Digital transformation has been a catalyst for change in the B2B world, especially for the past decade. But change has never been as swift as it has been since the beginning of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Author Radiana Pit | Copperberg

Photo: Freepik

In times of global crisis, businesses accelerated their digital transformation and focused their efforts toward accomodating the needs of their buyers with safety, convenience, and continuity in mind. As the B2B market continues to evolve, buyers gain access to an infinite number of suppliers and new purchasing tools, which makes the business landscape more competitive than ever before. 

Suppliers are now competing for the attention of buyers in an increasingly crowded online market where innovative ways of buying are emerging left and right. The pressure to deliver customer excellence is real. With that in mind, how can you stand out from the crowd and ensure you meet and even exceed customer expectations?

To find the answer to this vital question and more, Sana went straight to the source, interviewing over 1,200 B2B buyers to find out what works for them and what doesn’t when buying online. The findings have been compiled in The power of buying relationships in the evolving B2B online world report, so let’s dive inside it for some key insights.

E-commerce is now the number one buying method in the B2B world

Up to 50% of the participants in the research conducted by Sana have declared that they use an e-commerce platform to place orders. This is a big change for B2B sellers, who now have to focus their efforts on their e-commerce strategies and ensure their platform performance is top-notch. 

Two years ago, only 28% of B2B buyers would use e-commerce platforms for online orders, with the majority preferring email as their top channel. Today, email has become the second most popular among participants, with 45% of B2B buyers using it as a buying channel. 

Additionally, the shift towards e-commerce has enabled online buying to reach an all-time high, with 75% of all products now being bought online. In 2019, only 62% of all products were purchased online, so the 13% increase in just a couple of years is significant.

Today, B2B buyers use web stores and e-commerce platforms not only to place online orders but also to do research and find new suppliers for their needs. Up to 87% of buyers now use online channels to identify new suppliers, which forces B2B suppliers to optimize their websites in order to be positively reviewed, rank higher, and provide as much product information as needed.

With buyers now becoming more and more willing to purchase high-value and complex products online, it’s vital for B2B sellers to implement a product information management (PIM) solution in order to provide the technical insights buyers expect before placing an order. Likewise, it is key to provide access to order history and options like one-click buying to make the reordering process smoother for buyers.

Yet, half of B2B e-commerce sites are failing to meet the expectations of buyers. According to Sana’s research, 50% of e-commerce sites are not fully meeting the expectations of B2B buyers. Solutions for enriched product information, ease of checkout, or ease of repeat ordering are not at all difficult to fix with the right e-commerce platform. Nevertheless, these functional elements of e-commerce purchasing still pose significant challenges for a third of B2B buyers.

Furthermore, out of the 94% of B2B buyers encountering customer experience challenges when using e-commerce sites, 44% are having the most trouble with delivery and tracking. Fortunately, this challenge can be easily addressed via site optimization and a few e-commerce tweaks, but the same cannot be said about the second biggest challenge encountered by 39% of buyers—their relationship with their supplier.

B2B buying relationships are now more important than ever before

Four out of five B2B buyers consider the relationships between themselves and their suppliers as important, with 42% of respondents claiming it to be very important.

B2B sellers are increasingly aware that building and strengthening relationships with their clients is even more challenging when most customer interactions occur online. Luckily, tapping into customer intelligence provides actionable insights that can help B2B sellers up their game and secure customer loyalty.

According to 84% of B2B buyers, a great relationship with a supplier is the key to customer loyalty. Even if the terms of business were less preferential, they would still pick a supplier that they’ve been in a long-standing relationship with. This goes to show that the lifetime value of B2B buyers is much higher than that of B2C buyers.

And although this raises the stakes in terms of customer satisfaction, retention, and management, the nature of the relationships between B2B buyers and sellers is much more professional and steady, compared to the nature of relationships between B2C buyers and sellers overall. 

Today, nearly half of B2B buyers claim to have good relationships with their suppliers, which is indeed good news. But can these relationships get even better? Maybe even excellent in an increasingly online business environment?

As long as sellers view their e-commerce sites as platforms for building relationships not just making sales, the answer is a resounding yes. And in order to achieve that, B2B sellers should provide their buyers with more than a few site tweaks. They should also provide:

  • Transparency, by deriving data insights from their e-commerce platform to better understand their customers’ needs and how to address them;
  • Reliability, by ensuring that order details and product information are accurate and easily accessible at all times;
  • Convenience, by creating a single source of truth for customer and product information to deliver the data their buyers need to easily complete transactions;
  • Personalization, by delivering the right product suggestions and recommendations to the right customers, at the right time;
  • Trust, by making a reliable e-commerce offering that is delivered on every single time.

Moving forward, delivering on these aspects of the seller-buyer relationship will define success. Now that B2B buyers have finally become more open to making bigger online transactions and purchasing even high-value and complex products online, suppliers need to accommodate their needs and make it as easy as possible for their clients to place orders and quickly find the information they need.

Combined with the right e-commerce investments and efforts to minimize order errors, enrich product information, and implement buyer-specific terms, building a solid relationship with customers can help B2B sellers thrive in an increasingly competitive market where establishing a strong online presence and delivering superior customer experiences is becoming more challenging every day.

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