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What Is B2B Ecommerce? Everything You Need To Know For Your Business

B2B ecommerce is on a roll. In 2021, B2B ecommerce grew 1.17 times faster than all U.S. manufacturing and distributor sales.

According to a report by Digital Commerce 360, "B2B ecommerce sales accelerated in 2021 in large measure because more business buyers and sellers now see digital commerce as a more efficient and effective way to research and purchase corporate goods and services, according to analysts."

Valued at $1.63 trillion in 2021, B2B ecommerce is a huge market for corporate and business-related product sellers. This guide will give you the 411 on B2B ecommerce, including what it is, why it’s different from traditional B2B commerce, and tips for creating a successful B2B ecommerce strategy.

What Does B2B Ecommerce Mean?

B2B ecommerce sounds technical, but it’s just the practice of using online transactions to sell goods and services to other businesses. For B2B companies, ecommerce has many benefits, including increased flexibility and reduced sales costs.

What Is the Difference Between B2B and B2C Ecommerce?

The difference between B2B ecommerce and B2C ecommerce is built right into their names. B2B ecommerce refers to the online transactions between businesses, while B2C commerce refers to the online transactions between businesses and consumers.

Another difference between B2B and B2C commerce is that B2B companies tend to form long-term customer relationships. As a consumer, you may buy a pack of gum every once in a while, but you don’t have a long-term relationship with the Wrigley Company.

In contrast, some businesses buy from the same vendors year after year.

How Does B2B Ecommerce Work?

Companies following a B2B ecommerce business model use various electronic tools to make their products and services available to buyers. These tools include websites, mobile apps, computers, smartphones, and kiosks.

B2B ecommerce companies typically offer several payment options, enabling buyers to complete online transactions easily. For example, a company may accept PayPal, Google Pay, Apple Pay, Amazon Pay, and several types of credit cards.

Types of B2B Ecommerce

B2B ecommerce is a broad term encompassing several types of relationships. One thing these relationships have in common is that all transactions take place via electronic platforms.

B2B2C

B2B2C stands for business-to-business-to-consumer—a real mouthful! Under a B2B2C model, one company partners with another company to deliver a product or service to consumers. DoorDash is a great example. The company has proprietary technology, but it wouldn’t turn a profit if it didn’t have a network of restaurants using its platform.

Wholesale

Wholesalers buy products from manufacturers or distributors and sell them to retailers. For example, a wholesaler may purchase large quantities of pencils or markers and sell them to a retailer specializing in selling office supplies to business customers.

Manufacturer

Manufacturers use raw materials to produce finished goods. While it’s common for manufacturers to sell to wholesalers, many manufacturing companies also sell to other manufacturers. For example, a company that produces bolts or screws may sell to a company that needs parts for its products.

Distributor

A distributor acts as a “middleman” of sorts, purchasing large quantities of goods from manufacturers and selling them to B2B customers. For example, a distributor may buy car parts in bulk and then sell those parts to a vehicle manufacturer. The vehicle manufacturer uses the parts for business purposes, making this a B2B transaction.

Stages of a B2B Ecommerce Business

Start-up

The start-up stage is when a B2B ecommerce company first launches. Depending on your business needs, you may use this stage to find investors or put together a team of talented employees who can help the business move into the next stage. Before making many B2B sales, you need to learn about digital commerce and ensure your website offers the right level of functionality.

Growth

In the growth stage, you have a steady flow of customers, giving you enough revenue to keep operating. During this stage, you can focus more on the customer experience and look for new ways to automate sales transactions. Anything you can do to streamline your business during the growth stage helps move you into the expansion stage.

Expansion

During the expansion stage, B2B sellers expand into new markets or find additional distributors for their products and services. If you’ve made it to the expansion stage, you may want to look for ways to continue generating revenue once sales of your current product start to plateau. For example, if you sell payroll software, you might want to expand into recruiting software.

Maturity

Once you’re in the maturity stage, you have loyal customers and a strong brand image. During this stage, your revenue remains steady, but that doesn’t mean you can sleepwalk through your day-to-day operations. Continue looking for ways to optimize your website or update your pricing strategy to attract new customers and retain as many current customers as possible.

Examples of B2B Ecommerce Companies

These are some of the most popular B2B companies in the United States. Before you review the list, you should know that many companies sell products to both businesses and consumers. Don’t be surprised if you recognize many—if not all—of these companies from doing your own personal shopping.

Microsoft

Microsoft sells a variety of B2B products and services, including cloud solutions for specific industries. For example, Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services enables financial companies to automate their workflows, increase engagement, and create detailed customer profiles.

FedEx

Sure, FedEx delivers packages to homes worldwide, but it also has a robust B2B business. Many decision-makers rely on FedEx to deliver raw materials, business equipment, and important documents to their clients and colleagues. As a result, FedEx is a critical component of the supply chain for many companies.

DocuSign

DocuSign makes it possible for users to sign documents electronically, reducing the time it takes to close lucrative deals. Many procurement departments use DocuSign to finalize contracts, as it’s much easier to obtain electronic signatures than it is to print multiple copies of a lengthy contract and mail them to every person who needs to sign them.

Amazon

You may know Amazon as an online marketplace where you can buy everything from pet food to Halloween costumes, but it’s also one of the world's biggest B2B ecommerce companies. The Amazon Business sales team offers business-only pricing on thousands of items, including bulk office supplies and furniture designed for commercial spaces.

General Electric

General Electric doesn’t just make light bulbs. It also manufactures a full line of healthcare equipment, including CT scanners, MRI machines, ventilators, and patient monitors. It sells these items to hospitals and other medical facilities around the world.

B2B Ecommerce Marketing Strategies

You could offer the best user experience in the world. Still, people in your target audience won’t know about it unless you develop successful B2B ecommerce marketing strategies. Here are some of the most effective ways to promote a B2B business to key decision-makers.

Social media marketing

You may think that social media is for teenagers with too much time on their hands. Still, social media marketing is one of the most effective ways to connect with potential customers. LinkedIn is beneficial for getting your product or service in front of executives.

Content marketing

Content marketing involves distributing relevant, useful content to your target audience. If you want to sell to business buyers, look for opportunities to create content that helps them save time, save money, reduce waste, or increase productivity.

The best type of content depends on what you sell and what your customers need. If you have a large ecommerce website, you may want to publish a buyer’s guide for each type of product you sell.

Advertising

Even if your online store brings in the bulk of your business, it’s still important to do some traditional advertising every once in a while. Pay-per-click advertising, sponsored search ads, and other forms of advertising can help you attract new customers and make them aware of your business.

Email marketing

Gone are the days of spending thousands of dollars on product catalogs. The top B2B brands use email marketing to send personalized messages to customers. Before you send your first email, get clear on customer needs and tailor your content accordingly.

Customer reviews

Positive customer reviews are worth their weight in gold, especially when you’re selling to B2B buyers. To make reviews work for you, encourage customers to post testimonials on your digital channels and reviews on sites like Google and Trustpilot. If you make in-person sales, instruct your team members to ask customers to leave a review when they have a minute.

Additional sales channels

Don’t be afraid to use other sales channels to promote your products or services. Joining a B2B marketplace can help you get your business in front of new customers, accelerating your progress from the start-up stage to the growth stage.

What Are the Best B2B Ecommerce Platforms?

  1. BigCommerce: BigCommerce is a popular B2B ecommerce solution known for its ease of use. It has helpful features for optimizing the checkout process and processing payments.
  2. Shopify: Thousands of companies rely on Shopify to power their ecommerce businesses. It uses APIs to integrate with hundreds of other tools, putting everything you need in one place.
  3. Adriel: Adriel offers real-time reporting and makes it easy to set up a successful online storefront.
  4. Wix: Wix has more than 500 templates, making it easy to create ecommerce sites that get results. These SEO-friendly templates can also help you attract search engine users to your site.
  5. LifeRay: LifeRay is so popular because it comes with plenty of self-service options to get your business up and running quickly.
  6. Williams Commerce: If you need assistance growing your business, Williams Commerce offers digital marketing consulting in addition to its ecommerce tools.
  7. Episerver: Episerver makes it easy to create a personalized buying experience for every customer. It also has tools to help you use customer data more efficiently.
  8. B2B Wave: B2B Wave is explicitly designed for B2B wholesalers and manufacturers needing to streamline their sales processes.
  9. IBM Order Management: IBM Order Management performs many of the same functions as complete ERP systems, making it less expensive to manage inventory.
  10. OroCommerce: This open-source platform has tools for customer relationship management, inventory management, and more.

Discover How to Grow a Successful B2B Business

With so much growth on the horizon, you should be jumping for joy at all the opportunities available in the B2B industry. At The Ecomm Manager, we’re committed to helping you attract new customers and build mutually beneficial partnerships. 

Subscribe to The Ecomm Manager newsletter to learn how to get out of the start-up phase as quickly as possible.

By Francois Marchand

I’m Francois Marchand, content strategist and editor. I've worked in marketing, journalism, and communications for 20 years. I've been in charge of creating and managing content at Postmedia, Vancouver Film School, and Unbounce. I love helping business leaders, content creators, and marketers of all stripes grow their skillsets and knowledge base to stay ahead of the competition.

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