B2B eCommerce 101: Everything You Need To Know

Zoey empowers B2B businesses, whether franchisers, wholesalers or distributors, to be able to conduct business online through a suite of solutions focused on making B2B eCommerce simpler. 

With a self-service Web portal, a salesperson-focused App and a web-based Admin for managing your business’ data, our system helps you capture orders, run your business and link eCommerce to your other mission-critical business systems.

What Is B2B eCommerce?

At its simplest, B2B eCommerce is online purchasing through various forms, whether it be a website, electronic data interchange (EDI) or other electronic means. 

B2B eCommerce can be conducted with or without assistance from salespeople or other support from a seller. It can take many forms, but the common thread is the online purchase.

Types of B2B eCommerce

There are a number of types of B2B eCommerce that exist, each with their own business cases.

1. Wholesale

Wholesale allows you to sell in volume to businesses who need it for a variety of reasons. Envision a hospital system that needs to order food in volume to serve thousands of patients, doctors and nurses who need to eat daily.

B2B eCommerce in this area takes the place of less efficient, former models such as phone or fax orders, or even requests via email that would have to be transitioned into a real order. eCommerce can be a big efficiency booster compared to previous forms of transacting.

2. Franchisers

Franchisers have to get goods out to various businesses who are in the network, and as such having eCommerce can be a helpful tool to do so. If you’re a fast food restaurant, you want to make sure all your restaurants can easily order cups, packaging, bags, food items and so forth easily, and an eCommerce system can accomplish this.

These orders may have been phoned into a home office or through a rep before, but the SKUs are predictable and easy to itemize, so eCommerce can be helpful to organize these order placing scenarios.

3. Manufacturers

Many manufacturers sell goods to other businesses directly. Imagine the businesses that sell components to major cell phone manufacturers, as an example – they make parts, supply them in volume to those companies, and so on.

B2B eCommerce can be an easy way to capture and manage orders from various businesses, especially when outside the contract model where a set number is delivered in a window. At the end of the day, a B2B eCommerce system helps manufacturers streamline their workflow and save them money.

4. Distributors

Some businesses rely on distributors to get their goods out to various businesses. A distributor B2B eCommerce model looks a bit like wholesale, but it’s a secondary sales vehicle. Generally speaking, manufacturers rely on the distributors to get their goods out, vs. them doing it themselves.

5. B2B2C

Business to business to consumer (B2B2C) is an eCommerce model that combines B2B and B2C to deliver a product/service. In these examples, the standard middleman that exists in the ecosystem (such as a manufacturer that sells to a distributor, and a distributor sells to the consumer), is compressed. It could be a drop-shipping scenario where the manufacturer sends it directly to the consumer, or other scenarios where affiliates are selling to consumers, but the manufacturer is doing the direct fulfillment.

6. Internal B2B

If you’re a retailer with a few hundred stores, you may need to get bags, literature, demo products and even cleaning supplies out to your stores. An internal ordering portal can make management of such requests and fulfillment much easier than other forms of keeping track of data.

Here, eCommerce works behind the scenes, but serves a critical business role by aggregating all the requests into a single system where orders can be managed, just like any other eCommerce system.

Benefits of eCommerce for Your B2B Store

Efficiency

Collecting and fulfilling orders will get more efficient. 

Many businesses are successful in migrating orders previously coming from other, more manual channels like phone or fax, and moving it to electronic formats. By concentrating orders in a system made for taking and managing orders, it makes it easier to see the business’ health at a glance and better understand trends, not to mention making it easier to process orders.

Efficiency

Collecting and fulfilling orders will get more efficient. 

Many businesses are successful in migrating orders previously coming from other, more manual channels like phone or fax, and moving it to electronic formats. By concentrating orders in a system made for taking and managing orders, it makes it easier to see the business’ health at a glance and better understand trends, not to mention making it easier to process orders.

Data Accessibility

Easily share data with other mission critical systems.

If you have a CRM, ERP, accounting software or other tools you use to manage the business, a modern B2B eCommerce platform will be able to easily integrate with them, passing over order data and taking in product or customer data, just to offer a couple of examples. Your eCommerce software can send QuickBooks the information when an order is placed, for instance, so an invoice can be generated and sent to the customer.

Tools for All

Your entire team will see benefits to their workday.

Nowadays eCommerce serves a variety of purposes, supporting salespeople, marketing, warehouse and fulfillment, accounting and more. When implemented correctly, eCommerce takes the pressure off of every team by providing a solution that can enhance the efforts everyone on the team is making to simplify selling, engaging with buyers and order management.

Tools for All

Your entire team will see benefits to their workday.

Nowadays eCommerce serves a variety of purposes, supporting salespeople, marketing, warehouse and fulfillment, accounting and more. When implemented correctly, eCommerce takes the pressure off of every team by providing a solution that can enhance the efforts everyone on the team is making to simplify selling, engaging with buyers and order management.

Tactics B2B eCommerce Should Learn from B2C

While B2B eCommerce has specific requirements that can differ from B2C eCommerce, there’s a number of reasons that there’s overlap between the two types, not the least of which is that B2B buyers are also B2C buyers when they get home. As such, they’ve come to expect certain features, including:

  • Self-service ordering: Increasingly, B2B buyers are comfortable and confident shopping by themselves online, given they do it for themselves. The days where a salesperson needs to be involved in every sale is over, so the ability to log on, find products and pricing specific to them and being able to check out on their own is something that B2B businesses should offer as a baseline.
  • Faceted search: Search should allow filtering by various attributes, especially when trying to drill down to the right part sizes, for instance. Fuzzy search also helps by forgiving a typo here or there. This is especially critical for B2B businesses selling a large array of products; this is less important for those with smaller (under 100 items) catalogs.
  • Account history: Buyers nowadays expect to be able to review past orders, check for invoices to ensure they’re paid, save billing and shipping addresses to their account and more. While there’s a B2C-centric aspect to this, B2B features that extend them can get bolted onto these in particular.
  • Easy support access: You can leverage tools that B2C sites offer, like live chat or support, through the website as well, and route these inquiries to a given buyer’s salesperson or support rep, to ensure a consistent experience across any communication channel. Live chat is proven to help with conversion rates by allowing questions to be answered in real time, instead of interrupting a purchase flow that may not ever resume.
  • Tiered pricing support: While many B2B businesses have specific pricing for customers or customer groups, some are straightforward volume pricing systems, and tiered pricing (where the price changes as the volume increases) is something that has a place in B2C eCommerce as well.

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Our customer success team would love to help you find the best eCommerce business platform or order management solution or to help you expand your sales.

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a personalized demo of Zoey.

B2B vs. B2C eCommerce

Having mentioned ways B2B eCommerce can borrow best practices from B2C, there are things that differ between the two:

  • Make it quick and easy: B2C eCommerce customers shop; B2B eCommerce customers buy. B2C stores work on discovery and exploration through visual eCommerce sites, as many B2C buyers will look around and add additional things to their cart in the moment. B2B orders tend to be pretty structured, with specific items ordered on specific cycles, for instance. While discovery and upselling does occur, the primary goal is to make it easy to build an order and checkout, which means less frills and more focused on getting the job done.
  • Bulk order building tools: The B2B eCommerce experience is different from B2C since B2B eCommerce is built around making building complex or larger orders easier. An example is Quick Order, a tool that lets quantity and SKU pairings be entered quickly and easily, for those who order the same items regularly. Another is a category page that allows multiple items to be added to the cart at once. A third is a reorder capability that can lift a previous order and use that as a foundation for building a new order. Each of these aim to simplify setting up a bulk order, superserving regular buyers who just need to get the order in.
  • Not always a full-blown website: Many B2B sellers don’t want to maintain a full website for bulk ordering, so instead they opt for a stripped back order portal. This works hand in hand with the quick and easy aspect, by stripping away complex design and putting the ordering process (as well as account information management) front and center. The no-frills approach eliminates distractions and keeps the buyer focused on completing the purchase. By comparison, most B2C experiences tend to be designed with a very particular look and feel, to deliver an experience.
  • More complex segmentation supported: B2B buyers may be segmented by all sorts of reasons, from business size to pricing structure to geography. Customer groups, catalog groupings, pricing segmentation, billing and shipping assignments and more can all separate one customer from another in various ways to deliver a more personalized experience that the B2B sale requires. Meanwhile, in B2C, everyone will traditionally see the same price, payment terms, service, and product information.

B2B eCommerce Trends

Some trends seen in recent years in B2B eCommerce include:

  • More core features in B2B eCommerce solutions: It wasn’t that long ago that B2B eCommerce was many times custom built, because most platforms were focused specifically on B2C eCommerce workflows. Now, more solutions exist and more core features are appearing to reduce the need to custom build a store. That said, there’s a vast gap between the most fully featured offerings and more basic ones, so doing your homework on what features you need can help narrow down which options will be viable for a new solution.
  • Self-service eCommerce is a must: As mentioned earlier, more buyers are becoming comfortable purchasing online and therefore are expecting the ability to do just that with their B2B buying as well. So supporting that use case is important to building your sales volume.
  • Salespeople still matter: Despite the ability for some sales to shift to self-service, many buyers will still rely on salespeople for help with questions or more specific order types. So they need better tools too, and a top B2B eCommerce solution will have capabilities built with the sales team in mind as well, not just the buyers.
  • Mobile options are quickly improving: Mobile apps can empower your team to look up information and capture sales in real time as orders are placed directly into your eCommerce system. In that way, orders captured by your team, as well as those that are placed directly by your buyers, will aggregate into a single solution. The best mobile apps focus on making your sales team productive, as opposed to catering to your buyers, as it’s more likely your sales team placing orders on the go on behalf of your buyers.
  • Directly built integrations and data accessibility: Most platforms are offering self-built integrations to the core solutions their sellers need on a day to day basis, taking some of the guesswork of how to tie important business systems together. It’s not a showstopper if they don’t support a platform, however, as open APIs and other data accessibility options are increasingly common – the days of SaaS platforms locking in your data have thankfully passed, for instance.

What Do B2B eCommerce Platforms Do?

B2B eCommerce platforms provide a central location for buyers, salespeople, customer support, accounting and fulfillment to manage information of customers, products and orders; capture orders and centralize them in one location; allow all parties to track fulfillment as the order progresses through the various stages; and allow for invoicing and payments.

The days of eCommerce simply focusing on order placement and fulfillment alone has come to an end, as there’s a lot of layers to successfully managing a B2B eCommerce workflow.

A B2B eCommerce platform can sit at the center of the business’ universe, and be the primary vector where business is managed, or it can link to other critical business systems that serve as the hub, being one part of the ecosystem. The best systems can allow for either version, depending on which process is most beneficial for the business.

B2B eCommerce Best Practices

There are a number of best practices that will make a B2B eCommerce launch successful:

  • Personalization: Ensuring a buyer’s proper pricing is displayed, order history available and catalog present will provide the confidence necessary that placing orders online will yield the same outcome as working through a salesperson.
  • Education: Many B2B businesses will be transitioning from older, less user friendly ways to place orders, or will have buyers reliant on their team for help. Education, either through salesperson introductions, video tutorials or other such materials that can acclimate your buyers to the new solution, can go a long way to transferring those sales to where you want them to live today.
  • Integration: To avoid costly data duplication efforts and human error mistakes, everything should be ideally placed in the eCommerce system, and if the data needs to flow elsewhere, it should be integrated so it happens automatically. Businesses can get bogged down by a set of systems that can’t talk to each other, and data accessibility is better than it ever has been.

Challenges in B2B eCommerce

The major challenges in B2B eCommerce will likely not be surprising to those who have been in a B2B selling environment for some time:

  • Adoption: Some customers are not tech savvy, or prefer to do things the way they’ve always done it. There are ways to slowly encourage buyers to get comfortable, but the ones who are most resistant could force old methods to stick around for awhile.
  • Internal Friction: Some organizations fear change, and B2B eCommerce in particular causes some organizations to stress that somehow their salespeople will be harmed by self-service orders. If implemented correctly, B2B eCommerce should free up salespeoples’ time to grow their book of business, increasing their sales overall, not hindering it.
  • Underbaked: There are too many examples of businesses who underinvest in their IT investments and try to make more with less. This ends up creating more work for themselves than if they did it right. This one is easily avoided by being realistic about a budget for such initiatives, which can and do pay for themselves when done correctly.

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Our customer success team would love to help you find the best eCommerce business platform or order management solution or to help you expand your sales.

Fill out the form to request
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Lessons from Winning B2B eCommerce

Many successful B2B eCommerce businesses have leveraged best practices. For example, Grainger’s website gets held up as a prominent successful example of B2B eCommerce. A few ways B2B eCommerce business have been successful include:

  • Strong product location: Strong product navigation and drill down tools are particularly essential when your catalog is larger, and is bolstered by faceted search, filtering and good product category hierarchies. 
  • Bulk ordering tools: Easy ways to build a cart and checkout in bulk will ensure self-service transactions can be conducted with ease.
  • Salesperson-focused capabilities: Sales quotes, mobile apps and other tools can help your salespeople work successfully with your clientele to close sales in an assisted sales model.
  • Robust billing and invoicing options: Whether you’re managing invoicing inside the B2B eCommerce solution itself, or through a third party tool, the solution needs to be able to react and manage various billing scenarios, whether Net Terms, Credit Card, Invoicing, Buy Now Pay Later, etc.
  • Proper integrations: As mentioned already, linking your critical business systems will save a lot of time and money, as well as errors and aggravation, by shifting data from where it starts to the various places it needs to end up.

Lessons from Mistakes in B2B eCommerce

Many times B2B eCommerce businesses misjudge what they need to succeed. These mistakes include:

  • Thinking too small: B2B eCommerce has evolved quickly, and so many earlier iterations were very specific functionality a business thought they needed at the time, built custom with very challenging ways to grow and evolve. Zoey customer Burt Process switched from such a system to Zoey, and found their ability to improve their online presence and grow their business quickly unlocked compared to a custom build that got in the way.
  • Protecting old processes: Forcing all sales to go through a salesperson-led process may give a sales team a sense of security, but it is also very costly, especially for transactions that are straightforward and repetitive. We’ve talked to businesses who can’t wrap their head around a different process, feeling they need to protect the old way of doing things, and it creates hurdles to success.
  • Not planning ahead: If you pick a solution that barely can manage what you’re doing today, it’s going to become a problem when you need to do something new or different tomorrow. Having a solution with the room to grow will reduce the risk of your business being trapped in a subpar solution.
Zoey logo 2020
Zoey logo 2020

How Zoey Helps B2B Online Stores Grow

Zoey provides robust, efficient tools for making conducting B2B eCommerce online simple and easy. Your buyers can count on seeing their customer-specific catalogs, pricing and payments, so they know they’re getting the pricing they qualify for, and your salespeople can easily work with your buyers to provide information and capture orders. A more efficient process, combined with your buyers having the ability to place their own orders, unlocks more time to grow your book of business and expand your sales reach.

Let’s get started together – contact us to schedule a demo and learn more about how Zoey can support your business:

FAQs Around B2B eCommerce

At its simplest, B2B eCommerce is online purchasing through various forms, whether it be a website, electronic data interchange (EDI) or other electronic means. B2B eCommerce can be conducted with or without assistance from salespeople or other support from a seller. It can take many forms, but the common thread is the online purchase.

Any industry where there are businesses selling to other businesses can take advantage of B2B eCommerce, as the process tends to be similar, albeit small differences can exist.

Many direct to consumer brands can benefit from a wholesale channel, especially when others are distributing their products as well. If your business model includes products developed and sold in house, a wholesale channel can expand distribution to other places you can’t reach as a business yourself, or serves to make your products more widely available.

B2B eCommerce is a more efficient way of getting things done, reducing demands on your team and enabling self-service purchasing to be possible. This frees up your team to grow your book of business.

B2C customers shop and B2B customers buy. B2C eCommerce succeeds in part on discovery and exploration, whereas B2B eCommerce is much more transactional, and many times more repetitive purchases.

The type of eCommerce has less to do with profit and more to do with maximizing the sales opportunity. B2B eCommerce tends to have thinner margins, but higher volumes, than B2C eCommerce. Price competition is higher, but the order volumes justify such levels of competition, as a few pennies per unit can make a significant difference given the size of the orders.

For the most part, B2B eCommerce as a flow is the same. However, the presentation may differ, whether using a public-facing website vs. a private, stripped down order portal. Some business types may lean more on sales quotes to generate draft orders before a purchase. But the need to order specific SKUs in larger quantities is an aspect that will be similar across the board.

Ready to START?

Our customer success team would love to help you find the best order management solution or ecommerce flow to help you grow and expand your sales.

Fill out the form to request a personalized demo of Zoey.
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Ready to START?

Ready to START?

Fill out the form to request a personalized demo of Zoey.