B2B services: how do you decide what to sell in a digital world? And how do you determine if a product or service is a viable business idea? The market is changing fast and many aspects we took for granted only a decade ago, are now being questioned. Large-scale distribution, supply chains, and customer choices are changing as technologies develop, and companies need to adapt if they want to beat the competition.
One thing we can be sure about: e-commerce has demonstrated to be one of the most important trends of the decade and we can only expect digital transactions to increase in the future. In some sectors, online sales are already well developed, while others still offer margins for growth. In any case, when developing business ideas and analyzing what B2B services or products are worth selling in the contemporary market, the access digitalization is a key element to take into account.
In this article, we will look into the advantages and disadvantages of setting up a B2B business today, the ideas that are worth paying attention to and some tips of what works and what doesn’t. That may give you some inspiration to start a new enterprise.
Selling B2B services in a digital world: what has changed?
As we’ve mentioned, in recent years, a substantial part of the market has shifted into online channels. On the one hand, technology has enabled shopping experiences to become much faster and more reliable. On the other hand, the customer has changed his habits, getting used to immediate transactions, home delivery, and an almost infinite choice of product coming from any corner of the world. Most brick and mortar businesses have expanded to include an ecommerce section, applying new strategies for lead generation and customer acquisition.
According to research, in 2019 the global B2B e-commerce market was valued at 12.2 trillion dollars, over 6 times that of the B2C market, with Amazon and Alibaba being the two biggest players. Younger generations are influencing the dynamics of buying and selling B2B services via e-commerce platforms. This is an opportunity to scale a business fast, with smaller start up costs.
While e-commerce stores are usually thought of as platforms for final consumers only, things are changing in the B2B sector as well: today almost half of all companies conduct 50% to 74% of all their corporate transactions online, including 23% of businesses that do at least 75% of purchases through B2B e-commerce platforms.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of a B2B model?
A B2B model is adopted by companies that sell to other businesses or organizations, rather than directly to final consumers. B2B services range from consultancies to hands-on, technical assistance, while products go from raw materials to semi-finished goods sold by intermediaries.
By selling online, B2B companies can reduce errors and increase efficiency, thanks to software that keeps track of past transactions, stock, payments, and notifications. Compared to a traditional business, working online allows for a much smoother experience for both the buyer and the seller. However, operating a digital B2B model can make it more difficult to maintain long-term relationships. While B2C companies focus on the immediate sale, B2B organizations typically invest in keeping their clients in the long run, which can become tricky when communication occurs only through screens.
Compared to B2C, a business-to-business model can rely on larger orders from their clients. This means that less customers are required to keep the business growing and thanks to digital technologies new clients can now be found everywhere in the world. The fact that geographical barriers are no longer an obstacle, however, also means more competition and a loss of negotiating power for sellers.
Defining services and choosing your B2B business model
In order to define the product to sell, it’s important to know where you want to position your company in the market. In our previous article, we have mapped out the four B2B business models to help you decide how to operate your company. Whether you choose to set up a horizontal, vertical, downstream, or upstream model, you need to know who you are directing your message to in order to acquire qualified leads.
The B2B market is varied and offers opportunities in pretty much any field, as long as you can differentiate yourself from the competition. When trying to define a service it can help to figure out the connections that exist between B2B and B2C. The food industry, for example, has changed massively with the introduction of e-commerce technologies and the demand or ready made meals delivered door to door still offers opportunities for players that can offer new and better services. Intercepting this trend can be a chance for businesses to understand what B2B clients want in terms of technical support, software, lead generation services, and customer support.
The digital world changes so rapidly that it is often a matter of being in the right place at the right time. This does not mean improvising, but rather offering expertise to an evolving market that needs specialized skills to grow. Some of the most successful B2B companies have done exactly this: anticipated the demand of a new way of working. Think of WeWork, Buffer, Slack, or Zoom: they all analyzed the changes in companies’ ways of working and found ways to make the life of professionals easier.
B2B services: what makes e-commerce successful?
Trends change over time and there are plenty of success stories of B2B entrepreneurs that have found creative ways to reach new customers with innovative marketing strategies. Despite the many different approaches that a business can take, there are some key aspects that every new B2B company should take into account in order to grow steadily and sustainably.
Allow customers to make orders online (when possible)
As a new generation of B2B professionals takes over, the idea that ordering should happen through meetings or over the phone becomes outdated. Many of the people who influence purchasing decisions today are millennials used to the convenience of online ordering in B2C markets and expect B2B companies to offer the same solutions to their clients.
Of course, this is not always possible: depending on the B2B service you offer, you may need to define a personalized quote, however, as more and more companies adapt to the habits of millennials, productized services are an addition worth considering. This is true also because millennial buyers tend to be a lot more independent than their predecessors, meaning that once they reach your website they have probably conducted all the research needed to complete an order.
Consider mobile responsiveness
If you’ve always thought that company executives do their research only from their office computer, it’s probably time to change your mind. Mobile use has acquired a prominent presence in the work day of high-level professionals and Google shows us that these days 42% of B2B buyers use a mobile device to make purchasing decisions. This percentage amounts to a 91% growth in use over the past two years, meaning that the trend is still steadily on the rise.
Investing in a well designed website that is accessible from any device is an essential step to sell B2B services and products to any target audience. Disregarding user behavior could lead to potential clients turning to the competition, just because the mobile user experience wasn’t good enough.
Address security issues
Don’t underestimate video communication
Text and still images aren’t the only way to communicate your message to a targeted audience. Video has seen a massive growth in recent years, and we’re not talking about the entertainment industry. Seventy percent of B2B buyers watch videos during their research process and almost half of them consume at least 30 minutes of footage before making a decision.
Yes, videos can be expensive to make and take time to produce, but they also allow for a deeper connection to be established with your audience. Considering the impact they can have on buyers, it’s well worth including them in your marketing strategy.
Make it easy to search for information
Among the most commonly used website features by B2B buyers is the search and filtering functions. Whether you are presenting information via a series of articles or offer a typical e-commerce experience, users should be able to quickly find what they are looking for before losing patience.
B2B buyers often know what they want before they reach your website and once they get to your home page they are likely to have seen countless similar pages before. Make sure you provide them with a way to quickly navigate through your services, products, or informative pages by giving direct access to the items they are looking for.
Don’t target only high-level executives
The survey by Google we mentioned earlier, shows us another fact that might surprise those used to traditional ways of doing business. These days, nearly a quarter of purchasing decisions are influenced by non C-Suite employees. If you always thought your target audience included only top level executives, it might be time to think again and expand the group to include other people that could be interested in your B2B services or products.
Ethics matter more than ever
Another aspect that should not be underestimated is the ethical commitment of a company. More and more people expect companies to be environmentally friendly or socially aware in their day-to-day operations and it’s important to take into account what is happening outside the business world to attract the growing group of conscious customers.
This is true in the food and fashion sector, where being “green” can be linked directly to the production processes, but also in fields where doing good is not strictly related to the products on offer. Showing a sensibility towards social issues has become an important branding tool and communicating commitment to a cause can help companies build trust in the long term.
Selling B2B services online: know your market to win customers over
If you are thinking of setting up a B2B company or scaling an existing one, it’s crucial to be aware of how the audience is changing and adapt accordingly. A new generation of decision makers is taking over and navigation habits are changing. The ability to access a store from a mobile phone, at any time of day, is an example of how habits are changing. Today, information is consumed differently than just a decade a go, and investing in video, good UX, and easily searchable data has become essential for any company wanting to succeed in the digital world.
Is your B2B company optimized for the future? If not, we are here to help. Get in touch with Mowgli today and let’s chat about growing your business the right way.