November 17th, 2009 | 8 MIN READ

Key Trends in B2B: Webinar Recap

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.

This post is the Coles-notes version of Brian Walker of Forrester Research's presentation: Key Trends in B2B eCommerce: From Fulfilling Demand To Creating Demand

The webinar is no longer available on-demand, please see the recap below:


  • Growth Drivers in B2B eCommerce
  • The Range of Models in B2B eCommerce
  • The Evolving B2B Site

Growth in B2B eCommerce

Business to business eCommerce has been evolving quickly.

It's harder to observe B2B trends than it is for B2C because there is no leading site you can explore - most of B2B's features and functionality lies behind a veil. Much of the user interfaces, features, levels of integration, workflow and business processes are proprietary.

Key Growth Drivers For B2B

  • Improve operational efficiency
    • Customer self-service and process automation
    • Improvement in order capture and processing
    • Fueled by the downturn and changes in the workforce
  • Build stronger direct relationships
    • Make it easier to do business
    • Develop the brand
    • Improve availability, responsiveness, and service
    • Need to develop a direct relationships with customers
  • Grow the business
    • Acquire new customers in their preferred channel
    • Grow through increased channel touch-points
    • Retain existing customers switching channels
    • Prevent customers leaving with sales rep changes
  • Keeping up
    • Prevent competitors from capturing market share
    • B2B customer expectations are driven by B2C
    • Evolving online B2B models are pushing the experiences forward - B2b, B2B2C, B2B2B

Many B2B transactions still take place through fax, phone, inside and field sales reps. The B2B ecommerce site offers the chance to improve quality, timeliness of order capture and efficiency of process. It also allows for a stronger relationship, making it easier to do business 24/7. This is especially useful for a branded manufacturer selling to boutiques, where the order may be placed by the boutique owner at 10pm after the kids have gone to bed, for example. The manufacturer would not find it cost efficient to keep the call center open at all hours, but B2B customers may want to transact on their own schedule.

The website also strengthens the relationship between the company and the end customer, rather than relying on a sales reps who own accounts, and may take business with them if they ever leave the company.

B2C retailers have learned that multichannel customers increase the value of that customer to the business, and it works the same for B2B.

Often, B2B ecommerce projects are inspired by what the competition is doing. Innovation and competitive pressure is driving much of the growth in the ecommerce channel.

What’s Unique About B2B Sites?

What Makes B2B Different than B2C?

  • Authentication and initiating orders
  • Custom catalogs, prices and offers
  • Orders and lists created over time
  • Order workflow, incl. quotation, punchout
  • Scheduled delivery and fulfillment options
  • Off-line sales integration, marketing support
  • Multiple product and bulk order entry
  • Product configuration and customization
  • Complex promotions unique to B2B
  • Invoicing, Remittance and Reporting

Business to business eCommerce is not simple.

Authentication - Required registration - When you think about direct-to-consumer, you want to minimize the need for authentication / log in. Many B2C sites have learned they need to offer guest checkout for better conversion. Certainly there are marketing and service advantages to customer login for the B2C, but it’s markedly different in B2B where it’s far more important to show proper content, catalog, pricing etc. as part of your negotiations with them or their user type/role.

Unique promotions in B2B - Promotions can get very complex in B2B, with geography, terms offered, order minimums, book-by and ship-by dates determining who is eligible for what promotion. There may be new promotions daily to move product as quickly as possible. What is typically too complicated for a consumer to evaluate is very common in B2B.

Multiple and Bulk Ordering - For this you must enable businesses to order across all the variants of the product (example given is shoes - choose your assortment of size/width/color). You must also show availability dates in same interface, which may vary as you replenish stock. Typically you wouldn’t see this in B2C.

Quick Order Capability - This is when the client can order entire an “end cap” which is pre-merchandised and ready to go with back stock for a retail store.

Product Configuration - The ability to bundle and configure a product to order may involve custom manufacturing and other processes you wouldn’t find in B2C.

Unique Reporting Needs - A B2C site typically wouldn’t allow a customer to run reports on purchase history, but this is common in B2B. A procurement manager needs to find who in the organization has ordered what, and a retail chain with different geographic divisions wants want to keep tabs on what’s being ordered where.

Customer Self Service - Change and view orders, create inquiries, create quotes, view returns etc. are all important to B2B. Customers may still like to call but there’s a benefit to the customer and organization to offer these capabilities online (convenience, cost savings).

What Is Similar Between B2B and B2C?

  • Online Merchandising
    • Search
    • Categorization
    • Cross-Sells / Up-Sells
  • Online Marketing
    • Segmentation / Targeting
    • Recency / Frequency
  • Similar management challenges
    • Heavy product content burden
    • Integrating with large enterprise systems
  • Customer Self Service

Product content (images, information, user guides, reviews, videos) is still important, and even more important than it is on B2C sites when the buyer requires technical specs, how the product should be used and education on specific details of the product.

Similarly, site search is important, especially for industry terms that are frequently misspelled (Latin or brand names, think of the pharmaceutical industry). Autosuggestion is helpful.

Cross-sell/upsell, bundling, product configurators, comparison tools etc. are also very important in B2B.

The Range of Models in B2B Ecommerce

A Range of Models At times supported through a single solution

B2C - .com site
B2B - large wholesale account site -> dealer
B2B2b - dealer -> distributor portal -> small parts dealer
B2b2C - product extranet -> distributor portal -> dealer B2C shop -> consumer
B2E - sales support intranet -> support materials
B2C / B2B - call center
B2B2C - B2B2C platform -> .com retailer site

Example: Viking sells professional kitchen products and has a consumer site, distributor extranet, services extranet and culinary extranet.

An Example of B2B2C or “White-Labeling”

Michelin tires runs the Costco tire store, servicing the tire needs online for the Costco customer, even down to the servicing inside the shop. Especially when products are expensive to stock, it may make sense to seek this kind of support from the manufacturer.

The Evolving B2B Site

The Evolving B2B Site

  • Extreme Personalization
    • May deliver versions based on role, location, contract, buying history
    • Customized catalogs, assortments or product exclusivity to different customers or regions
    • Personalized alerts and reminders of promos, orders, quotes, etc.
  • Searchandising, including guided navigation
  • Improved ordering processes
  • Robust self-service
  • Multichannel integration
  • Mobile UI, apps
  • Content and offer targeting
    • Based on role, segment, ordering history
    • Integrated with marketing tools
  • Merchandised landing pages
  • Promotions and special pricing
  • Visualization tools / Product configuration
  • Managing & leveraging content across channels
  • SEO

Brian showed screenshot examples of:

  • Customized content
  • Rich product content
  • Search results refinement
  • Templated order forms
  • PO history & account details
  • Quick order based on past purchases
  • Product configuration
  • Automated product recommendations
  • Browser search bar for quick navigation
  • Custom catalog development
  • Product care and use instructions

Key Take-Aways

  • Design your site for the customer, who is that end user who needs the product, the information, to self-service?
  • Don't design for the sales manager's goals and expose your "corporate underpants."
  • Employ familiar UI principles from online retail.
  • Focus on marketing and merchandising tactics like cross-sell/upsell, product comparison etc.
  • Don’t let internal business processes, systems, and sacred cows drive the online experience.

Contact Brian

Brian K. Walker
bwalker @

Next Webinar

Bridging the technology and marketing divide for ecommerce success
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
9am PST / 12pm EST

Ecommerce has always created its share of internal strains within organizations. The tension between online vs. offline operations and between brand vs. direct marketing are two common examples. Even more persistent is the tension between marketers and technologists, with both groups accusing each other of an inability to “get it” and acting as an obstacle to an efficiently running business.

Learn about how bridging the technology vs. marketing divide has gotten easier as the technology landscape has changed—while such changes are helpful, they are not sufficient to completely close the gap. In this one hour webinar, Rob Schmults, CMO of Smart Destinations, and Matt Higgins, CTO of Smart Destinations, will share views on the way changes in enabling technology combined with better organizational collaboration can make your ecommerce business faster, better, and cheaper.

Webinar Takeaways:

· How web services, WYSIWUG, and GUI’s offer the allure of cutting IT out of the picture entirely
· Why marketers have to understand the importance of articulating solid requirements—and why change orders are beautiful things
· Why technologists cannot be passive order takers despite the safety such a pose offers—and how they can help marketers focus on what matters
· These lessons are applicable to SMB or enterprises with internal or external resources

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