September 15th, 2021 | 11 MIN READ

Top Customer-Driven B2B eCommerce Trends

Written by Rudra Bharat

Rudra is a Digital Marketing & Revenue Operations Intern at Elastic Path and a Senior at Boston University.

B2B eCommerce has rapidly been changing over the past few years, and 2021 is no exception. With the disruption of COVID-19, new trends have emerged, and the eCommerce landscape is transforming. B2B companies are implementing new strategies to adapt to the changing consumer needs and take advantage of a growing online customer base, characterized by new loyalty programs, deep personalization options, and AI-based features.

Below are some of the major customer-driven B2B eCommerce trends of 2021, as well as some key calls to action for B2Bs to optimize their eCommerce strategy.

Customer Loyalty Programs:

Almost all B2B marketers strive to find a balance between acquiring new customers and retaining existing customers. However, data shows that:

  • 33% of marketers plan to increase spending on customer acquisition, versus only 18% on customer retention.

  • Additionally, 82% of B2B marketers prioritize lead generation, while 43% focus on customer retention.

Despite these efforts:

  • The probability of winning a new customer is 5% to 20%, and they account for 70% of a mid-sized firm’s revenue

  • The probability of selling to existing customers is 60% to 70%, and existing customers spend 31% more than new customers on average

  • The cost of acquiring a new customer is 5 to 10 times higher than the cost of retaining an existing customer

  • A 5% increase in customer retention can lead to a 25% to 95% increase in profits

With these figures in mind, prioritizing customer acquisition over customer retention can be both costly and risky for B2B firms. By leaving behind an existing customer base, B2Bs can forgo opportunities for upselling and cross-selling, while also losing customer loyalty to potential competitors or customer referrals towards gaining new clients.

While customer acquisition enables the development of a strong customer base and count, finding a balance between both is vital to maximizing sales and growth.

More and more B2B firms are incorporating customer loyalty programs to boost repeat purchases and strengthen customer retention efforts. Loyalty programs such as transaction-based discounts, referral rewards, priority partnerships, and enrollment into reward-based programs have proven cost effective and offered numerous advantages.

Such programs help businesses to meet the increasing expectations of B2B buyers for strong customer service, while also offering benefits such as:

  • Increased brand awareness

  • Simultaneously supporting customer acquisition and retention

  • Boosted upsell and cross-sell

  • Greater customer referrals

  • Improved brand reputation
 

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Customer Personalization:

Expectations for personalization have continued to increase, with clients requiring more advanced personalization options and features; buyers are demanding experiences that are tailored to their specific needs.

According to data from Smarter HQ:

  • 72% of B2B buyers only engage with personalized messaging

  • 69% of B2B buyers are willing to pay more for a personalized experience

  • 67% of B2B buyers will provide personal information to get personal service

As the role of customer experience expands in B2B eCommerce, brands are investing heavily into personalization. By utilizing technology such as Progressive web applications, Headless, and The Cloud, in addition to implementing new loyalty programs and taking advantage of AI, B2B manufacturers are leveraging data and consumer insights to cater to more niche and unique needs.

Aside from product recommendations and shopping carts, businesses are prioritizing personalization in key components and functions such as search, catalogs, pricing mechanisms, and merchandising.

B2B personalization is grounded in boosting efficiency; by making the buyer journey feel convenient and optimized, customers are not only driven to make a purchase, but are also encouraged to buy more.

B2B personalization should primarily be aimed at driving efficiency and is typically built around offering an improved customer experience throughout the B2B commerce cycle. This helps B2B organizations’ highlight how their buyer experience is superior in comparison to its key competitors.

B2B manufacturers that successfully implemented new personalization options and put personalization at the forefront of their efforts enjoyed steadily increasing revenues. Methods to offer a customized and personalized buyer experience could include:

  • Enabling corporate accounts

  • Modifying Search to showcase available and obtainable products

  • Implementing digital self-service options

  • Using mini-catalogs to support internal operations and teams along with the buyer

  • Providing personalized and dynamic pricing to increase conversions

  • Creating personalized product recommendations

  • Tailoring content and promotions to provide unique customer experiences and highlight the right information

  • Effectively segmenting the market to better target and market to B2B prospects

  • Showcasing personalized, real-time inventory availability (Available to Promise, ATP)

  • Delivering personalized error messaging

  • Offering personalized account management

However, it is important that B2B organizations do not become trapped in a B2C personalization mindset. While B2C personalization is based on driving revenue through transactions, B2B personalization drives revenue by optimizing efficiency.

Rather than simply personalizing content, B2Bs should focus on personalizing the entire user experience by re-evaluating and iterating on key features and functionalities on their platform.

Artificial Intelligence:

Artificial intelligence (AI) and its various applications have been a hot topic in business circles over the past few years. Businesses have continued to adopt and integrate AI programs to expand their scale, achieve new targets, and maximize growth.

Market researchers predict that spending on AI-based systems will rise to over $52 billion by 2021, marking a 50% increase over the previous five-year forecast.

Key figures show that:

  • The forecasted AI annual growth rate between 2020 and 2027 is 33.2%

  • By 2030, AI will lead to an estimated $15.7 trillion, or 26% increase in global GDP

  • 20% of businesses say automating tasks such as invoicing and contract validation is the second most crucial use of AI

  • 48% of companies use data analysis, machine learning, or AI tools to address data quality issues

  • 51% of eCommerce players have implemented automation technologies across sales, marketing, and customer service teams to ensure a seamless user experience for customers.

The top three most significant challenges companies face when considering the implementation of AI are staff skills (56%), the fear of the unknown (42%), and finding a starting point (26%).

Moreover, research and data also support that with its large growth and continued expansion, AI will become increasingly applicable to B2B eCommerce operations. With over 50% of eCommerce firms already incorporating AI in some fashion to develop and improve on existing user experiences, there is high potential for new AI-based features.

Some of the key capabilities of AI that are useful for B2Bs include:

  • Data Analytics: Artificial Intelligence enables complex data analysis across systems, while supporting the capturing, organization, recording, and prediction of missing values. This has helped B2B firms gain new insights about their eCommerce operations. Increased access to data combined with predictive analytics empowers them to incorporate changes, transform marketing efforts, and maximize sales.

  • Personalized product recommendations: Artificial Intelligence uses demographics and activity to create product recommendations, self-educating and iterating to improve over time. Since personalized product recommendations can directly influence conversion rates and affect sales, many eCommerce companies have invested into AI-powered recommendation engines.

    Thirty-five percent of Amazon sales come from their machine-learned statistical models directed at product recommendation. Amazon launched Amazon Personalize to enable merchants to utilize demographic and user activity data to create recommendation libraries; Personalize studies this data and utilizes algorithms to optimize recommendations, improving sales and conversions.

  • Predictive Analytics and Guided Selling: Artificial Intelligence systems allow B2B manufacturers to maximize their existing resources through predictive analytics.

    Through the construction of predictions based on multiple data points, combined with self-education for improved predictive analytics over time, AI can help B2Bs adapt to changes in an evolving market, react to competitive pressure, and optimize business decisions and processes in an uncertain environment. With guided selling, AI systems can also help with the identification of deals at risk of not being won and formulate predictions about which specific items may or may not be purchased.

  • Sentiment Analysis: Artificial Intelligence can recognize sentiment in speech, with many eCommerce brands using these analytics to aid buyers reading reviews. According to data from G2, over 92% of B2B buyers are more likely to purchase a product after reading a trusted review.

    With sentiment analysis, AI systems can create models that help B2B firms understand customer complaints and satisfaction to modify shopping experiences, further combining this with personalization efforts such as personalized product recommendation.

  • Chatbot: Chatbots have become one of the most commonly used AI systems, deployed by businesses of all types. By using natural language processing, chatbots an engage in direct communication with customers or prospective clients, acting as a frontline customer service platform to provide responses about common inquiries, product questions, and FAQs. A report published by bold360 highlighted that 81% of B2B buyers have left a page because they did not want to fill out a form.

    Chatbots engage users with relevant and contextual information, while removing the need for scheduling or direct communication with sales representatives. The same report highlights a Forrester quote from "The Forrester Tech Tide: B2B Marketing Technologies" report,  “Chatbots add value to B2B marketing by helping buyers progress further into their purchase journeys, improving conversions along the way, and ultimately generating more revenue.”

    Ranging between lead generation, lead nurturing, scheduling, and frontline sales support, there are numerous applications of Chatbots in B2B eCommerce. An estimated 80% of businesses claim to either already use a chatbot or have plans to deploy a chatbot.
 

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SEO and Educative Content:

SEO remains a major priority for all eCommerce sites, and this has been reflected in increasing commitment to and investment in educative resources such as blog posts, webinars, and educational tools. While paid search can help B2Bs place at the top of SERPs, its high cost makes it unsustainable and unfeasible in the long run.

With effective SEO and optimization strategies, B2Bs can rank highly in search engines such as Google and Bing, ensuring that their pages provide the best solutions to a user’s search intent.

Key statistics show:

  • 41% of large companies consider link building as the most difficult SEO tactic (Source)

  • SEO has 20 times as much traffic opportunity than PPC on both mobile and desktop (Source)

  • 82% of marketers report the effectiveness of SEO is on the rise, with 42% stating it’s increasing significantly (Source)

  • 61% of marketers say improving SEO and growing organic presence is a top inbound marketing priority (Source)

  • Google dominates the search engines, accounting for 92.42% of all global desktop search traffic, followed by Bing at 2.61% and at Yahoo 1.9% (Source)

  • Brands and agencies in the USA invested $72.02 billion for SEO services in 2018 alone (Source)

  • Organic search is responsible for 51% of all website traffic, compared to 10% from paid search, 5% from social media, and 34% from other sources (Source)

This is further reflected by an increasing commitment to content. Content marketing is closely tied with SEO and should be made a priority when aiming to maximize and boost optimization.

By creating authentic, relevant, and engaging content, firms can ensure that they are informing and supporting their audiences, while also attracting new visitors to their website. This is critical for visibility and relevance, especially as the market becomes saturated with new players, and major firms continue to drive increased traffic.

Incorporating content such as blog articles, product pages, testimonials, guides, and videos can all create a strong foundation to support other optimization strategies and overall SEO efforts.

Below are some statistics that highlight the importance of content for eCommerce sites:

  • Websites with a blog typically have 434% more indexed pages than those without (Source)

  • Business websites with blogs have 97% more inbound links, which ultimately helps SEO performance (Source)

  • Refreshing old blog posts with new content and images can boost organic traffic by as much as 111% (Source)

  • 45% of all companies say content marketing is ‘highly integrated’ with their SEO strategy. (Source)

  • High quality content and link building are the two most important signals used by Google to rank your website for search (Source)

  • About 25% of Google searches have at least one video in them. (Source)

By implementing new educational resources such as blog posts and guides that feature keywords and trending terms, eCommerce sites can boost ongoing, free, high-converting organic traffic to their site.

This also prevents over-reliance on paid search and ad spending. Furthermore, the expansion of the eCommerce space with new competitors and trends has made SEO critical for B2Bs aiming to acquire new customers and drive traffic to their website.

Developing quality content on a regular basis is vital for effective optimization, and this is reflected in the strong benefits presented thus far to websites that have made content such as blog posts and videos a priority. Here are some key calls to action for B2Bs to maximize their SEO strategy and content development:

  • Curate and refresh existing blog posts to feature new images and rich media, while also incorporating keywords

  • Make keyword research a priority, using tools such as SEMRush and Google Analytics to implement the right terms and keywords in your future content.

  • Make Video SEO a priority, optimizing your website’s videos for different search engines.

  • Leverage local SEO to optimize your online presence and attract customers from local searches.

2021 and Beyond:

B2B eCommerce showcased new opportunities and high growth in 2021. These are just some of the customer-driven trends that represent how B2B companies are adapting to the changes caused by COVID-19, providing customers with increased personalization, loyalty programs, and content, while leveraging SEO and AI to deliver on buyers’ expectations.

Check out our blog on the top Market- Driven B2B eCommerce Trends of 2021 and Technology-Driven B2B eCommerce Trends of 2021 to learn more about how 2021 has solidified B2B eCommerce in various industries and how B2Bs can form a new path forward.

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