A study of 300 B2B companies finds that most have customers who want an e-commerce option to make ordering easier and to avoid reliance on sales reps.

75% of companies that sell to other businesses have customers who have said they like buying online, according to a survey of business-to-business sellers. The three top reasons for customers preferring online: ease of purchasing, cited by 72% of respondents; not having to wait for a sales rep, 52%; insight into available inventory and delivery times, 42%.

The study, “Digital Transformation and B2B E-Commerce Report 2017-2018,” is based on a survey of 300 B2B companies in the United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. It was conducted in the second quarter of 2017 by United Kingdom-based Sapio Research and commissioned by Sana Commerce, a Netherlands-based provider of e-commerce technology.

73% of respondents said e-commerce was vital to their company’s overall digital transformation.

As its title indicates, the study provides insights on the role of e-commerce in B2B companies’ digital transformation strategies. And it notes that e-commerce is a core part.

63% of respondents said they have a digital transformation strategy, which can include such things as sharing digital information on updated product details and available inventory among a company’s operating departments as well as its customers. Digital transformation also involves interacting with customers, including for customer service, marketing and sales, through social media and web stores.

73% of respondents said e-commerce was vital to their company’s overall digital transformation. When asked why, 45% cited the ability to directly integrate an e-commerce site with back-end enterprise resource planning software that manages information on such things as customer activity, inventory records and financial records. In addition, 44% said such data integration plays a key role in providing a better customer experience, including more accurate information presented online about available products and pricing.

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“Integrating their web store with their other business systems, such as their ERP, helps them to create a powerful single source of truth, resulting in optimized processes and increased accuracy,” the study says.

88% of respondents said e-commerce was “somewhat” or “very important” to their growth strategy; 85% said it was important for supporting their sales staff and for generating new revenue, as customers find and order more products online, freeing up reps to focus on more complex orders; 81% for cutting the cost of sales.

42% of respondents said they plan to upgrade their e-commerce technology within one year; 34% within two years, 11% within five years.

69% of respondents said they expect the internet of things and automated “machine-to-machine” ordering will eventually play a role in their sales strategy. The internet of things, or IoT, uses internet sensors placed in products to alert users of information related to such things as required maintenance; the sensors can also be configured to automatically trigger online orders of replacement parts or new products.

Following are the responses from companies who say their customers want to buy online, with the reasons customers cited and the percentage of companies citing each reason:

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  • Ease of online purchase, 72%
  • Not having to wait for a sales rep, 52%
  • Insight into available inventory and delivery times, 42%
  • Direct information on prices, 40%
  • Viewing product details, 38%
  • Viewing order history, 25%
  • Ability to search for products, 13%

The study also surveyed companies on the sales channels they use and plan to use. The following percentages show the percentage of companies operating in a particular sales channel now and two years ago along with their projections for two years from now:

  • Own web store 46%, up from 29% two years ago, no change over the next two years;
  • Distributor web store 27%, 20%, 31%;
  • Online marketplace 26%, 24%, 29%;
  • Mobile apps, 17%, 12%, 26%;
  • Sales reps, 41%, 40%, 37%;
  • Call center, 16%, 21%, 18%.

The study also breaks out information on digital transformation projects by four industry groups—Automotive, Construction, Electronics and Food-and-Beverage—and shows the percentages of each in various stages of digital transformation. It notes, for example, that 32% of construction companies are doing a “fast roll-out in the tightest time frame possible,” followed by 29% of electronics companies, 25% of automotive and 24% of food-and-beverage.

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