Multi Channel Commerce: What Wholesalers Need to Know

Monica Orrigo
October 21, 2015

As we all grow accustomed to making convenient purchases online­­––from one-click online ordering to mobile shopping apps­­––B2B buyers are increasingly bringing their B2C expectations into their professional lives. Wholesale distributors looking for ways to increase market share and improve sales performance must respond to these expectations, and many already are. These forward-looking wholesale companies are developing multi-channel strategies of their own, allowing their customers to buy on their own terms––online, offline, and on mobile.

What B2B Buyers Want

B2B eCommerce is expanding rapidly. Forrester Research estimates that B2B eCommerce will top $1.1 trillion and account for 12.1% of all B2B sales in the US by 2020. At the end of 2015, Forrester expects eCommerce to reach $780 billion and represent 9.3% of total B2B sales in the US. Yet B2B has lagged behind B2C in terms of the implementation of multichannel commerce tools that would allow B2B customers to have these consumer-like experiences. In fact, more than 49% of B2B customers surveyed by technology consulting firm Accenture stated that they make business-related purchases on B2C websites. This number represents a significant lost opportunity for B2B wholesale companies. So, what are B2B customers looking for? Ease-of-use and convenience are often cited as advantages of using B2C sites, and thus far, many B2B companies have not delivered in these areas. Asked to cite the top features or functions they wished to see from suppliers in the B2B selling process, 60% of B2B buyers cited enhanced search functionality as desirable, followed by 58% who wished to see ratings and reviews of products and services. 50% wanted improved product personalization or service recommendations. Nearly 70% wanted to see online payment via credit card or other systems rather than relying on the purchase orders or invoices typically used in B2B. Clearly, a great deal of room exists for companies to set themselves apart from their competitors by incorporating customer needs and wants across multiple sales channels.

What is B2B Multi Channel Commerce?

B2B multichannel commerce gives customers the option to choose whether to purchase products on mobile, on the web, or from a sales rep. Online channels in particular can come in several different forms:

  • B2B eCommerce marketplaces: marketplaces where a large numbers of buyers and sellers interact on one platform, like Amazon Business or Alibaba.
  • Direct B2B eCommerce portals: a dedicated eCommerce site for one brand, where that brand’s customers can log in and place orders.
  • Mobile commerce: a B2B eCommerce experience designed specifically to allow buyers to place orders from mobile devices.

A good multichannel commerce strategy involves integrating these new online sales channels with existing, more traditional sales channels like in-person field sales. The more gateways a customer has to interact with your brand, the better. By providing these low-cost, low-touch methods of placing orders, wholesale distributors are not only streamlining the ordering process itself, they are also allowing sales reps to place more focus on new business, lead generation activities, and providing a value-add sales experience when meeting with buyers.

Emphasis on Mobile

According to Forrester, 54% of B2B companies selling online report that their customers are using smart phones to research purchases, and 52% say that their customers are using smartphones to actually place orders. These figures indicate that the ideal B2B multichannel commerce strategy must incorporate mobile experiences. Native mobile applications that allow buyers to quickly and easily place orders on their smartphones and tablets are key.

B2C Best Practices for B2B Multi Channel Commerce

To take advantage of the opportunities that B2B multichannel commerce presents, B2B companies need to integrate B2C best practices, including:

  • Online reviews: Just like their B2C customer alter egos, B2B buyers want to know if the products they are purchasing are everything they’re cracked up to be, and much of that research occurs online. Making this vetting process easier for them is key to making sales.
  • Recommendations and personalization: based on a buyer’s search history and demonstrated interests, many B2C (and some B2B) sites offer recommendations of products a buyer might like. Think of it as an online upsell. It’s also key to give your sales reps key customer information (order history, most-ordered items, etc.) so that they can properly curate and suggest products during sales conversations.
  • Cross selling and up selling: Cross selling is an area where B2C companies have long enjoyed an advantage over their B2B counterparts. Package related products in a bundle and educate buyers about products that complement their purchases across multiple channels.
  • Focus on Customer Experience: focus on making your customers’ lives easier. When determining what features your web and mobile B2B eCommerce channels need, for instance, don’t just look at what your competitors are doing. Let industry leaders on the B2C side be your benchmark. You can bet that they’ll be comparing your B2B portal with the online purchases they make routinely on Amazon. Ideally, your B2B multichannel strategy should enable customers to easily and effectively use any channel––mobile, online, or in person––at any point in the process.
  • Integrate Your Channels: All channels, including online, customer service/telesales, and field sales, should be integrated to deliver an optimal customer experience. Just like a consumer today can make a purchase online and pick it up in store, or go to the store and order an out-of-stock item to be delivered directly to their door, B2B workflows, processes and customer interactions should be streamlined and consistent across all touch points. Make sure that orders coming through each channel are all processed and tracked in your ERP system, to give full visibility on total sales, inventory levels, etc.

As you can tell, there’s a lot to consider when developing a strategy for B2B multi channel commerce. Tell us about the challenges you’re facing. We’d love to hear from you in the comments.