As customers do more product research and purchasing online, distributors must meet their demands for a consistent buying experience in both online and offline channels, Forrester Research analyst Mary Shea said at the distribution industry’s AD eCommerce Summit conference today.

Digital business buyers are a demanding lot with big expectations, but many B2B sellers are still struggling to meet those expectations, says Mary Shea, principal analyst covering B2B marketing at Forrester Research Inc.

They want to buy when they find it most convenient, and that can be from any channel.
Mary Shea, principal analyst, B2B marketing
Forrester Research Inc.

Mary Shea, principal analyst, B2B marketing, Forrester Research

Shea, speaking Tuesday at the 2020 AD eCommerce Summit in Doral, Fla., said business buyers are now being driven by their “personal” experience, such as buying on The summit was hosted by Affiliated Distributors Inc., a member-owned organization of more than 700 businesses involved in the distribution industry.

More commerce shifting online

Shaped by that personalized online consumer experience, more business purchasing managers are shifting more of their researching and buying of products and services from online to offline, Shea said.

For example, 61% of business buyers now prefer to do their product research online, up from 53% five years ago, Forrester says. What’s more, 67% of B2B buyers prefer not to interact with a sales representative as their primary source of information, according to Forrester. “They want to buy when they find it most convenient, and that can be from any channel,” she says.


Forrester data show there are other ways that business buyers are going more digital in how to do their job, including:

  • 62% say they can now develop selection criteria for finalizing a vendor list based solely on digital content;
  • 70% say that buying from a website is the most convenient way to buy business products or services;
  • 77% want integrated customized data or insights from sellers and 77% also want sellers to “help me learn something new”;
  • 75% want sellers to use ecommerce to “show how their products and services impact my business.”

B2B ecommerce is a heavily fragmented market, but sellers are successful online if they can embrace multiple social channels, share new ideas and leverage digital tools, Shea said. Successful sellers that are actively and digitally engaging customers also are overcoming a litany of challenges to launch and sustain a viable ecommerce strategy, she said.

Delivering a consistent digital and offline experience

For example, 78% of sellers say their biggest internal challenge is dealing in their internal decision process with multiple stakeholders with different agendas, followed by 49% that say their buyers and customers are taking longer to make decisions, Forrester says.

For B2B sellers to be successful at ecommerce they must meet digital buyer expectations across multiple touch points. “94% of B2B marketers say it is important to deliver a consistent digital and offline experience,” Shea said. “Two-thirds of B2B buyers want access to products, parts and inventory availability online.”


Business sellers are better able to expedite ecommerce for buyers if they realize “digital customers will evolve and morph,” Shea said, adding, “Position ecommerce as an enabler and understand where your company is on the continuum.”

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