When people think of online stores, most of them think specifically of business-to-consumer retailers, also known as B2C stores. It only makes sense, as the largest shopping sites in the world generally follow this particular business model. When you visit and make a purchase on Amazon, Wal-Mart, or eBay, you almost always do so as an individual consumer. This may explain why the majority of eCommerce websites mimic these online giants and operate as B2C enterprises.
However, B2C is not the only possible route you could take as an internet-based entrepreneur. Instead of catering to consumers, you could encourage other businesses to make purchases from your own business. This is called business-to-business eCommerce, or B2B eCommerce. You probably know more examples than you think just from running an online business. These include graphic designers, call centers, marketing agencies, web and app developers, and, of course, eCommerce platforms.
If you are not already sure about how you want your online business to be, adopting a B2B model could prove highly rewarding. According to eCommerce statistics, worldwide B2B revenue totals up to almost $11 billion — more than three times higher than B2C eCommerce. There is great potential for financial success in offering products and services to other businesses, and the market is only growing. You do not even necessarily have to choose: statistics also show that a third of all eCommerce websites make sales from both B2C and B2B transactions.
With that said, running a B2B enterprise is not without its challenges, and there are many tasks and processes you need to cover if you want a chance at success. Perhaps the most important of them is marketing your website: if customers have no way of hearing about your business, all that effort could be in vain. Here is a detailed guide on some of the different approaches you can use when marketing your B2B website for eCommerce success.
Get Your Ducks in a Row
Before you begin marketing your website, you need to check (and double-check, and triple-check, and so on) that you have something worth marketing. This goes beyond just having a website at all — something you definitely need to square away before tackling a task like marketing. You must have a well-designed website that can meet the needs of anyone who comes your way. After all, nothing will make a potential customer flee faster than seeing a website that does not live up to the promises of its enticing advertisements.
Choose Your Platform
Just about every eCommerce platform out there can equip B2C clients with the resources they need, because B2C is the more popular type of store to build. However, B2B eCommerce will almost certainly require an emphasis on different features, including some that are not nearly as useful for B2C eCommerce. If you seek to build this kind of store, you must choose a platform that offers the tools you need to succeed. Without them, you might have a tough time selling to visitors — or worse, potential customers might have a tough time using your website.
One such feature is the minimum order quantity, which restricts customers from purchasing your products below a certain number of items or below a certain dollar amount. This is one method of encouraging your customers to buy more than they were expecting, much in the same way that you can buy a packet of Skittles in the supermarket instead of a single Skittle. We should note, however, that your ability to apply this limitation to your store can really depend on both the product and the industry. It may be a standard practice in one market and a red flag in another.
Related to that feature is the wholesale bulk order. Making this method of ordering available to your customers enables them to purchase multiple products in high quantities with less difficulty, which your regulars might appreciate. Something they will appreciate even more is if you offer discounts for buying in bulk — not just for wholesale buyers, but for any business of any size. Customers will be incentivized to acquire more of your products.
Perhaps the most important tool you could have is the ability to create customer groups. This is because businesses that buy from you might have needs and behaviors that are distinct from each other. One client may be eligible for discounts due to making purchases at regular intervals, while another may be more infrequent but always buys at massive volumes. With a customer groups feature, you could segment both of them, and businesses that are similar to them, into different categories or tiers. Any rules you apply or adjust for one group — such as pricing, order management, and (most relevant for today’s subject) promotion — will immediately affect all businesses within that group.
Optimize Your Online Store for B2B Sales
B2B customers can be very different than B2C customers in both their behavior and their expectations. As a result, the practices that work for the average consumer may be ineffective or even detrimental when pulled on a representative of a business. Any store owner must have an understanding of their field and their customers if they want to make a profit, and this is no different. When setting up your eCommerce website, you must design it in a way that caters to your business clientele and, therefore, increases conversions.
Certain features can help with that, and your B2B eCommerce platform should provide them. Among the best decisions you could make when setting up your shopping cart is the inclusion of a variety of flexible (and plentiful) payment options. Some companies rely on purchase orders, while others use ACH payments or credit cards. Providing more options means giving more potential customers the means to make purchases through you.
Once you convert a business into a customer, you should take many different measures to retain their patronage. One deceptively simple yet surprisingly effective means of achieving this is a streamlined reordering process. After all, your new customers may want to purchase essentially the same items from time to time. They would definitely appreciate not needing to undergo the same tedious process of searching all over your website and adding the items to their shopping cart one by one. The briefer you can make their shopping experience, the more likely they may be willing to keep reordering from you.
Even with these valuable features on your site, your customers might still need assistance, or at least want to speak with someone at your business. This is where a live chat add-on may prove invaluable. Live chat puts visitors in touch with a customer service representative, who can then help them with any requests or questions they may have. You could also provide self-help support in the form of FAQs, community forums, and knowledge bases. However, live chat and similar types of support presents an excellent opportunity for improving your relationships with your customers.
There lies the secret of closing B2B sales: recognizing that your customers, being businesses themselves, are also your partners. There may be far higher transaction values for each sale than if you were pitching to consumers, and there may be more individuals involved in all of the decisions. As a result, the sales cycle itself may be much longer. With so much time and money potentially involved, you will likely need to actively work with your business customers and come to agreements together. This involves extensive communication, likely with multiple people and over a longer period of time. Remember this as you proceed.
Build Trust and Credibility
On the note of optimizing online stores, your website is one of the best assets you have to demonstrate that businesses can find great value in partnering with you. You may want to keep it closed from public viewing before you and your developers complete the project. Even after you finish, you may also want to keep tinkering with the site, whether to address customer complaints, experiment with new features, or incorporate the latest innovations and keep everything up to date.
All of this begins with the design of the website, both backdoor and storefront. This means the site should look professional yet appealing, because there are indeed people out there who judge a book by its cover. Naturally, the website should also function in ways that are friendly for the site’s audience (and optimized to boost your conversions). Without that bottom layer — comprising the site layout and every piece of code supporting every app and feature plus the software — the greatness of the site would only be shallow and skin-deep. Without that top layer — consisting of the color scheme, graphics, and overall visual design — potential customers may distrust the legitimacy of your site and leave you with high bounce rates. This is why you must find a B2B eCommerce platform with great design tools.
Your website’s design can be highly appealing and intuitive, but it should also speak to something greater: your vision. You can clearly outline what your business stands for in your About page. This section of your site should illustrate what you seek to accomplish and how your products and services can help your customers. You may also want to portray how the enterprise began, which can go a long way in establishing your authority and credibility. Needless to say, the writing for this page must be of the highest quality.
Of course, you should not expect prospective patrons to take your word for it. If you already have any satisfied customers, feel free to showcase their praise on your homepage, product pages, and elsewhere on your site. You can look for testimonials posted elsewhere on the web, or you can even request customer reviews from current clients. Social media posts, the conversations on the most visited hubs on the internet, may provide yet another avenue for genuine proof of your customers’ satisfaction. Naturally, you should curate all of these samples of social proof to highlight the most favorable ones.
Once you have finished setting up your B2B website, you should have something that is ready to advertise. The question, then, is how do you get the word out? There are several methods you can try, and one of the most effective and efficient is content marketing. This refers to the creation, optimization, and publication of written content, with topics related to your industry and the products and services that you provide. This may just seem like running a blog, but you can accomplish so much with this type of marketing if you know how to approach it — and how to do it right.
One Goal: Educate
When you initially consider setting out to start a content marketing campaign, you may not have much of an idea of what you are going to write. That is understandable: some businesses may easily lend themselves to an abundance of engaging blog post ideas, while others may require more flexibility and creativity. Either way, you may find a helpful direction in the one goal that all content marketing campaigns should strive toward: education.
When people seek information, especially about a rather niche subject, they now tend to turn to the internet. When they cannot find the information they want on large websites like Wikipedia, they usually resort to looking at blog posts. The takeaways here are that people read content to learn more specific details about a given topic, and that your website can be the one that they visit. If you just provide knowledge — genuinely interesting and useful information on subjects relevant to your business, written in high-quality articles that are digestible yet comprehensive — you can become an online authority in your field and a go-to resource.
Your content can educate visitors in a wide range of ways, and all of them can help in building up their trust and encouraging them to purchase from your site. Blog posts can inform people about certain problems and help them learn about their needs. They can educate people on potential solutions, including the ones that you can provide. Something that can assist prospective and existing customers alike is content that contains further instruction and advice about your products. In these posts, you may write directions for using these items in different ways that make life easier and better. Getting inventive with the topics is one of the main benefits of this type of marketing, so feel free to be creative.
To be honest (and comprehensive), you can actually achieve quite a few different objectives with content marketing. Perhaps the most notable besides education is boosting the SEO value of your website, which can significantly increase your visibility and net you more organic traffic (we will discuss this in greater detail later). However, that SEO-friendly content will only convert your visitors into trusting customers if it contains information of value to them. Never lose sight of the goal of education. Your visitors will thank you for it.
Content for Every Step of the Buyer’s Journey
Emphasizing the educational aspect of your content is an excellent direction for this type of marketing. With that said, you should keep in mind that some customers may already be familiar with the material, while others are still struggling to understand the basics of the subject. Your content strategy should address the needs of potential customers at each step of their buyer’s journey, from people at the top of the funnel to people preparing to make a purchase. That way, any visitor to your site can learn something new through your writing.
Some of your prospective readers are nowhere near ready to buy — at least, not yet. At the moment, they may instead be looking for more information about their problems and the potential solutions. They are much less likely to be interested in reading about the tiniest details of your products, or even about what your products can accomplish (let alone how they are priced). For these readers, you need to meet them where they are, look from their perspective, and address the concerns they actually have.
This brings us to the first of two kinds of content: supplier-agnostic content. These articles and copy steer away from the sales side and focus on the “bigger picture,” so to speak. Examples may include case studies and the conclusions you draw from them, general information on your industry, and analyses of common problems and solutions related to said industry. The name “supplier-agnostic” comes from the idea that you do not promote your own products with them. Despite that, this type of content still provides ample opportunities to showcase your understanding of customer needs and encourage businesses to consider building a relationship with yours. It may not sell products, but it can help people start on a journey that may end with them making a purchase.
Once these prospective customers learn more about their options, they may be ready to start comparing companies and their products. At that point, they will definitely be more receptive to content that provides in-depth information on your products: their features, their applications, and their prices. This kind of content is called product-specific content. While these articles may not be as shareable as supplier-agnostic content, they do give you the chance to promote your inventory in a level of depth that cannot be achieved with product page copy. These two types of content work together as set-up and pay-off: one invites visitors to learn more, and the other converts them into customers.
One great way to share your latest and greatest content is by sending collections to subscribers on an email list. Email marketing may seem like a relic of the past now that newer, “hipper” forms of marketing have cropped up. However, a strong strategy can help you build relationships and drive up engagement. Better still, it allows you to maintain a presence in the lives of internet users through their inboxes — as long as you regularly provide messages that are worth opening. If you use it right, email marketing can be enormously effective in boosting engagement and conversions.
Building an Email List
Email marketing presents a unique catch compared to other forms of marketing: the target audience must grant you permission to target them. After all, if you do not have their email address, how can you reach them? There are ways to get around this, but we strongly advise against unsolicited messaging, which can negate any effectiveness to this marketing strategy. No one likes receiving random emails from unfamiliar addresses, especially when the communications are clearly trying to sell them something. Worse, in addition to being just plain unethical, it can even be illegal.
All of that is unnecessary anyway because you can find many methods for consensually capturing email addresses and building a sizable list of subscribers. At the very least, you should reserve some space on your website for a subscribe button of some sort. Ideally, you should place these buttons on the most visited parts of your website. You will definitely need at least one on your homepage. Other sections of the site with high traffic, such as the About pages and the pricing pages, should include widgets that sign people up for your newsletter. You may also want to deploy modals — cards that pop up over the website as a user scrolls through a page.
Another great digital location for picking up addresses is your business’s official Facebook page — or Twitter page, or Instagram page, or any of your other social media pages. People who follow or stop by these pages are already engaging with you, and they may be interested in engaging through another way as well. This can also be helpful for those who visit your pages for the first time. These official profiles can show potential clients what your business is about and what it would be like for them to work with you. You might as well offer them a newsletter so they can learn even more.
As for what to include in the emails, we already mentioned that these messages are great for showing off your content. With that said, people could also just find your content on your website, which means one less reason to sign up. One tack you can take is to offer gated content. In exchange for signing up for your email blasts, followers can receive access to exclusive content, or perhaps see your latest content sometime before it actually premieres on your website. Similarly, you can send out promotion codes that are only available to subscribers. These are great ways to entice people and rack up new leads.
Lead Nurturing Campaigns
According to research from Marketo, an average half of the leads who enter your sales funnel are not yet ready to make a purchase. Your primary goal with all of your marketing — and the goal of any business, really — is to take those leads from the top of the funnel to the bottom. No matter which types of marketing you use and do not use, you must optimize them to persuade curious visitors and convert them into paying customers.
This can require a great deal of time and effort from B2C businesses, but it can be especially challenging for B2B businesses. As we mentioned earlier, the B2B sales cycle can be even longer and more complex than the B2C sales cycle. Thankfully, email marketing excels at shortening sales cycles, and lead nurturing email campaigns in particular may result in a major boost in conversions in a relatively short time. These campaigns are all about educating recipients on subjects relevant to your business, as well as how your business relates to those subjects. Gradually and steadily, the flow of emails can quickly encourage people to become customers.
Content marketing and email marketing both have excellent benefits and can bring you excellent results. However, both rely to a certain degree on people being able to find your online store at all. This can be easier said than done on the internet, a vast ocean of websites dominated by eCommerce giants. If you want organic traffic, you need to stand out from the other fish in the sea and make yourself easier for users to find. Search marketing is a type of marketing specifically designed for precisely this. With a combination of search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, you can elevate your visibility on Google and other search engines.
SEO and PPC are quite different from each other, but both methods start depend on keywords — and start with you finding the right ones. Keywords are the terms that people use when trying to pull up pages on search engines, and a successful search marketing campaign tackles the most commonly used keywords. Your goal is to make your website appear on the first page of search results, one way or another. After all, very few people look at the second page; they are more likely to simply reword their search terms.
There are plenty of tools you can use to identify the most popular keywords. Google — the world’s most widely-used search engine, and therefore the one most important to your campaign — provides their own tool, the Keyword Planner. Whichever resources you use, you should compile a list of various keywords to target. That includes primary, long tail, and related terms and phrases.
Once you have this list prepared, you have your very own resource to guide you with your writing. We mentioned earlier that inserting keywords in your content can help boost the SEO value of your website. Now you know the potential ramifications of this: increasing the rank of your website on the results pages for certain keywords. If you use these terms and phrases throughout your website’s copy, content, and promotional materials, you could reach the coveted first page.
Optimizing Product-Specific Content
On the note of inserting keywords into content, SEO practices can be especially useful for enhancing the power of product-specific content. This content is tailor-made for people who need no further lead nurturing and are ready to make a purchase. At that point in the buying cycle, they may simply be looking for the products that best meets their needs. With the right keywords and detailed, high-quality writing, your content could persuade them that your products can satisfy them better than those of your competitors.
With that said, optimizing your writing for search engines goes beyond using the right keywords. You also need to use them a certain number of times and insert them organically (as opposed to jamming them just anywhere, which can actually decrease your SEO value). Furthermore, the content should reach a certain word count, and keywords should also be included in metatags and meta titles. Certain tools can help you with this, such as the Yoast plug-in for WordPress. By smartly meeting rigorous SEO standards, your product-specific blog posts can significantly increase your standing on search results.
There are two kinds of internet traffic that your website could receive. One is organic traffic, meaning the number of users who come upon your website by directly visiting it. The other is inorganic traffic, or paid traffic, which refers to the number of users who come to your website through paid advertisements. You can increase your organic traffic with SEO, and you can increase your paid traffic with PPC advertising.
PPC advertisements will appear at the very top of search results for the given terms. That means they may bring your website straight to the first page without need for all the hard work and care that SEO requires. However, you have to pay a price for this shortcut, and we mean that literally. Each time someone clicks the advertisement, you have to pay the search engine or publication responsible for hosting said ad. The amounts may be micro, only a few cents, but they can add up over time.
With that said, there are some strong benefits to PPC advertising. Paying your way to the top can give you an advantage if your business is competing in a crowded field. People may end up finding your website before they can click on bigger and more established B2B businesses, whom you otherwise compete against even with the best SEO practices. You can also get the most value for your investment by targeting your PPC ads towards the people who are closest to the bottom of the funnel and most ready to make a purchase.
B2B marketing may require no small amount of effort from you and your team. However, if you use multiple strategies and push them to their fullest potential, the work may be worth it. Having a solid marketing plan can drive business customers to your online store in droves and help you build relationships with them. It helps that there are so many ways to spread the word about your site and your services. If you tackle this challenge with vigor and care and creativity, you could quickly attract new audiences who would otherwise have never know you.