Every day, there’s a new hack … a new tip, strategy, or trend.
Staying ahead of the curve is wise. But it can also be detrimental to long-term success. Experts call it the tyranny of the urgent — the pressing need to constantly update, iterate, refresh, and reset.
Nowhere is this tyranny more acutely felt than B2B ecommerce. Already responsible for $7.7 trillion in worldwide GMV, the B2B market is expected to grow even more aggressively in the years to come.
But what about the underlying principles? What about enduring B2B ecommerce best practices … true yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
There’s perhaps no better example of long-term thinking than Amazon. Known for being at the forefront of all things new, it might surprise you to learn that “new" is often the last thing Jeff Bezos cares about:
“I very frequently get the question, ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two.’”
In the spirit of “what’s not going to change,” here are five B2B ecommerce best practices based on enduring principles for today and 10 years in the future …
B2B Ecommerce Best Practice #1: Personalized Marketing
“Personal” is a dangerous word online.
It hints at a big, vague, nothingness … like “engagement,” “love your customer,” and other inane marketing-speak. Alternatively, it conjures up images of Big Brother spying on your each and every online move.
Thankfully, B2B personalization is none of those things.
Instead, B2B ecommerce will become even more personal not because it’s en vogue or on-trend. But because it results in more profits.
This early research stage is happening across channels, too.
A study from Facebook and Salesforce illustrates this trend. The two tech behemoths joined forces to see how multi-channel messaging compared to just one channel.
They took a group of 565,000 subscribers and split them into three groups.
- One group saw only ads
- The second saw only emails
- The third saw both ads and emails
You probably already know how this plays out…
The group that saw both emails and ads were “22% more likely to purchase.”
That seems obvious on the surface. Or at least, logical. It makes sense to us intuitively. Blake Chandlee, Facebook’s VP of Global Partnerships, confirmed as much:
“The combination of CRM (customer relationship management) data and Facebook targeting truly powers targeted reach at scale to create effective marketing campaigns. We expect to see great results as marketers continue to pair Facebook custom audiences with both email marketing and direct-mail campaigns.”
Personalization doesn’t mean throwing in a “Hey $FNAME” merge tag into an email before it heads out the door. Instead, it’s what Blake is referencing.
As a B2B ecommerce best practice, personalization is using CRM data to tailor messaging to individuals and then using automation technology from Facebook, email, and beyond to deliver those messages at scale.
So what’s the problem? Simply put: very few B2B ecommerce organizations are doing it.
As Kyle Lacy, former Director of Content and Global Research at Salesforce Marketing Cloud explains, “Targeting, messaging and measurement aren’t typically coordinated across email and advertising.” Even worse, most marketers admit that they’re “not highly effective at it.”
It’s not a technology problem. The tools are out there. You can both personalize and automate Facebook ads, for example, based on which individual website page someone visits.
You can have one ad go out if they convert, another if they don’t, and another if they haven’t even seen the offer in the first place.
For example, WordStream — a B2B marketing provider — knows I visited their website but never looked at a product page. So instead of retargeting me with something I don’t want (i.e., product-related messaging), they stick to top-of-the-funnel, topic-related messaging instead. ZipRecruiter — which also primarily serves a B2B audience — knows that I visited their site, checked out features and pricing, but didn’t convert. So they send an objection-overcoming retargeting message to convince me to sign up.
That’s the level of granularity we’re after. That’s personalization.
B2B Ecommerce Best Practice #2: Transparent Pricing
Customers used to live in a B2B world starved for information. Markets were opaque and relied on salespeople to educate them.
Then, the internet happened. And since then, B2B customers have more information available at their fingertips than the salespeople often do.
That means there’s no reason to beat around the bush any longer. The easier it is to understand a sale, the faster it will likely be closed … and the more likely customers are to return.
What is the top reported reason for B2B repeat purchases? Transparency in pricing.
Having the “lowest price” was only the fourth most important factor in comparison. That means educated B2B buyers would rather pay more for something, as long as it was easy to understand.
For example, Aeris sells IoT (Internet of Things) services and connectivity to an enterprise audience. We’re talking big, expensive, long-term contracts for complex, custom solutions. There’s no easy way to put it, which means there’s no easy way to price it either.
At least, that’s what you’d expect.
To address the need for transparency in pricing, Aeris recently spun off a new productized service in Neo. It simplifies their large, complex, bundled product and service sale, putting everything out there in the open.
As a starting point, their website offers the long, detailed pricing options that you’re probably used to seeing.
But this doesn’t go nearly far enough. In addition, Aeris also uses interactivity to make pricing even more transparent. Simply punch in your requirements into the helpful calculator on their site:
And they’ll quickly provide a pricing estimate based on your list of criteria.
This works so well because dynamic pricing has been reported to make large purchases both easier and more lucrative.
As a B2B ecommerce best practice, this means factoring in all types of variables — like volume, purchasing history, or market specs — to quickly produce a reliable, transparent price.
There’s a reason B2B pricing optimization is leading the investment pack … and it’s the same reason Shopify Plus offers Shopify Scripts, Draft Orders, and a Wholesale Channel to make transparent pricing and dynamic pricing available at scale.
B2B Ecommerce Best Practice #3: Interactive Content
Casino magnate Steve Wynn once said something to the effect that people today don’t want to watch a show, they want to be in a show.
Let’s take it back to grade school for a second.
What’s the most effective way to learn anything? Lecture and notes? Scantrons? Reading independently?
None of the above. Instead, humans learn by doing.
We need to see, hear, touch, smell … you get the picture. But all of those things are hard to replicate online. That’s a problem, considering 74% of B2B buyers are making work purchases online.
Long, detailed product specs are fine for closing a deal. But they’re not compelling at the top of the funnel. They’re not persuasive nor are they enjoyable.
Now, compare those to the Aeris calculator example above. You get an answer within a few seconds. And the experience is now memorable.
Dynamic pricing with Shopify Scripts is a similar fix. It provides real-time updates as a buyer’s inputs change. For example, Merchology uses Scripts to update cart pricing in real-time based on when a customer makes product quantity and/or size changes.
Interactive demos have been a mainstay in B2B purchases for the same reason. You’re able to walk the prospect through how something looks or works, answering questions along the way.
Polycom has taken this a step further with the Polly Calm video series. It’s like an asynchronous, self-led demo that prospects can use, on their own time, to interact with the company (without requiring a face-to-face with a salesperson).
In fact, 41% of B2B marketers prefer interactive content customers can “access on demand,” and while the use of interactive content is still in the minority at 46%, 79% currently plan to increase their interactive content spend.
As a practical resource, Content Marketing Institutes’ The Symphony of Connected Interactive Content Marketing not only holds a host of relevant data — particularly on the strengths of interactive content as well as the different types to develop — it also practices what it preaches:
Also, Content Marketing Institute’s white paper, Deliver Peak Experiences With Interactive Content, outlines where the different types of interactive content impacts buying decisions the most:
B2B Ecommerce Best Practice #4: Buyer Convenience
B2B purchases have always been more complex than your average B2C sale.
Traditionally, they’re consultative, not transactional. Sales cycles are longer, often requiring more back-and-forth and B2B companies rely on repeat purchases from fewer, although higher-volume accounts. Finding the right type of buyer was a huge priority. And most are either not a good fit or can’t afford you.
All of this results in a massive amount of unbillable time up front. Multiple people are working on a deal, crisscrossing the country, for months before finally closing or seeing any payment.
It’s standard procedure, then, to go for the longest term possible. You want to try and lock people into long-term, annual contracts to reduce the possibility of churn.
There are a few problems with this approach, today, however.
First is consumer behavior itself. People — including B2B buyers — are used to the “Amazon Effect.” They want what they want when they want it.
Second, they’re used to companies like Uber undercutting the competition with better quality and, in some cases, questionable ethics. Startups thrive off deflationary economics. They reinvent the rules of the game, driving down costs substantially for end users as well as delivering better terms.
This B2B ecommerce best practice works similarly. It gives more purchasing power to the buyer and turns a guaranteed long-term retainer into a consumable that can be repurchased … or not.
And that’s the key. In a world where B2B buyers reign supreme, the onus is on your company to continually earn repurchases.
How? By educating, reminding, and reinforcing the value you bring. Not because you’re special. But because you understand your customer’s needs better than they do. Make it convenient for them to choose you over and over again.
Content mapping is one practical technique to do this.
Content mapping splits potential customers into different stages of the buyer’s journey.
- At the top of the funnel, new visitors rarely understand their own needs. Instead, they’ve just begun to identify a problem or pain point in their professional life. That pain has to become real.
- Those in the middle understand their needs and suspect you might have a solution. However, they’re not quite sold yet. Here, interactive content (see above) works best.
- At the bottom, they’re actively inquiring, which is where detailed spec sheets and in-person demos shine.
Most B2B funnels stop there. But even past their initial purchase, current customers need to be courted.
Every page, email, and customer touch-point should take this form of convenience into account.
If someone has looked at your products or services, but not yet inquired about pricing, then sales and marketing should extend an olive branch to get them to the other side.
Conversely, an opt-in might be fine when someone’s expressing interest in pricing, but shouldn’t be a frontline approach to new visitors.
A more friendly, infographic-like presentation isn’t just more appealing, it also does a better job of giving someone what they want at that moment: fast answers. It only takes fractions of a second for our brains to consume visuals. Which is helpful, considering our attention spans are only about eight seconds.
All of this sounds nice in theory. After all, nobody would argue with the benefits of personalization, interaction, or buyer convenience.
The problem comes back to execution. How do you make it happen? How do you give people what they want, when they want it?
When the buyer has more control over purchasing decisions, you get them to take action when you can better predict what they need …
B2B Ecommerce Best Practice #5: Ecommerce Automation
Leveraging next-generation software to sell direct online doesn’t necessarily mean additional time-consuming and tedious manual work on your part.
In fact, it means a lot less work than you’re currently doing.
Scaling your B2B ecommerce business hinges, in part, on automating many of the tasks that steal your time and treasure and distract you from charting your company’s strategic course and working on ROI-generating tactics. Putting many of the mechanical activities necessary to launch new products, initiate new sales campaigns, or execute backend workflows on autopilot is how cutting-edge B2B ecommerce merchants are growing just as rapidly as their first-mover B2C counterparts.
For instance, Shelfies — an on-demand all-over-print clothing and lifestyle platform — is saving thousands of dollars by automating its custom order and fraud prevention process. Specifically, Shelfies is using Shopify Flow, an automation platform that allows Shopify Plus merchants to customize unique backend business workflows and simplify processes so employees can focus on higher-value tasks that drive sales.
With just a few clicks and without any coding, merchants can now put many of the repetitive, manual, and time-consuming tasks on autopilot. In the case of Shelfies, the company is using Flow to create a workflow that immediately identifies orders flagged as high risk and automatically sends an email to the appropriate printing manufacturer requesting that production be halted and the order be canceled.
Since using Flow to automate the task, Shelfies has saved thousands of dollars by automatically halting potentially fraudulent custom orders.
“It was frustrating because we work with manufacturers in multiple time zones which made it difficult to cancel high-risk orders before production had started,” says Nicholas Montgomery, Shelfies’ Founder. “Shopify Flow does it automatically now which gives us peace of mind.”
Besides getting more done by simplifying tasks, driving efficiency, and experimenting for growth, you can also use automation tools to save time executing major sales events. Importantly, you can use Launchpad, an exclusive tool for Shopify Plus merchants, to schedule, coordinate, and execute major commerce events like flash sales, product launches, or sales campaigns in advance. With Launchpad you can pre-plan everything on your to-do list and instantly roll it all back once the sale or event is over.
For instance, when, a global destination for fashion-forward boho-chic beachwear, launches a new product, employees used to work frantically behind the scenes manually changing homepage images, videos, and making the new collection live.
Recently, though, the company began using Launchpad to pre-plan and automate product launches. In addition to saving time, a recent Launchpad-powered product release generated $150,000 in sales in one hour with one style selling out in two minutes.
“This is why Launchpad is our savior,” says Brittney Bowles, Frankies’ Director of Marketing and Ecommerce. “We schedule everything during normal business hours and Launchpad does all of the work for us automatically.”
Ecommerce automation is crucial as your B2B business grows, becomes more complex, and repetition mounts. In fact, ecommerce automation is the key to becoming more efficient without hiring additional employees while simultaneously freeing yourself to focus on what matters most; growing bigger and faster.
Pull up Amazon and what do you see? Chances are, the very same five things mentioned above:
- Personalized marketing
- Transparent pricing
- Interactive content
- Buyer convenience
- Ecommerce Automation
That’s no accident. Just like Jeff Bezos’ sage advice from up above, their strategy revolves around what won’t change, instead of what inevitably will.
The same should be true of the B2B ecommerce best practices you adopt … for today, tomorrow, and into the future.