IT consulting giant Accenture recently released a report called, “Channel Shift: Measuring B2B Efforts to Shift Customers Online,” detailing the shift to online purchasing in the B2B market. We thought it would be interesting to compare the results of Accenture’s report with our recent 2015 Wholesale Technology & Sales Survey Report.

eCommerce B2B: Accenture Report Highlights

Accenture partnered with the Blackstone Group to interview 50 digital and eCommerce leaders from US-based B2B organizations with at least $500 million in annual revenue. The goal was to explore what leading brands are doing now, and what they plan to do over the next few years to support the shift toward B2B eCommerce. In other words, the Accenture report focuses on what big brands already successful in the digital space are doing, and the report results reflect that.

Highlights of the report include:

  • 59% of B2B organizations surveyed are now seeing up to a third of their transactions taking place online.
  • 86% offer online transaction options, and only 14% of the surveyed organizations do not offer online B2B purchasing.
  • 92% of survey respondents use email marketing as their primary marketing tactic to promote online sales.
  • Half of the interview participants report that their organizations receive less than 10% of their revenue from online sales.
  • Only 19% say that online sales account for more than half of their revenue.
  • 64% say that customers’ resistance to change is a barrier to online sales.

The study also looked at how long organizations had been offering online purchasing, and how that impacted their online sales. Not surprisingly, the longer an organization had been offering eCommerce B2B experiences (and the greater their spending on such investments), the more successful their efforts.

55% of eCommerce B2B early adopters (defined as those that began offering eCommerce five or more years ago) reported that more than half of their customers now completed transactions online. Among those who began focusing on eCommerce three or fewer years ago, that number is only 22%.

Another interesting fact uncovered in the survey is that while many organizations had invested a great deal of time into their B2B eCommerce strategies, fewer had invested significant dollars. Among the 43% of survey respondents who had invested more than 5 years into their eCommerce strategies, the majority (54%) only spent 10% or less of their marketing budgets to promote the online channel.

Although more than 90% of organizations offered in person sales, making it still the most common purchasing channel offered by B2B organizations, online options are gaining ground. eCommerce B2B sites are the next most common purchasing channel, with:

  • 86% of respondents offering an online option to their buyers
  • 58% offering mobile purchasing
  • 38% using online marketplaces to reach their online buyers.

Handshake’s Wholesale Survey

The Accenture report complements a similar survey that Handshake completed of 410 wholesale distributors over the summer. The Handshake survey set out to discover the organizational challenges, sales strategies, and technology investments of wholesale distributors across a wide variety of industries. The survey found that 44% of respondents had already adopted B2B eCommerce, while 42% planned to do so within the next 12 months.

In the Handshake survey, of those that had implemented eCommerce:

  • 55% had seen online revenue grow by more than 10%.
  • 22% had more than 40% of customers placing orders via online channels.
  • 37% of companies with more than two years invested in online channels had more than 1/3 of total revenue coming from B2B eCommerce, compared with just 16% of those who implemented B2B eCommerce within the last year.

The Accenture report shows similar results, but highlights enterprise-level early adopters in the B2B eCommerce space. These companies showed greater overall adoption of B2B eCommerce, longer experience with B2B eCommerce solutions––and greater ROI as a result.

What Does It All Mean for Wholesale Distributors?

Looking at both reports side by side delivers a number of insights for wholesalers considering adopting B2B eCommerce:

1. Brands must create and communicate compelling experiences:

Accenture recommends that B2B companies focus on two primary areas: creating a better buyer experience and communicating the benefits to users and stakeholders. Just as in B2C, differentiating B2B eCommerce sites with content, promotions and personalization not available in other channels helps drive engagement.

Moreover, since customer reluctance was identified as one of the barriers to greater B2B eCommerce adoption, companies must remember to clearly communicate the benefits of using online channels. Offering early incentives to online users (like discounts or free shipping) can also help to eliminate resistance. Finally, given that organizational acceptance was also identified as an issue, brands must be sure their internal teams are aligned with their B2B eCommerce strategies.

2. Greater investments equal greater returns:

As is the case with any new project, it takes time and effort to see results from B2B eCommerce, but as investments increase, so do returns. In both surveys, those companies who had adopted B2B eCommerce earlier (and who invested more in technology & marketing) typically saw higher returns.

3. B2B eCommerce is now the rule, not the exception:

Based on the Accenture report, B2B eCommerce is now a standard offering for many mid-market and enterprise-level ($500M and up) B2B companies. According to the Handshake survey, it is also nearing a majority among a wider set of brands. Both surveyes indicated that adoption will only increase in coming years. B2B companies that want to be competitive in the marketplace must find ways to offer engaging online options to their customers.

4. It’s time to make the move to mobile:

Mobile is the next frontier among B2B companies at the mid-market, enterprise, and SMB levels. As companies’ online efforts mature, and as mobile continues to be a critical channel, B2B customers will expect companies to offer mobile-optimized B2B eCommerce experiences.

Are You Seeing a Shift?

Are you seeing a shift toward B2B eCommerce in your business or industry? Which of these insights do you think is the most important? Tell us about it in the comments.