Resistance to mature ecommerce will hurt the industry and the customer experience, writes Tim Beyer of Sana Commerce.


Tim Beyer

Research has found that, overwhelmingly, most B2B sales are still made offline—even when a company offers e-commerce. A study published by eMarketer of B2B sellers found that e-commerce sales represent just 20% of total B2B sales.

Considering this data, if you’re a B2B company making 20% of your sales through ecommerce, you might very well assume you are doing great. And, while you may be doing better than most of your peers, this figure demonstrates—not how little buyers care for e-commerce or how infrequently they want to purchase—but rather, just how far behind many B2B companies are at taking full advantage of ecommerce.

Incorrect assumptions about customers

So, why are some B2B companies so behind?

First, let’s clear up some misconceptions. It’s not that B2B organizations aren’t attempting to be customer-centric in their approaches. Instead, it seems, they’re simply assuming incorrectly when anticipating the buyer needs they want to, in earnest, meet.


Fundamentally, ecommerce represents an institutionalized change for most B2B companies that have historically sold through catalogs, fax and phone. Many are resistant to this change, or worry about what it will cost (both financially and with regard to adjustments to processes and ways of working) to make the change. Some organizations apply this same resistant mindset to their customers, and assume that their buyers are equally concerned about moving online and are comfortable with the offline status quo. But this could not be farther from what B2B buyers actually want.

Buying 90% of products online

Forrester Research Inc. has found that 55% of B2B buyers will complete half of their work purchases online within the next year, up from 38%. While it might be enough to simply offer a non-transactional web catalog now (as many do), that won’t be the case for most B2B purchases in the next few months. Our own data supports Forrester’s thesis, with 30% of B2B buyers saying they would prefer to buy at least 90% of products online (though only 19% currently do).

And yet, despite all of the opportunity (and data pointing to the contrary), some companies will continue to maintain: “My customers don’t want to work this way. They want to buy from sales reps, and/or our products are too complex.”

And what’s the risk?


If B2B organizations continue to drag their feet about embracing better ecommerce, B2B buyers in a highly digital world will continue to be forced to conduct business purchases with organizations who have not even implemented ecommerce or from organizations with an elementary ecommerce initiative (like a non-transactional catalog) that companies often don’t move on from.

But while it’s common for B2B companies to start here, the goal should not be to stay here. With 38% of buyers responding that they would be persuaded to choose another vendor if they were offered the ability to order through an online sales portal, these businesses soon won’t have much of a choice.

Tim Beyer is president and CEO of Sana Commerce North America, a provider of ecommerce technology and services. Follow him on LinkedIn