6 Steps to E-commerce Success in B2B Seller Marketplaces

Amazon Business is expected to reach $52 billion in sales by 2023; Alibaba and eBay are also competing actively in the B2B space. But these e-commerce giants are only part of the story. How should B2B marketers get in on the action? Read on.

Amazon Business is expected to reach $52 billion in sales by 2023, and is growing faster than its consumer side. Alibaba and eBay are also competing actively in the B2B space. But these e-commerce  giants are only part of the story. Complex categories like oil and gas, chemicals, aviation and manufacturing are taking expense out of their selling processes by setting up industry-specific marketplaces. So how should B2B marketers get in on the action? Read on.

As buyers worldwide become increasingly comfortable with “remote buying,” this is the perfect time for B2B sellers to find ways to use e-commerce to improve their customers’ buying experience, eliminate costs from the selling process, and find new markets.

How to make sense of this all? Here’s a six-step e-commerce process to follow.

1. Develop a Strategic Approach

This is as much a distribution question as it is marketing question, so engage your entire go-to-market team to develop a strategy. Get started by asking these key questions:

  • What areas of our product line are suited to e-commerce? In B2B, the answer usually begins with the aftermarket, like parts.
  • How can we leverage e-commerce without causing strife in our existing distribution channel relationships?
  • Are there elements of our current selling process that could benefit from digital automation? The first step in B2B was e-procurement and EDI. Where else can we find opportunity for speed and savings?

Review Your Options

The landscape of existing B2B seller marketplace options is already well populated.  See what your competitors may be doing on the majors.  Then look at activity in your industry as a whole.  In aerospace, it’s ePlane and Honeywell’s multivendor platform GoDirect Trade. In chemicals, it’s CheMondis, launched in Europe to serve the global market. Manufacturers use Asseta for semiconductor parts.

Keep Close to Your Customers

Listen to how they want to buy from you. Especially your key accounts. You’ll find them your best source for actionable ideas for your digital transformation.

Revise Your Marketing Communications

Selling on marketplaces means a different approach from traditional lead generation and sales enablement, in two ways, explains Liz Brohan, co-CEO of CBD Marketing in Chicago.

First, it’s a direct selling environment, so you’ll need product images, videos, descriptive copy, and the keywords most relevant to buyers. This means giving up a certain amount of control, as your selling materials will have to comply with standards set by the marketplace.

Second, you’ll be on the same platform with your direct competitors, so focus on how to stand out and how to differentiate. This may be through thought leadership content, top quality video, and keen attention to your pricing. “On marketplaces, B2B marketers need to think about building brand awareness, almost like a CPG company,” says Brohan.

Ramp Up Your Own E-commerce

Most B2B companies expect e-commerce to comprise 40% of their topline revenue by 2025, according to Digital Commerce 360. Opportunity is everywhere. Not just parts and aftermarket.  Examine areas of your selling process that can be shifted to self-service online.

Watch Amazon Like a Hawk

It’s no secret that Amazon is revolutionizing B2B e-commerce. It continues to disrupt, experimenting with private-label products in categories like MRO and office supplies, thus going into direct competition with their sellers. Amazon also has introduced Dash Smart Shelf, an automatic replenishment system for office supplies. Businesses who chose to sell at Amazon Business are in for a roller coaster ride.

The opportunity is huge, and so are the challenges.  So let’s get busy cracking this new nut.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Using Ratings and Reviews Sites as a New B2B Marketing Channel

A new mechanism has emerged to help B2B buyers who are searching online for products and solutions: Ratings and reviews sites, where searchers can find out what their peers are saying about prospective products and suppliers, and compare product features head-to-head.

A new mechanism has emerged to help B2B buyers who are searching online for products and solutions: Ratings and reviews sites, where searchers can find out what their peers are saying about prospective products and suppliers, and compare product features head-to-head. Just as consumers use Yelp and TripAdvisor, business buyers can check out G2Crowd, TrustRadius, Clutch.co, Capterra, and others.

These sites work best in fragmented markets, where it can be hard to stand out among the many competitors. No surprise, in the B2B world, it’s software where the bulk of the activity lies. But other categories are being served as well, like business services, and more are likely to come.

The value to buyers from these sites is obvious: Peer reviews are highly prized in the purchase decision process, not only for validating the claims of the seller, but for showing evidence of the product’s relevance to the buyer’s own industry.

They also point out otherwise unseen flaws. “The stakes are high in B2B,” says Vinay Bhagat, founder and CEO of TrustRadius. “Tech buyers need the whole truth before buying.”  Think of the consequences that might accrue if, despite due diligence, you install HR software that produces a critical error, he points out.

On the seller side, it’s a mixed bag. Clearly, B2B sellers want to be found, and praised publicly by their fans. Chris Jeffers, founder of VisitorTrack, says his product’s strong reviews have resulted in inquiries from prospects, saying things like “I saw you on G2Crowd, and I’m calling because your reviews are better than the others I was looking at.”

The reviews also serve as mini-case studies and testimonials covering a variety of industries and applications that would have taken sellers enormous effort to assemble on their own. Injecting the voice of the customer into the selling process is a boon.

But bad reviews can be a challenge and are the nightmare of PR people everywhere. Review site managers make extra effort to validate reviewers, to ensure that the reviewer really uses the product, and if anonymous, is a real business person.

Wondering about the business model of these comparison sites? Most offer free listings to sellers, and free viewing of the ratings and reviews to all. They make their money from enhanced listings, from advertising, and from a mixture of marketing services, like data on visitors looking at reviews in the seller’s category. Many also offer support services, to help increase the number of customer reviews.  Pricing ranges from hundreds to thousands of dollars a month.

Since their emergence in the early 2000s, these sites are becoming increasingly influential in the B2B buying and selling process. Users will write reviews whether the supplier likes it or not. So, sellers do well to jump in and proactively manage the channel to their advantage. Here’s how to get the most value from this new resource:

  1. Get in the game. Buyers are searching there. Your competitors are there. You need to be there, too. “Overcome your fear of loss of control,” says Mike Beares, founder of Clutch.
  2. Encourage your customers to leave reviews. “It’s a best practice to ask customers for a review just after a successful service call,” advises Tim Handorf, co-founder and president of G2Crowd.
  3. Test your way into the various upgrades and marketing services the site has to offer. Some are especially innovative, like offering data on companies that are reading reviews of your competitors. G2Crowd will produce an infographic for you based on pull quotes gathered from your reviews.
  4. Look into the site’s policies and practices in calculating rankings and authenticating reviews. TrustRadius, for example, rejects about 15% of reviews submitted. Also make sure you are comfortable with the methods they use to encourage users to post reviews. Site owners understand that trust is essential to their business models.
  5. “Embrace the transparency,” says G2Crowd’s Handorf. Recognize that your product may not be right for everyone. Respond to any negative comments with empathy, in an authentic voice.
  6. Consider these sites a customer service tool, which can surface unexpressed problems that you can solve proactively. Vinay Bhagat of TrustRadius suggests then asking the customer for a fresh review once the problem has been resolved.
  7. The reviews are also useful to product managers, to evaluate the popularity of various features, and uncover use cases you hadn’t thought of before. According to Bhagat, some sellers data-mine the reviews to measure sentiment, and gain insight into customer needs.
  8. Use the software reviews sites to support your own martech or business services purchasing.

This new channel is here to stay.  It’s up to us business marketers to get the benefit.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.