While there are, and likely always will be, distinct differences in the online functionality and experiences of B2B vs. B2C buyers, increasingly the differences are contracting.
As eCommerce and omnichannel purchasing experiences rise to dominance in B2C, they will become akin to consumer shopping. Since B2B buyers and procurement personnel are consumers in their personal lives, the expectation for informative, easy-to-navigate digital purchasing platforms applies just as much to buying a new fleet of corporate cars as it does to ordering a new pair of shoes.
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Through interviews with 50 digital and eCommerce leaders from US-based B2B organizations with at least $500 million in annual revenue, Accenture Interactive set out to explore what brands are doing and plan to do in the next few years to accelerate this eCommerce shift as the benefits are distinctly in their favor.
This report offers insight into how successful B2B organizations in the United States have been in their efforts to push and pull customers online, the tactics they’re using to promote the transition, and the main barriers to capturing more online dollars.
B2B organizations aren’t new to the eCommerce game, but many still struggle to persuade clients to buy online and drive meaningful revenue from existing online channels.
In the study, half of the participants reported that their organizations receive less than 10 percent of their revenue from online sales, and only 19 percent report that online sales account for more than half of their revenue.
Longevity is key. Fifty-five percent of “digital-first” B2B organizations (those with 5+ years of eCommerce experience) report that more than half of their customers currently complete transactions online, compared to only 22 percent completion for “lagging” firms.
Similarly, eCommerce maturity correlates with the percentage of revenue organizations derive from online. Thirty-three percent of the digital-first B2B organizations see more than one-third of their revenue come from online sales, compared to six percent of lagging organizations.
Investing time and budget for digital ROI
For plenty of B2B organizations, eCommerce is far from uncharted territory. But while many firms have spent “time” trying to shift their customers online, they show more restraint when it comes to spending “money” to do that.
Forty-three percent of respondents said they began implementing eCommerce strategies more than five years ago. However, most (54 percent) spend only ten percent or less of their marketing budgets on campaigns to promote online purchasing. Thirty-two percent of these digital-first B2B organizations set aside at least 36 percent of their marketing budgets to driving customers online.
Fifty percent of mid-maturity firms (those that began focusing on eCommerce three to five years ago) spend more than 10 percent of their marketing budgets to these efforts. Seventy-eight percent of laggards spend an extremely small percentage of their budget (less than 10 percent) on eCommerce strategies.
Forty-four percent of organizations that receive more than half of their revenue from online sales dedicate at least 36 percent of their marketing budgets to eCommerce. Eighty-seven percent of the firms with online sales accounting for up to 20 percent of revenue devote 35 percent or less of their marketing budgets to these efforts.
In regards to eCommerce results, B2B organizations get what they put in. Firms willing and able to dedicate time and budget toward fine-tuning their online purchasing programs consistently yield the returns to show for it.
How Customers Engage Online
Today, B2B customers have a variety of buying channels to choose from when making a purchase. According to respondents, B2B company websites are one of the top channels available to buyers – second only to dealing with an in-person sales representative – even though so many firms struggle to capture revenue from them.
Managing Director, Accenture Interactive
Even with limited budgets, B2B organizations experiment with a combination of tactics, both analog and digital, in order to spur existing and new customers to transact online. Most firms rely on traditional marketing tactics such as email blasts and direct mail, more so than digital promotions or website enhancements.
Almost all participating organizations provide support over the phone (either via direct calls or click-to-call) for customers that shop online, likely in response to customer demand. Accenture Interactive’s 2014 State of B2B Procurement study found that one-third of buyers cite phone support as their preferred sales representative involvement.
In an effort to drive customers online, B2B organizations can’t neglect the relationship between eCommerce and mobile adoption.
According to the report, fifty percent of interview participants have already implemented mobile strategies; 36 percent have mobile plans in the works and only 14 percent don’t intend to focus on mobile.
The presence of mobile strategies positively correlates with both the number of years an organization has dedicated to eCommerce and the percentage of revenue received from online sales (see chart below). This indicates that, while accommodating mobile shoppers can have a powerful bottom line impact, strategic mobile experiences require time and effort to build.
A number of challenges still stand in the way of B2B organizations’ ability to lure existing customers online and create eCommerce experiences that entice new audiences. B2B leaders admit that internal bottlenecks inhibit many of their firms’ eCommerce aspirations, but many are quick to characterize the customer as an issue as well.
Given the wide range of tactics B2B organizations use to alter customer behavior and boost online sales, it’s clear that some methods are more successful than others. When asked which channels have been most successful for shifting customers online, many organizations realize the power of the personal touch. Spurring more eCommerce revenue requires more than a web presence or an email marketing list; there needs to be a human element involved as well.
For the most part, B2B organizations across industries are taking measures to expand their digital horizons and move into the eCommerce space.
Based on the survey results, there appears to be three core factors that influence customer buying behavior: capable digital channels, human capital and internal engagement.
First, firms must strive to offer a seamless experience across any digital channel they use, whether it’s an eCommerce website, a mobile application or social media profiles. Next, the best IT infrastructure in the world won’t convince customers to shift online by itself. B2B organizations cannot underestimate the power of the human touch when trying to change buyer habits. And finally, businesses need to secure and maintain positive internal engagement – across different departments and personnel ranks – toward their digital initiatives.
Above all else, B2B organizations need to recognize that building out a successful eCommerce presence and process takes time. By giving eCommerce initiatives the time and effort they deserve, organizations give themselves the breathing room to perfect new processes and get comfortable with a new business model. The more comfortable B2B organizations become with these digital realities, the more comfortable they can make their customers.