With remote work becoming a standard part of business operations, many B2B buyers abandon their traditional buying cycles and rely on—and expect more from—the ecommerce channel. Ecommerce technology platforms can ensure sellers grow with these trends, Sharon Ruddock of SAP Digital Commerce writes.

SharonRuddock-SAPDigitalCommerce

Sharon Ruddock

In looking back at the 2020 holiday shopping season, one thing became clear: ecommerce continues to be a driving force for making purchases. In fact,  e-commerce sales during the November-December period increased by more than 45% over the same months the previous year. Remote or ‘hybrid’ work is the new normal for many, and, as a result, B2B buying is also experiencing ongoing shifts—from changing buying cycles to rising expectations around digital customer engagement.

Intuitive websites and product offerings can help sales teams zero in on what their customers really care about.

Companies, especially in the B2B space, need a strong ecommerce operation to help keep up with major surges in demand. Today’s B2B buyers are looking for both the fastest ways to make purchases and a greater range of options to choose from, that more directly coincide with their specific needs of the moment. As buyer behavior continues to change and more purchases are done in a digital setting, ecommerce platforms are in a unique position to keep businesses connected to their target audience and ensure the most efficient buying experience possible.

Adapting to a Calendar-less Buying Cycle

One of the biggest shifts in thinking by companies everywhere is the abandonment of traditional buying cycles. Where once decisions were made to align with a specific timeline, buyers have now largely turned toward a more fluid approach. This was already becoming a popular trend, but last year’s events accelerated it into an imperative for enterprises as they looked to quickly implement new technologies and solutions that could support and secure a remote workforce. This caused a shift in the overall mindset for businesses, with the preference now largely focused on the ability to purchase enterprise solutions at the time of need.

The turn away from traditional calendarized purchasing greatly increased the need for speed and accessibility on the part of B2B organizations. One of the more obvious features of ecommerce platforms is that they are always available—24/7. With B2B buyers behaving more and more like consumers, digital storefronts are a constant presence, ready to help any customer at any time they decide to start browsing for product updates or new solutions.

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Supporting Sales Teams

The change-over to remote work presented a lot of new challenges for sales teams looking to stay engaged with their customer base. While it’s easy to think that an ecommerce focus might marginalize the efforts and output of a sales team, the effect is quite the opposite. Having a strong online presence gives companies the ability to draw their customer base in and guide them through the buying journey. Intuitive websites and product offerings can help sales teams zero in on what their customers really care about, and having a strong, easy-to-use customer support process in place can help connect buyers with the sales team member best suited to answer their questions.

Going beyond immediate needs, digital commerce platforms can also help sales teams by more clearly highlighting the areas of greatest focus or need within their specific customer community. Identifying these specific areas means that key decision-makers can reallocate sales staff to maximize performance and results across the board better.

Scaling with Ecommerce

The last year has brought about a lot of changes in customer behaviors, and with unpredictable surges in demand becoming more common, B2B businesses need to be prepared to scale. A major part of being able to scale comes down to delivering a reliable customer experience.

Customers expect their online experiences to be quick and as painless as possible, so ensuring they’re able to get to what they need in as few clicks as possible can make a world of difference. Adopting the right ecommerce platform gives businesses the ability to better manage demand for their products and services in an online setting. Limiting the amount of time people need to spend on a company website also helps reduce the risk of connectivity issues, slow functionality and other common frustrations that can appear on the user side. When waves of demand come and large volumes of buyers are shopping at the same time, having a streamlined customer experience can help keep workloads manageable.

Looking Forward

Over the last several years, the success of ecommerce for consumers has been clear, particularly during holiday seasons when demands often reach their highest points. On the B2B side, it’s becoming easier to adapt to rapidly changing demands in much the same way, with digital commerce platforms that provide customers a clear and simple path to purchase, from search to discovery to purchase and beyond. Especially now, B2B companies are in a prime position to maximize their value given the flexibility these platforms supply for engaging customers and prospects remotely at any time.

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Sharon Ruddock is head of SAP Digital Commerce at business software company SAP SE, where she oversees digital customer strategy for SAP across sales, customer success, support and marketing. She has also enabled and exemplified SAP’s digital transformation. Previously, Sharon was responsible for all learning in the Global Customer Operations organization within SAP and served as chief operating officer, Mobility.

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