B2B: Glass Is Half Empty on Digital Commerce

The customer experience for B2B and B2C customers may be looking ever more similar, with more and more B2B customer journeys beginning with online research and even social interaction with peers. But the revenue from B2B digital commerce remains low.

That’s the implication of a recent report from Accenture Interactive (“Channel Shift: Measuring B2B Efforts to Shift Customers Online”), which found that half of the 50 senior digital commerce professionals surveyed reported online sales as responsible for less than 10 percent of their revenues.  Of course, to some extent that’s a glass-half-empty view: half of those surveyed reported healthier online revenues: “Fifty-five percent of “digital-first” B2B organizations (those that began focusing on eCommerce five or more years ago) report that more than half of their customers currently complete transactions online, compared to only 22 percent completion for ‘lagging’ firms that began focusing on eCommerce less than three years ago.”

The opportunity to expand digital B2B sales is nevertheless clearly huge.  What are the obstacles standing in the way of buyers resistant to online commerce? According to the report, there are three main ones:

  • Long-term customers are the main hold-out, with around 80 percent of mid-maturity and lagging eCommerce sellers reporting resistance to change. Understandably, this is much less of an issue for digital first sellers, who report only 43 percent of customers reluctant to complete purchases online.
  • But sales teams themselves are also a problem. Perhaps reflecting the perceived resistance of customers, 50 percent of mid-maturity and over 60 percent of lagging sellers are hesitant to drive customers online.
  • Finally, there’s a lack of executive push, with some management resistant to driving online commerce.

I asked Matt Schmeltz, CMO at CloudCraze, an enterprise eCommerce solution built natively on the Salesforce platform, whether the correct takeaway from the “less than 10 percent” data was positive or negative. “This statistic definitely projects an outlook of a move towards greater–and eventually major–adoption of online as an important channel for B2B companies to be leveraged long-term.” he said. “The resistance currently seen both internally around commerce applications that meet the business’s needs and externally by their customers is going to diminish as B2B eCommerce increasingly resembles the B2C eCommerce experience. B2B companies that integrate eCommerce platforms that are scalable, centralized, and user-friendly are going to see the consumer adoption of online channels grow tremendously.”

Indeed, Schmeltz sees little choice for the vendors. “B2B companies that aren’t offering an eCommerce option for their customers are going to begin to hit major growth roadblocks in 2016, which will grow in significance as eCommerce becomes a standard in the industry. Of course the personal value of phone and in-person support for a business will likely never dissolve, but the major portion of business activity will be handled on the streamlined and automated network that only an enterprise eCommerce platform can effectively and efficiently support.”

The report also looked at the most promising strategies for transitioning customers to online sales. Email continues to be the most successful channel–according to those surveyed at least, with around half rating it the most important channel. Websites and direct outreach come next, with social media and editorial content–perhaps surprisingly–lagging far behind.

This suggests, LinkedIn notwithstanding, making social and peer interaction a crucial element in the B2B buyer journey is a problem which remains to be solved.

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