Don’t think of e-commerce as an alternative to traditional sales methods. Think of it as a way to make your existing sales channels more effective.

Some people think that launching a B2B e-commerce initiative is a sure-fire way to draw the ire of the sales team.  After all, doesn’t an investment in e-commerce signify the beginning of a competition with more traditional sales functions?

Not exactly.

Don’t think about e-commerce as an alternative to traditional sales methods. Instead, in order to take your business to the next level, you’d be much better off thinking about how e-commerce can be used to reinforce all of your existing sales channels—making them more effective.

According to a recent study, 81% of shoppers spend time researching products on the web before they pull the trigger and finalize a transaction. In the B2B world, the numbers are even higher: 94% of B2B customers do the same before tapping into the company purse.

The internet has opened up a new competitive landscape in the world of B2B buying and selling. It is easier than ever for business buyers to launch a quick search on Google (or, more and more recently, on Amazon) and find products they have never used and suppliers that they have never done business with.  This threatens your traditional sales channels.  But it is also an opportunity.

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When B2B e-commerce is implemented successfully, it enables businesses to reinforce their existing channels while simultaneously entering new markets and capturing new customers.  The end result?  Increased market share and an expanded customer base.

What’s not to like?

Marketing has evolved

The internet, coupled with the proliferation of mobile devices, continues to digitize marketing and sales.  Sellers now have unprecedented capabilities to connect with their customers—no matter where those individuals happen to be.

This is great news for manufacturers and distributors, many of whom have relatively complex products.  Explaining what those products do and how they can benefit an organization requires lots of information—which is precisely where the web and e-commerce enter the equation.

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The web provides an excellent platform to deliver video demos, product guides, pricing information, case studies, white papers and product-centric blogs. Add e-commerce capabilities to your web site, and you now have the ability to reach out to smaller accounts and reach more remote geographic markets that are difficult for your sales force to get to.

The state of e-commerce

As it stands now, B2B e-commerce is where B2C e-commerce was a decade ago in terms of opportunity and maturity of implementations in the market.  Ten years ago, Amazon was still primarily a seller of books and music.  Today, this juggernaut is a household name offering millions of products and dominating categories that once seemed insurmountable for e-commerce.

While many progressive B2B companies have launched e-commerce initiatives, there are still many that haven’t—which puts forward-thinking organizations in a great position.

Manufacturers and distributors have a window of opportunity to be an early mover—by deploying a state of the art e-commerce presence to capture market share and competitive advantage. But time is limited and the window continues to close. To capitalize, you need to get out in front of the oncoming B2B e-commerce avalanche (and make sure you choose the right e-commerce technology platform).

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B2B e-commerce in action

Many companies are making this shift to online sales, for example:

  • BakerHughes is selling online massive oil equipment priced at $125,000;
  • Brasseler USA is selling precision instruments to medical doctors, dentists, and other healthcare professionals via the web.
  • LegalSupply traditionally supplied legal offices with all sorts of office products—for example, legal folders, binders, and legal pads—through non-digital channels.  They have gone to the web, and now they transact a majority of their sales online. They are now having their best sales period in the company’s history, thanks to their e-commerce expansion.

If these kinds of companies can revolutionize their operations by implementing B2B e-commerce, there is no reason yours can’t do the same.

Brian Beck is senior vice president of e-commerce and omnichannel strategy at Guidance, an e-commerce design and development agency. Follow him on Twitter @briansalaubeck and on LinkedIn.

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