Kayleigh Alexandra of Microstartups.org.
Online retail may have started out as a convenient way for B2C shoppers to have modest purchases shipped to them, but it advanced rapidly. These days, it’s the B2B slice of the industry that’s by far the larger of the two: when businesses want to buy in bulk, they turn to the low cost, steady communication and thorough trackability of ecommerce.
That makes it a great time to establish and grow a B2B ecommerce company, particularly since the resources of the internet keep getting more powerful and comprehensive. Overall, you have everything you need to reach the enterprise level — it’s just a matter of being smart about how you grow. To get you moving in the right direction, here are 5 core B2B ecommerce growth tips:
Fill the gaps in your niche
What do you do differently than all of your competitors? What makes you memorable? If there’s no unique offering to which you can lay claim, you should address that. Inspect the businesses in your niche, looking for strengths and weaknesses. What can you offer to make your brand the most logical choice? Maybe your rivals have fairly weak product guarantees — if so, considering countering with rock-solid guarantees, and making that a key part of your value proposition.
This is particularly useful if there’s an unmet desire for specific product types or options, left unaddressed by businesses unwilling to be flexible. If you step in to claim that territory, you can earn customers who don’t have any other realistic options, then inspire such loyalty that they’ll stick with you even after your rivals take notice and adapt.
Improve your sales materials
When an opportunity comes along to introduce someone to your brand, what do you show them? Whether you’re offering up a downloadable PDF, a landing page, or even an introductory video, you need to be providing the kind of detail and polish needed to impress a B2B prospect.
Look at it this way: a typical B2B shopper is likely to be somewhere in the middle of their business, given enough responsibility and seniority to take ownership of sourcing the necessary products but not allowed to have the final say. This means that their top concern isn’t the quality of what they’re looking at — it’s their own company’s buy-in. This is despite the inevitability that they’ll have plenty of knowledge in their field, along with the ability to rapidly identify exaggerated or unsubstantiated claims.
The classic B2C formula of combining urgency, hyperbolic claims and sheer persistence to persuade someone to sell is only going to prove counterproductive. Make the best case you can for choosing your business, backing up your claims with stats, facts, and features, and get as in-depth as is warranted. It’s all about demonstrating your practical value in a way that caters to the prospect’s research requirements.
Focus on earning customer referrals
B2B deals are, on average, much larger and more consequential than their B2C equivalents. B2B isn’t a matter of idly browsing stores, picking out some low-cost items on a whim, and buying them largely because you can. Even in the ecommerce world, it’s about making major business-altering decisions than can affect profitability for years to come.
Because of this, it’s perfectly natural for prospective customers to be extremely wary about the suppliers they’re considering. I’d buy a one-off item from a store I’d never heard of if the deal seemed decent, but I’d need a lot of convincing to order office furniture from such a place, let alone set up a business account and start placing regular orders.
With so much on the line, then, how do you convince a B2B shopper to give your business a chance? You lean on customer referrals. Picking up the first few customers is the hardest part: beyond that, your goal is to make those customers so happy with your business that they’re willing to enthusiastically endorse you within their industries. After all, the stats make it clear that a positive comment from an existing customer can do more to convince someone than anything else you can say.
Provide customized storefronts
So, having established the importance of keeping customers happy, how do you manage that? There are the basics, of course (being communicative, keeping your prices down, reliably delivering on time), but you really need to do more if you want to retain their loyalty for years, because your competitors will invariably make efforts to poach them.
One of the best ways to do this is to give each customer a unique purchasing experience. Instead of having a single URL that every customer visits, you can create distinct versions of your store to suit individual clients. It shouldn’t be too hard if you have a suitably-modern retail CMS that supports password-protected gateways with custom prices and branding.
Not only will this help your customers feel valued, but it will also make a great addition to your sales pitch: anyone who sets up a business account with you will get a secured custom portal to make ordering easier and display only the products they care about.
Start attending networking events
Networking is only significant in the B2C world when it comes to finding business partners and investors, as it won’t help you otherwise. The equivalent is building large social media followings: establishing shallow connections with massive groups of people. But in B2B, networking can be a fantastic way to kickstart the growth of your business (provided you know how to find the right events, of course).
Approaching someone with a sales pitch immediately leads them to skepticism. They assume that you’re operating from a position of weakness, since you presumably need the business enough to chase them, leading them to assume that you don’t have much to offer — or can at least be exploited with a lowball offer.
But if you strike up conversations with prospects on even ground at networking events, you can get to know them first, and form some bonds before any business is discussed. Then, in time, what you do can come up naturally, and you’ll have the opportunity to detail your brand in an impressive way while preserving the strength of your perceived position.
B2B business is about the slow build, making it inherently difficult to rush, so trying to force growth is likely to work against you — but that doesn’t mean you can’t hurry things along by optimizing your value proposition, building the right connections, and making the most of the enthusiasm and goodwill you’ve earned from your existing customers.