Industry Insights

Elastic Path Examines the B2B Commerce Struggle

Erika Jones

By Erika Jones

October 3, 2019

B2B, ecommerce, Elastic Path

The online marketplace is filled with commerce sites, as most brands or distributors rely on online sales. This goes for practically any industry — everything from fashion to industrial goods. Even supermarkets and food services have evolved into large-scale online presences with the introduction and success of grocery delivery and meal subscription services like Hello Fresh.

Each industry has specific John Bruno, Elastic Path talks the B2B Commerce Puzzleneeds, and it is essential to tailor an online commerce experience to the users who will be engaging with it. While B2C businesses are progressing and making marked technical strides, some B2B websites are falling behind. This lag primarily stems from B2B sellers not prioritizing the unique needs of their business customers to the same extent as the B2C seller. This poses a significant issue. All customers desire a seamless digital commerce experience, and B2B buyers are no exception.

Recognizing the disconnect, Elastic Path has released a report revealing that while B2B merchants are investing in online modernization, they’re falling woefully short of their desired outcomes and many are even losing customers due to less than fantastic commerce experiences. The report entitled, Solving the B2B Commerce Puzzle, shows a notable discourse between what B2B sellers believe to be true about their venture efforts versus how they’re really paying off.

During June of 2019, Elastic Path surveyed 300 B2B decision-makers from commerce, marketing, sales, and IT departments, spanning industries including food and beverage, consumer goods, wholesale distribution, manufacturing, and high tech.  The broad sampling in the study allowed for a more accurate depiction of the B2B marketplace.

The report makes it clear that despite businesses feeling that they’re doing everything they can to offer the best B2B buyer experience, in reality, that’s simply not the case. The wholesale buyers of today are digitally savvy with the same expectations for modulated online experiences that exist in the B2C world. Given this pressure to keep up with trend demands have resulted in far too many B2B businesses implementing legacy B2C commerce tools that don’t benefit the B2B buyer. The B2B landscape differs greatly from that of B2C. According to Gartner, 75% of B2B buyers agree that their purchases typically involve people from a wide variety of roles, teams, and locations whereas the typical, non-business consumer simply doesn’t require that level of complexity.

Further emphasizing the B2B commerce shortfalls, Elastic Path’s report outlines a list of the top technologies that companies should already have in place to improve digital commerce for B2B customers. Unfortunately, many B2B businesses lack these essentials. As a specific example of those surveyed, only 51% offer account-specific buying agreements and a mere 34% offer bulk ordering options. For the other technologies on Elastic Path’s list, businesses reveal a meager 14% to 58% implementation range, highlighting that, on average, more than half of B2B companies are not utilizing the proper technologies for customer retention.

For B2B, it is essential to think about their fellow business customers. The B2B customer is looking for something that is streamlined, and that will ultimately make their workflow easier. The business consumer’s commerce experience is their job and only one part of it. Options and features that are designed to be commercially considerate by making the purchase process faster and easily repeatable will take precedence over a website that is fashioned to operate as a B2C site.

My Key Takeaways from The Report

  • 82% of respondents agree that a failure to improve their commerce experience will negatively impact customer retention in the next year.

  • 45% say they have lost a customer due to the quality of their commerce experience.

  • 52% of respondents believe Amazon Business poses a threat to their companies.

  • While 82% of respondents have invested in CRM services:

    • only 54% offer e-signature solutions

    • only 38% offer real-time quoting

    • and a paltry 35% offer mobile support

John Bruno, VP of Product Management at Elastic Path, is quoted as saying, “in the B2B space, it’s either innovate or die. B2B commerce is due for a revolution. B2C commerce tools do not work for B2B businesses, and they never will.” I was fortunate to connect with John to further delve into why this B2B disconnect is happening and gain his insights on the report’s findings.

Let's start with the basics. The report states that “while 91% of respondents agree their company is investing enough money and resources into improving the digital customer experience, those investments are not making the intended impact.” Where are most businesses spending their DX budget, and where do you think they should be spending it?  

"Businesses are investing in digital transformation in hopes of catering to increasingly digitally-focused customers. However, most B2B companies have been putting their budgets towards traditional B2C commerce platforms. These platforms don’t address the specific needs of B2B sales. B2C solutions can’t effectively cater to the complex buying scenarios of B2B, so brands should be investing in technology that is specifically designed for B2B business.
Additionally, brands need to put more of their digital transformation budget toward technology that helps B2B salespeople better serve their customers. While 82% of respondents in our study report that they’ve invested in CRM and other basic offerings, only about one-third have invested in technologies that help salespeople spend less time on admin tasks and more time on consultative selling. As simple tasks — like reordering — become increasingly self-serve, brands can get much additional value from their salespeople by empowering them to be more consultative to their buyers."

What challenges exist for B2B businesses in the digital marketplace that may not be factors for B2C businesses? 
"B2B sales are much more complex than B2C. Not only do B2B businesses have longer sales cycles that cross multiple channels, but those sales cycles are dictated largely at the contract or project level. Pricing, points of contact, terms, and more vary from buyer to buyer, and this complexity often still requires support from a salesperson to bring a deal to close. These high-touch experiences work well in the analog world but have been difficult to translate to digital channels with 45% of respondents reporting they’ve lost a customer due to the quality of their commerce experience.
These transactions are much more complicated and cross both digital and physical touchpoints. They also rely on both excellent digital experiences and sellers maintaining strong customer relationships. Run-of-the-mill B2C platforms simply cannot meet these requirements, and they fail to support the salesperson throughout the buyer journey."
The report mentions that “66% of C-suite respondents believe the digitization of commerce will cause their companies to decrease the number of salespeople they employ.” How can salespeople stay important and valuable in the increasing digital B2B landscape? How may their role change as their companies progress? 

"We’re not looking at the death of the salesman in B2B, but B2B sales are certainly changing course toward a more consultative approach. Many B2B brands have already invested in features that digitize the sales process — like digital payment processing. Digital transformation allows business to move much of the admin work off of salespeople and free up more of their time for consultative selling. This is where B2B salespeople can really bring value. Sellers know that their time is better used when acting as a resource and consultant for their buyers rather than an administrative order-taker. Sellers who strategically make the most of the digital technologies afforded to them to do things like monitor trends and proactive make suggestions will help them build stronger, more trusted relationships and really show their value."
What tools in the Elastic Path platform can help B2B businesses become more successful and aid them in increasing their customer retention?  

"At Elastic Path, we’re making B2B a priority by creating solutions that are built for how B2B businesses actually operate. The Elastic Path platform translates the analog relationship to the digital world with capabilities to model complex buying organizations and their permissions, showcase customer-specific product catalogs, accurately represent customer-specific pricing, and offer job or context-specific carts and lists. These tools close the digital experience divide in B2B and enable sellers to be more consultative throughout a much more complex buying process. We’re also building for the future. By taking an API-first approach, Elastic Path is creating technology that is flexible enough to get them started today but also ensure brands are set up to adapt to future changes in B2B commerce that we may not yet see coming."

Ending Thoughts

At an event this past summer, I sat down with Brooke Logan from HD Supply, a customer of Bloomreach which is an Elastic Path partner. Brooke described their recent website re-design and how they were able to create a platform that met all the needs of their diverse B2B clientele. Watch our interview to learn what features HD supply was able to implement for their B2B customers.

The study makes it clear that B2B brands need B2B focused platforms. B2B businesses need to rise to the occasion and take advantage of the technologies available to keep their businesses relevant to encourage high customer retention.

Erika Jones

Erika Jones

Erika Jones is a Tech Reporter and Content Marketer with CMSC Media. Erika enjoys combining her creativity with her technical skills through graphic design. She has a background in communications and marketing and has a flair for social media and content creation. Erika is an avid traveller and enjoys seeing firsthand how technology connects us all in business and pleasure.

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