B eCommerce manufacturers are the businesses that create products in large quantities that are later resold to other manufacturers, suppliers, or wholesalers

For instance, a manufacturer who specialises in the production of buttons can sell to clothing manufacturers who use these buttons to create their final fashion products. Once the customer (in this case, another manufacturer) completes the product using the seller’s buttons, they can sell the clothing piece to wholesalers. 

The dynamics of this business model are evolving, and today, more and more wholesalers, suppliers, and other B2B organisations prefer the flexibility of online transactions for such purchases.

Distributors 

As noted above, several paths can be explored once a manufacturer has created a product.

Some manufacturers may prefer to shorten the supply chain and sell to the final consumer directly. This puts them in control of sales and helps them offer a more personalised customer experience

However, it also means that the business will have to handle additional tasks, like managing inventory and exploring different avenues to meet customer expectations by offering outstanding customer experience. 

Another option to explore is to partner with a distributor. The distributor will be responsible for marketing and selling the products to potential customers to enhance sales. 

In the case of the B2B eCommerce distributor model, the sale and all related logistics take place on an online platform. Businesses also often outsource their fulfilment operations to online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay. 

B2B2C

B2BC or business-to-business-to-consumer represents a model where two businesses deliver complementary products or services to a single consumer. 

For example, this business partnership could include a company that produces goods and services and another that handles customer transactions.

Online retailers and marketplaces like those mentioned above are ideal examples. Amazon, for instance, acts as a channel from the production to the end consumer who buys the products. 

Another example of B2B2C is the relationship between manufacturers and delivery service providers.

This business model is created thanks to eCommerce and online channels, enabling manufacturers and retailers to benefit.

SaaS

SaaS represents a Software-as-a-service business model and is one of today’s most popular B2B structures.

These businesses provide access to software products or services in return for an ongoing fee, usually a subscription.

Before the digital revolution, businesses would need to physically purchase software solutions on a disk or via a library. From there, the product must be installed on the company’s hardware. 

Thanks to eCommerce, this process is dramatically shortened and simplified today. The majority of business software is online and easily accessed via a login. 

Businesses can invest in software subscriptions and licences via eCommerce platforms and access these products from anywhere, regardless of location.

Stages of B2B business

As with any other type of business, the B2B model is associated with four key stages of growth. 

Understanding the phase you’re currently in will enable you to plan adequately for the future, create potential solutions for inevitable challenges you’re yet to face, and more. 

Throughout the various B2B stages you’ll follow, you’ll require different resources, including finances, marketing strategies, and techniques

In the following sections, we provide an overview of each stage of the B2B evolution and offer valuable insights.

Startup

As the name suggests, the startup phase is the very first stage of creating a business

In most cases, B2B companies start with an idea, a desire to offer a solution for a problem or a dream that can be turned into reality. 

In this first and most essential state of your business path, you’ve decided to create a business venture and start a B2B brand. 

During this stage, you’ve researched the market demand, pinpointed your target market, and recently produced your products or services. 

This phase is usually associated with slower sales as you’ve just recently started promoting and selling your assets to customers. In most cases, the main priority here is to continue analysing your target market and creating customer segments to work with in the future. 

Chances are that as you start generating sales and learning more about the market, you’ll need to slightly adapt your offering to the demand in the space. 

Establishing an effective marketing strategy is essential before proceeding to the next growth cycle stage.

Growth

The next stage of the evolution of B2B eCommerce is growth. 

This phase is also known as the survival state. You’ve already introduced your products or services to the market and have gathered all essential market data.

Next, you must reach your breakeven point and accumulate growing profits. At the same time, the business’s profits are still lower than the sales level. 

As you continue to attract new customers and secure more sales, you’ll gain the confidence to consider new growth opportunities. 

It’s important to know that the growth stage is accompanied by aggressive competition. This will demand an analysis of your existing business model and potential amendments in marketing and operations.

Expansion 

You’ve secured a presence in the B2B industry for your business. Most companies in the expansion phase enjoy stable cash flow and revenue and are capable of penetrating new markets and exploring new distribution channels. 

Business-to-business eCommerce must secure a more significant market share and discover new revenue streams via target customers or new offerings to overcome the typical competition for this stage and capitalise on growth.

Maturity

At the maturity stage, the B2B eCommerce structure is at its peak. 

However, even if your business is in a leading position in the market, growth is usually slower in this phase than in the expansion phase. 

When reaching maturity, many businesses question whether it’s time to consider an exit strategy or whether there are options to reinvent themselves. For example, reinvention may include investing in eCommerce tech solutions, penetrating new markets, or creating completely innovative product lines.

B2B eCommerce marketing tactics

B2B eCommerce marketing tactics

One of the most important things for B2B eCommerce businesses is to invest in the right marketing strategies to boost their online visibility

This approach can help them create a reliable customer base characterised by long-term relationships and repeat business. 

To achieve this, B2B eCommerce businesses must understand their target audience, track customer behaviour, adjust marketing campaigns regularly, and implement proven eCommerce strategies adjusted to the B2B space. 

Here are some of the common marketing tactics worth exploring in B2B eCommerce.

SEO

SEO or Search Engine Optimisation is essential for any business looking to grow online. It features practices and processes that aim to optimise your website for search engines, enabling it to be better positioned and enjoy better visibility.

However, when it comes to B2B SEO, there are some specifics to keep in mind.

For example, some of the proven techniques for on-page SEO include adding product keywords in page titles. This helps search engine crawlers quickly understand what the page is about and determine its relevance for users browsing online. 

Product keywords are also recommended on your pages’ H tags, body copy, and alt-image tags. 

In addition, it’s advisable to invest in a stable backlink strategy that will make your website more authoritative and stronger from an SEO perspective. 

If you’re already involved in B2C and want to grow into B2B eCommerce, you don’t have to create an individual site for your B2B activities. You can optimise site engagement and search engine optimization on one URL and utilise customer groups to provide a tailor-made customer journey for your B2B clients.

Content marketing 

Content marketing is another marketing tactic that can help you build your B2B brand image and establish trust with other businesses.

While necessary for B2C models, content is even more significant when selling to other companies. This is due to the fact that purchase decisions usually require more time, as investments are typically higher. 

This means you must educate and persuade your consumers, establishing trust and confidence in your brand

Content marketing strategies vary and depend on the products or services you sell, the types of businesses you target, the content promotion channels you use, and more.

However, the foundational content types recommended include blog articles, white papers, case studies, and guides. 

Paid advertising 

Nowadays, most businesses prefer to grow their brand via unpaid channels like social media, email marketing, and blogging. Paid advertising can deliver quick and rewarding results.

If you’ve just launched your B2B eCommerce brand, paid advertising is the most reliable way to attract online traffic and spread the word about your offering.

Paid advertising applies to sponsored ads in social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok and to creating paid campaigns in Google Ads. 

No matter whether you’re in the position of a wholesaler, manufacturer, or retailer, you can benefit from paid advertising as effectively.

Email marketing 

Email marketing is another successful marketing tactic for B2B eCommerce. 

It’s another way to educate, nurture, and persuade customers to invest in your products or services. 

Aim to split your email lists into different categories and share appropriate content with your leads. 

For instance, a basic categorisation is cold, warm, and hot leads. In this case, cold leads are users who have yet to interact with your brand. On the other hand, hot leads can be those who have already purchased from you or are already negotiating with you.

However, you can create more detailed and precise categorisations based on the customer’s current stage of the buyer journey.

Social media marketing 

Of course, social media marketing remains an essential part of your marketing mix as a B2B eCommerce brand.

Start by building a community across channels that represent your ideal customers. Consider the types of businesses you wish to attract and create a social media strategy that reflects your perfect audience.

Be creative, and remember to post content that caters to different stages of the buying lifecycle. 

Data-driven marketing 

Last but not least, ensure that all of your B2B eCommerce marketing tactics are based on data rather than intuition.

Using eCommerce platforms and various analytical tools, you can collect essential insights on market trends, customer behaviour, and overall online performance.

Based on this information, you can detect areas that require improvements. This approach will empower you to make strategic decisions instead of blindly experimenting with marketing techniques.

What is a B2B ecommerce platform and how to choose the right one for you?

B2B eCommerce platforms are an inevitable part of executing, monitoring, and growing your activities as an online business. 

While classic platforms facilitate processes requiring phone calls, spreadsheets, and faxes, an eCommerce platform provides the necessary tools for conducting online sales between two businesses. 

For example, the common features provided by such platforms enable some of the following for your website:

  • Customer data collection and data analytics; 
  • Flexible ecommerce payment solutions with multiple payment providers;
  • Diverse marketing experiences and personalisation throughout different sales channels; 
  • Attractive checkout promotions for new and existing customers; 

An eCommerce B2B platform is designed to help you reach out to business customers, secure sales, and analyse big data.  

When selecting the right platform for your business, consider its capabilities and weigh them against your requirements and expectations. Some core features to look for include catalogue management, order processing, inventory management, discount capabilities, and integration with other systems. 

It’s also vital to explore the platform’s scalability, understand its levels of personalisation, and check for security features. 

Some of the most popular B2B eCommerce platforms today include:

  • Shopify Plus;
  • BigCommerce;
  • WooCommerce B2B;
  • OpenCart;
  • Oracle SuiteCommerce.

Each option delivers a unique set of capabilities. Considering each option on the market will help you familiarise yourself with these solutions and make the right choice. 

Benefits of B2B eCommerce

Benefits of B2B eCommerce

So far, we’ve established that B2B eCommerce is rising despite its multiple differences from traditional business models. 

But why is this business structure so popular?

There is a range of different B2B eCommerce benefits that make this model attractive.

Some of the key ones include:

  • Automated sales processes – B2B eCommerce can dramatically automate the sales process between suppliers, distributors, and the business; 
  • Lower investments – the need for establishing a specific infrastructure and investing in overhead costs is much lower in B2B eCommerce when compared to the traditional business model; 
  • Less reliance – there is a reduced need for intermediaries in B2B eCommerce, making this model less reliant on third parties;
  • Ability to grow running an online business-to-business organisation creates attractive growth prospects; 
  • Opportunity for lasting relationships – selling to other businesses is usually associated with lasting relationships. For them to successfully run their business, chances are that they’ll require your products or services on an ongoing basis;
  • Shorter sales cycle digitising sales and relying on customer reordering automatically shortens the sales cycle, leading to more attractive returns. 

While some of these benefits apply to B2B in general, when combined with the prospects of eCommerce, they become lucrative reasons to invest in this business model.

B2B eCommerce myths

If you plan to start a B2B eCommerce venture, it’s essential to filter our myths from reality.

Here are some of the most commonly seen myths related to the industry. 

The majority of B2B businesses don’t offer eCommerce capabilities 

Contrary to popular belief, the majority of B2B companies offer eCommerce capabilities. The fact that a significant portion of the buying process is conducted online is a simple demonstration of this. 

As a result of the increased digital adoption in the UK and worldwide, more and more B2B companies are selling online or planning for this transition in the near future.

Face-to-face communication is preferred in a B2B environment

Another popular myth is that corporate customers prefer the ordering process to occur face-to-face rather than online.

This is far from reality, as the digital space offers businesses tremendous opportunities, including time savings, ease of use, flexibility, and more.

The quality of your eCommerce website doesn’t matter 

When it comes to business-to-business marketing, some companies believe that creating a basic and unoptimised eCommerce site will be enough to generate sales.

However, this is not the case. 

The B2B eCommerce space is highly competitive, meaning that you’ll need to build an attractive, fully optimised, and convenient site to present your products or services. 

Both individual consumers and businesses will evaluate the quality of your website. Other businesses are more likely to examine your site closely as they’re usually more informed about the best practices that a reliable company will adopt.

Businesses aren’t ready to make big purchases online 

If you’ve successfully built your brand image and established trust in the consumer’s eyes, there’s no reason other businesses won’t spend big online. 

However, you’ll need a bullet-proof marketing and sales strategy to encourage other businesses to invest substantial amounts in your products or services.

What is the future of B2B eCommerce?

Considering the scope of B2B eCommerce, it’s safe to say that this business model will continue to thrive. 

However, as consumer behaviour changes, we expect to see digital sales transformations. 

Some of the innovations and trends that are forecasted to dominate in the B2B eCommerce space in the future include:

  • Personalised sales portals;
  • Mobile ordering;
  • More reliance on mobile commerce;
  • Faster order processing, calling for software that can manage inventory, fulfilment, and shipping. 

To unlock the full potential of your digital transformation as a B2B company, follow all the rising trends in the space and adapt your strategy to fit in with new market expectations.

Conclusion

Running a B2B eCommerce venture comes with specifics that differ from the traditional business models.

We hope this article will help you understand the essentials of this type of business, enabling you to confidently start your B2B eCommerce brand. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, B2B eCommerce can be very profitable. This business model can use a range of different online channels to attract customers, generate sales, and analyse data.

Some B2B eCommerce trends expected to dominate in the future include using quality product images and videos for promotion, reliance on social proof for establishing trust, personalisation, and diverse online catalogues available for browsing. Additionally, chat and phone support will likely remain essential to customer service.

Some of the best examples of B2B eCommerce include General Electric (a business-to-business company that went direct to consumer), ScaleTrains (a train manufacturer that relies on the digital space to ensure product availability), and Printful (a print-on-demand service for small businesses).

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