If there is one thing all small business owners can agree on, it is this: The internet is drastically changing the way we do business.
If your small business caters to other business owners—what is known as B2B (Business to Business)—and you have been in business for a long time, then you are a direct witness to the way the B2B landscape has shifted with the introduction of the digital age.
Where before your sales successes were made up of the traditional types of B2B sales strategies—such as direct mail, walk-in customers, cold calling, and meeting with prospective buyers—it has become imperative that you also have an e-commerce presence.
There is no way around it: People, including your B2B clients, like shopping online.
However, we must point out that just because you will be selling online, you and your salespeople need not panic. As stated in “The Future of Selling B2B Online,” an article from Inc.com, “The Internet is not making salespeople obsolete; it’s making them even more important.”
The article also discusses how pundits have been saying for decades that the internet would make salespeople obsolete, but Inc.com says the pundits had it all backward.
Below are some facts and statistics from the aforementioned article that will put your mind at ease:
“The digital marketing company, the Acquity Group, recently surveyed over 200 corporate buyers with annual budgets in excess of $100,000 on their purchasing habits and preferences. Here’s what the survey showed:
27.1 percent preferred to ‘speak with someone directly to discuss purchase options and walk me through the entire process.’
27.1 percent were willing to do some research, but wanted ‘to talk through purchasing on the phone with a salesperson.’
33.8 percent wanted to do their own research and purchase online, but also wanted ‘to have the support of someone on the phone to discuss any issues.’
7.7 percent wanted to do their own research and purchase online but was okay with ‘the support of live chat to discuss any issues.’
4.3 percent wanted ‘to do my own research and purchase my own product online–no sales person involvement.’
As you can see, more than 95 percent of all corporate buyers want a salesperson to be involved in the sales process and the majority of these buyers also expect a live salesperson to answer the phone when they call. Thus, consumers are willing to buy consumer products online without talking to a salesperson (e.g. Amazon.com), corporate buyers are pickier. They want a real human being involved. They want to work with salespeople.”
Considering the above information, your salespeople can rest easy knowing their jobs are safe. They are not becoming obsolete; it’s just that their jobs are changing. Although your salespeople still have job security, it is imperative that they learn how to sell online.
However, the fact still remains that to compete in today’s B2B sales environment—as well as stay afloat in the future of B2B sales—you MUST have an e-commerce presence.
If you will notice, we did not say you need a website. We said you need an e-commerce presence.
There is a difference.
You can have an informational website and that is all fine and good—it puts you on the digital map so that when your potential customers want to find you, they can. But unless your B2B customers can purchase your product or service online, you aren’t selling anything but your good name and information about your product or service.
You must have a way for your potential B2B clients to make a purchase when they find you online, or you have just missed a sale. Obviously, the major majority of B2B executives strongly agree. An article from eMarketer.com, “The Changing Face of B2B Buying and Selling,” provides the following staggering statistic:
That article from eMarketer.com also offers some great advice for business owners who are wondering how to get started creating an e-commerce presence.
“Direct web stores are the most common type of B2B e-commerce. B2Bs either build in-house or partner with a vendor to craft an on-site experience that will serve their buyers. Features like advanced search, detailed content, custom account specifications, and mobile accessibility are all important. Many B2Bs are enhancing their direct offerings through hybrid approaches that balance a blend of online self-service with human-assisted sales.”
If you only have a brick-and-mortar store or are completely new to online B2B selling, we strongly suggest you read our blog post, Why Marketing (And Selling) Online Can Yield Big Returns for Brick and Mortar Stores.
We also recommend that you do your research before you begin creating your e-commerce presence.
- Read the blogs of successful B2B companies in your niche.
- Notice what type of e-commerce presence they use.
- Listen to their podcasts, subscribe to their newsletters, and follow them on social media.
By doing your homework in this way, you will be able to envision the perfect type of e-commerce presence for your particular business and create success from the start.
Too many times, B2B companies make snap decisions, handing over the building of their e-commerce empire to the builder without understanding exactly what they need and instructing the builder on these specifications. Don’t leave the details of your new e-commerce presence or the future of B2B sales in the hands of anyone but yourself and your team.
Another great place to do your homework if e-commerce and selling B2B online is completely new to you is by reading blog posts like this one, “Bridging the Gap Between Offline and Online Sales to Accelerate Your Business, Part 1.” In doing so, you can begin to understand the difference between the psychology of offline and online sales. It will help you plan out your strategy for your new e-commerce presence in a way that will supercharge the growth of your business.
Keep an eye out for Parts 2 and 3 of our series, The Future of B2B Sales, where we will discuss the best analytics tools to use to learn about…
- The shopping habits and purchases made on your e-commerce site
- The best ways to take advantage of the data you collect
- How the right use of social media can make a huge difference in your B2B sales numbers