Business-to-business selling on the Internet, or B2B e-commerce, is one of the fastest growing segments of the small-business marketplace. As businesses flock to the Internet to find vendors for essential products and services, B2B e-commerce is rapidly expanding, both in terms of total revenue and the number of small B2B firms operating in the digital space.
Since approximately two out of three new jobs are created by small businesses, according to SBA estimates, the rising influence of B2B e-commerce in the small business sector has important implications for the U.S. economy.
But how is B2B e-commerce really impacting small businesses? And what are some of the specific benefits small businesses are capturing from B2B e-commerce strategies?
How B2B E-commerce Benefits Small Businesses
Consumers are drawn to e-commerce because it allows them to create digital connections with the brands and businesses that are important to them and offers opportunities for seamless customer experiences. In addition to connecting with e-commerce providers via traditional Internet connections, today’s consumers are relying on a sophisticated array of tools and resources, integrating mobile and social channels into their online shopping behaviors.
In response to consumer demand, brands large and small are ramping up their multichannel strategies. Familiar e-commerce giants like Amazon, eBay and Shop.ca are major players in the consumer e-commerce market, and countless brick-and-mortar retailers, including Best Buy, Home Depot and Wal-Mart, have captured consumers’ attention in the digital space.
While the consumer side of the e-commerce marketplace has garnered most of the attention, the B2B side has been largely neglected. Yet for every small business that markets their products and services to consumers, at least three other small businesses sell primarily to other businesses.
By adopting B2B e-commerce strategies, small businesses gain several important advantages, many of which level the playing field and allow them to compete with larger companies.
- Operational Efficiency. B2B small businesses have historically struggled with labor-intensive processes that are inefficient and hinder organizational growth. Multichannel commerce technologies help B2B small businesses save time and resources through the automation of online and offline transactions. B2B e-commerce also allows these companies to streamline warehouse, call center and other functions that have the potential to become choke points in the company’s efforts to achieve targeted growth objectives.
- Market Scale. In many cases, B2B e-commerce creates the impression of a much larger business footprint. Multichannel marketing tactics, social media campaigns and other strategies allow small businesses to appear (and function) like larger organizations. By scaling up market presence, B2B e-commerce makes it easier for small companies to reach global networks, mobile audiences and the extended online community. As a result, small businesses gain the ability to react more quickly to market trends and to leverage a more professional industry presence.
- Sales Cycles. As a selling tool, e-commerce technology helps B2B small businesses streamline the sales process and generate higher ROI from their sales program investments. Conventional B2B sales cycles are labor-intensive and require sales teams to guide customers through a series of mundane tasks — tasks that can be automated in a B2B e-commerce environment, enabling sales teams to reallocate time toward new customer acquisitions.
- Cost Savings. B2B e-commerce has the potential to create substantial cost savings for small businesses. Many smaller companies have discovered that the implementation of e-commerce initiatives has resulted in lower operational cost thanks to the automation of customer setup, order management, credit card processing, shipment tracking, email campaigns and other activities that would otherwise require the attention of sales or customer support personnel.
- Customer Experiences. It’s important to note that by leveraging e-commerce strategies, B2B small businesses gain the ability to capture cost reductions and other benefits without sacrificing the quality of customer experiences. In fact, a multichannel e-commerce strategy typically results in vastly improved customer experiences by allowing prospects and leads to connect with the company using their preferred channels and technologies.
Level Playing Field
By effectively leveling the playing field for small businesses, B2B e-commerce allows smaller companies to leverage technology as a competitive advantage in today’s global business-to-business marketplace. With the right strategy, small companies can leverage affordable B2B e-commerce strategies to enhance brand appeal, reduce operational costs and broaden the impact of the organization’s sales agenda.
Even more importantly, B2B e-commerce frees up resources to offer an achievable pathway for small organizations to target and accomplish substantial improvements in the customer experience. For many B2B sellers, e-commerce is the key to small business success and revitalization in today’s multichannel marketplace.