B2B Ecommerce

When the industry gathers: Our takeaways from B2B Online 2023

July 27, 2023
Table of contents

Last week, our team headed to Chicago for the 10th B2B Online conference, a gathering of some of the biggest names in B2B as well as hundreds of like-minded industry leaders looking to share their experiences, exchange advice and consult together on how to push B2B to new heights. 

Four members of the Balance team posing in front of the Balance booth at B2B Online 2023.B

We sat in on countless sessions given by leaders from successful companies like Bulbs.com, HP, Schneider Electric, Waters Corp, The Hershey’s Company and many others, and saw a few key themes emerge. 

Below, we’ve compiled our biggest takeaways here for you, straight from the mouths of those who have succeeded in their B2B digital transformations and ecommerce journeys. We hope you’ll find some meaningful insights to bring back to your organization. 

Always remember: slow and steady wins the race

There are several misconceptions when it comes to implementing new technology in a business. The first is that if you’re a big enterprise, this process will be easy-breezy. This is simply not true—in fact, many times, larger organizations struggle to implement new technology quickly because of the complex coordination and alignment required by multiple departments. 

Other misconceptions include: ecommerce is a one and done task… i.e once you’ve opened an ecommerce channel, the work ends there, and that if you spend a lot of money on an ecommerce software, all your problems will be solved. All of these misconceptions point to the notion that opening an ecommerce channel is something that can be done and then checked off a to-do list. 

Unfortunately (and fortunately!), it doesn’t quite work like that for any digital project, and especially not for opening a B2B ecommerce channel. In organizations large and small, adopting digital requires a digital plan, thought through end-to-end, and carried out for a number of months or even longer depending on where the company is in its digital journey. 

Take it from Valvoline Global, a company best known for its automotive oil products. They see their ecommerce strategy as a long-term process. When they began, they were at 33% digital adoption and today they have reached 87%. Notice they haven’t gone “all the way”? That’s because they have chosen to strategically segment their digital adoption, constantly evaluate how it's going, and overall, view ecommerce as a journey.

An infographic titled, "B2B ecommerce is a journey", with 3 steps representing the journey. 1 align internally, 2 prepare data and content, and 3 launch.

After all, opening an ecommerce channel strategically should not be about simply having another sales channel, or solving one problem. Rather, the process should look to the long term: to build a digitally-oriented sales team, to put digital at the heart of the company, and to ultimately position the company to continue digital growth easily and scalably. Each of these goals requires great care in aligning relevant stakeholders, retraining teams and listening to feedback. It is by no means a one-and-done, quick fix. 

Address internal resistance first and foremost

Speaking to the countless professionals we met at B2B online, not one person stated that their product was “too complicated” to sell online. So the biggest barrier to adopting an ecommerce solution is not something external, but rather comes from internal resistance. 

In particular, many reported the sales team being a significant barrier to B2B ecommerce adoption—there is a common fear among sales teams that a successful B2B ecommerce channel will replace the salespeople. 

As a result, it’s incredibly important to bring the sales team into the digital adoption process as early as possible. If you can show them the value that an ecommerce channel can bring to their work, they can become the biggest champions in the organization for this digital adoption. What is that value? As the ecommerce channel is always “on” and is completely self-serve, the sales team can instead focus their efforts on more strategic tasks, like winning more complex deals. 

Valvoline Global prioritized having their sales team on board as they began their ecommerce journey. The role of the sales team has now shifted within the organization—they are now trusted advisors and seen as mainly relationship builders. Their administrative burden has been greatly reduced thanks to the ecommerce channel and they can focus on helping push the company forward strategically. 

See your distributors as meaningful partners

How to get distributors excited about digital was a widely-discussed topic in the three days of the conference. 

Having a diversified, omnichannel sales presence is increasingly important. This means investing in all kinds of channels, from in-person to DTC and the distributor channel.

Distributors are an interesting piece of the ecommerce puzzle because they classically are experts in everything except the tech: domain expertise, long-standing customer relationships, and a strong reputation.

Additionally, distributors hold a library of meaningful data that is often underutilized and can help drive business decisions. Through partnerships, distributors and ecommerce marketplaces and can create a much more robust business model, a win-win for all involved.

As we see customer experience emerging as a key factor in standing out in this ecosystem, and in particular, digital customer experience, there is a unique opportunity to create meaningful partnerships with distributors to offer that knockout experience. 

For instance, distributor partners of The Hershey’s Company reported that 75% of all sales are coming through ecommerce channels, instead of sales representatives or direct orders. 

For those distributors who are less digitally-savvy, it’s important to educate them and show them the value of digital partnerships for their business overall. After all, the distributors who have managed to move online are growing much faster than their offline counterparts and will be much more resilient as every industry blazes towards becoming digital-first.

Embrace (and don’t fear) Amazon

For better and for worse, one thing that was on everyone’s mind was…Amazon. The best piece of advice we got was not to fear Amazon, but rather to embrace the role it will play in the online B2B buying journey. 

How? Right now, experts see Amazon playing a different role than distributors and online marketplaces. Specifically, Amazon is the place where product discovery and search begins for a lot of business buyers who don’t need any consultation, want products quickly and in a very small quantity. At its core, Amazon does a really great job of facilitating long-tail business purchases. 

Once you can be sure of where Amazon sits in the B2B ecommerce ecosystem, then you can figure out what your value proposition is and where it lies. The key to success will be in developing alongside Amazon and constantly monitoring your offering and what makes it unique. 

Amazon has also set a standard for what the payments experience should look like in ecommerce. As business buyers are also consumers, they have come to expect the conveniences of Amazon’s “1-click” and other features. Making the buying experience a priority is one of the ways that other B2B ecommerce players should follow and recreate from Amazon. And thanks to technology partners like Balance, today, a delightful checkout experience specifically for B2B is possible. 

A final word

We learned a lot of valuable information at B2B Online 2023, and hope that these takeaways can give you insight into the common challenges and opportunities in B2B ecommerce today. 

To learn more about how B2B ecommerce is climbing to new heights thanks to digital payments, check out our latest guide or speak to one of our experts today. 

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