Not long ago, if you came across a beautiful, functional ecommerce site, it was most certainly meant for consumers. Fast forward to today, and that probability has shrunk significantly. Today’s business buyer is much more likely to perform his job using one or several well-designed ecommerce sites. It took time for companies to react to the idea that business buyers, like B2C consumers, desire a fast, no-hassle purchasing experience, but now the momentum has begun to roll. Companies are increasingly responding with self-serve websites.
While the industry moves towards more B2C-like experiences for B2B customers, it’s important to remember that differences remain present. Over the past few weeks, we at Blue Acorn iCi spoke with various ecommerce B2C and B2B brands and experts to see where and how customers differ, persona-wise, in addition to how they’re similar.
From influencer programs to giveaways, we found that targeting business buyers still involves many of the same tactics as targeting retail consumers. In the following article, we go through the wide range of insights we uncovered.
Product Information: The Same, But Different
B2B ecommerce sites need a logical and intuitive information architecture, along with a great user experience. However, one of the primary differences between these sites and B2C sites lies in the amount of product information that is made available. According to Magento’s Mark Brinton, consumers need to know basic detail about a product they’re considering. If it’s a shirt, for example, they want to know size and color options. For a business purchase, however, buyers expect much more detail, from the material used, to data, diagrams, compatibility with other tools, and installation information, for example.
Product images are another important component for B2C and B2B ecommerce sites. “High-quality imagery is important for both, but is used in different ways. For B2B, high-quality images can be used to depict the materials used, especially if the product looks similar to other products on offer. For B2C, consumers may want to take a closer look at an item, and may want to see the quality too.”
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Targeting Influencers to Drive Awareness and Create Traction
In the consumer world, everyone from celebrities to YouTube personas act as influencers. Unfortunately, in the business world it’s improbable that a well-known celebrity could use your product. B2B companies have a much harder time finding impressive advocates for their product, especially in certain industries, which are governed by strict regulations.
The good news is that it’s not impossible; it just requires a change in tactics. For example, Battic Door Energy Conservation Products created its own type of influencer marketing program, targeting building officials and architects to help the company drive awareness and create traction.
“To comply with building codes, an attic access (pull-down ladder or access hatch door) must be insulated and sealed. Our products provide a code-compliant solution, are low cost and easy to install. We reached out to building code officials and architects to introduce our products. They in turn recommend and specify our products to home builders, general contractors, and insulation contractors,” said Battic President Mark Tyrol.
In addition to the influencer program, Battic invested in direct-mail, marketing collateral, and events, which led to an increase in sales of more than 50 percent each year for the past two years.
Social Media and Giveaways
Just because you work with and sell products to a business doesn’t mean that you can’t use social media to engage with your customers. Although your tactics may be a bit more buttoned up than the gif-wielding brands focusing on millennials, you can still provide a social experience that rewards you with increased brand awareness and customer loyalty, if not direct revenue.
For DollarDays, a wholesale provider for nonprofits and small businesses, one of the more effective strategies for building awareness is by giving back to customers in the form of giveaways.
“Our strongest social media B2B ecommerce marketing strategy in giving back to our customers is through Facebook. You can see this month (October) we are giving blankets to 25 different nonprofits around the country,” said DollarDays International, Inc. CEO and President Marc Joseph.
To date, DollarDays has grown its Facebook following to more than 248,000 people using this tactic, which is large considering its narrow target audience. Joseph credits the success of the program to the concept of giving back to your community. With millennials taking on more responsibility in organizations and their local interests, the program creates a socially conscious way to raise awareness.
Getting Organizational Buy-In
Sure, some B2C decisions require you to get approval from a spouse or social approval from a friend, but those requirements pale in comparison to the buy-in process for a B2B decision. In fact, the number of people involved in the purchasing decision may be one of the largest differentiators between B2C and B2B.
“Business buyers often don’t make the buying decision alone, so they need to be approached with a more rational sales pitch. Having sound rational arguments, they can, in turn, persuade other decision makers,” said Dimira Teneva, Metrilo’s Content Manager.
According to Teneva, B2C can focus marketing messages on needs and desires, whereas a business typically has to justify purchases. As Magento brought up, the details on a product page need to go well beyond the basics, which will contribute to getting organizational buy-in.
What Do Your Personas and Data Tell You?
Personas and data will be your best friend when you’re first pursuing an organization from a sales perspective. For Greenpal co-founder Gene Caballero, understanding the needs of a consumer and a business are the key to how he markets his company’s offerings. Greenpal focuses on creating an emotional connection with prospective customers.
“Marketing to lawn-care professionals is very different [from marketing to other professionals] due to slim margins and other competing business models. You have to advertise that your business is going to make [prospects’] lives better and have an emotional connection with them. When we gain interest from a vendor, we send them a link to a video that we encourage them to watch. This video pulls out all the pain points they face in day-to-day lives,” said Caballero.
As a way to appeal to those emotions, the team created videos like a day in the life of Greenpal to give an inside look at how they work and who they are.
It’s already started
According to a new report from Internet Retailer, the combined electronic sales for the 300 companies listed in the B2B Ecommerce 300 are up 14.6% from the figures posted in the 2016 edition, to $633.1 billion from $552.3 billion. This eighty-billion dollar increase is just the latest intensification of a revolution happening in B2B. The escalation seems to be due in part to marketers reacting to their competitors and similar industries adopting this practice. Still, B2B hasn’t been a small practice for a while now. According to Jack Love, publisher of Vertical Web Media, the parent organization to Internet Retailer, “B2B e-commerce is already twice as large as retail ecommerce.”
This tremendous growth is a wake-up call for some B2B companies. If that’s you, we encourage you to use our findings in your own efforts, and to let us know how they made a difference to your online strategy.
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