How to get more customers to buy on your B2B ecommerce website
Some companies see their ecommerce site as a marketing tool — an attractive new selling point designed to reel in new customers.
And they’re right to think that. But it’s not the whole story.
If you’re launching a B2B ecommerce site and you’re not thinking about your current customers, you’re missing out — and so are they.
Here’s what you need to know about getting more customers started with your new ecommerce portal:
In this blog we will cover everything you need to know about getting more customers started with your new ecommerce portal:
- Why should I move my customer to ecommerce?
- What does good ecommerce adoption look like?
- What's in it for them?
- How should I start the conversation?
- Which customers should I focus on?
- How do I encourage their first order?
- How can I get my sales team onboard?
Why should I move my customers to ecommerce?
If you’re fresh from the launch of your new ecommerce site, most of your customers will still be buying offline.
And if you’re making the case to move customers online, you might face some resistance from the decision-makers in your company:
“Nearly all of our customers are buying without it. We’re getting repeat orders and regular revenue from them — so why should we spend the time and effort to move them over to our ecommerce site?”
When you move customers online, you can reduce your sales admin by up to 66%.
So what does that look like in practice? With more of your customers buying through your ecommerce site, your sales teams can save huge amounts of time on:
- Answering questions about products and prices
- Negotiating discounts and deals
- Dealing with issues around order updates and delivery statuses
- And manually entering orders for each customer.
And as a bonus:
The switch to ecommerce makes you less reliant on the personal relationships between your customers and your sales teams. So if your sales staff resign or move to a new job, your relationship with your customer stays the same — and your business is protected.
But there’s one other huge reason that’s easy to overlook:
Many of your customers already want and expect it.
They’ve seen the benefits of ecommerce ordering — and they’re already using it when they buy from their other suppliers.
So if you want to give your customers the modern service they expect (and keep up with your competitors), the move to ecommerce becomes an easy choice.
What does good ecommerce adoption look like?
There’s no magic number that applies to every business. And for some industries and customers, you might never be able to get 100% of them buying through your ecommerce site.
But from our own experience with the merchants we work with, we can say this:
Most companies should be aiming to earn 30–60% of their revenue through their ecommerce site — with 10–50% of their customers buying online.
Now that you’ve got a target in mind, it’s time to think strategy. And the first step comes from understanding why your customers should be getting excited about ecommerce.
What’s in it for them?
If you want to get your existing customers to start using your ecommerce site, you need to know exactly how it benefits them.
You’ve got to put yourself in the shoes of the people affected. And that means you need to distinguish between the two types of stakeholders within your customers’ companies:
- The end users — the individual employees using your ecommerce site to buy products.
- The decision-makers — the upper management (or head office) that manages the teams that buy.
1. How buying online helps your customers’ end users
The end users are your customers’ employees — the individual staff in each branch that do the actual buying.
They’ll be less interested in the high-level organisational benefits, and more interested in how your ecommerce site makes the buying process simple, fast, compliant, and efficient.
Here are the benefits you need to get across to them:
- Improved visibility — your site shows them a personalised product range that’s exactly what they need, with prices and deals that are relevant to them.
- Faster orders and reduced admin — with a ‘Quick Order’ feature for repeat purchases, without the extra time spent on the phone with a sales rep.
- Buying with confidence — your site follows the rules and processes that their company has set for them, so they can be sure they’re buying the right products, sticking to their budget, and getting the right approvals.
- Instant access to live information — with online visibility over their current order status and delivery progress, as well as live stock information to help them make the right buying decisions.
2. How buying online helps your customers’ decision-makers
Your customers’ decision-makers have a different set of goals. While they will be interested in how your ecommerce site benefits the end users, they’ll also want to know how moving online helps them manage their buyers and reduce their organisational costs.
Here’s what the upper management like to hear:
- More oversight and control — switching to your ecommerce site gives them a streamlined way to set rules around budgets, approvals, and user management.
- Confidence and security — your ecommerce site makes sure their teams are buying the right products from the right places at the right price (without the need to check things manually).
- Reduced admin — with automated approvals and budgeting rules, they can spend less time managing their teams, and still get the same results.
- Complete transparency — with access to custom price lists and tailored product catalogues, it becomes easier and faster to plan and set budgets.
So what’s next?
Now that you’re armed with the selling points you need, it’s time to put them to use. And that all starts with the first introduction:
How should I start the conversation?
There are two main ways to introduce your customers to the idea of switching to your ecommerce site — and the method you choose will depend on:
- The number of customers you have
- Your goals for the initial rollout of your ecommerce site
- The personal relationships you have with your customers
- The confidence and soft skills of your sales teams.
- And how comfortable and experienced your teams are at onboarding customers.
Here’s how the two methods work:
1. The personal approach
The most natural way to plant the idea is through direct conversations between your sales teams and your customers.
With a personal approach, you’ll be able to make it:
- Trustworthy — your customers get a recommendation from a sales rep that understands their situation and their challenges
- Timely — your sales rep can make the suggestion in response to a customer problem or complaint that your ecommerce site can solve
- Targeted — you can stagger your initial rollout by choosing the customers that are most suitable for your ecommerce site
- Two-way — by listening to the concerns and objections of your first few customers, you’ll gain valuable insight that can help you improve how you pitch your ecommerce site to other customers later.
But that doesn’t mean the personal approach is right for everyone:
It’s a time-consuming method that could involve multiple calls and emails. It’s highly dependent on the strength of your individual sales reps — not just their people skills and confidence, but their knowledge of your ecommerce site and the specific messaging you want to convey.
So who is it good for?
If you’re a merchant with a small number of clients and a strong sales team — or you want to test the waters before you roll out on a large scale — the personal approach could be the right choice.
Tip — We always recommend that merchants start with the personal approach. You’ll get experience and insight into onboarding process, and you’ll be more confident in your methods when you start to onboard at scale.
|Tip — We always recommend that merchants start with the personal approach. You’ll get experience and insight into onboarding process, and you’ll be more confident in your methods when you start to onboard at scale.
2. The mass-content approach
If you’re rolling out your ecommerce site to a huge number of customers, the personal approach can start to be come inefficient. Instead, you can use the content you produce to reach a far larger audience — creating emails, videos, and webinars to introduce the concept and convey the benefits to your customers.
With the mass-content approach, you’ll be able to:
- Save time and money — after a one-off investment to produce the content, there’s no limit to the number of customers you can reach
- Keep tight control of the messaging — a personal conversation can be open to miscommunication, but a carefully planned content campaign conveys a singular, consistent message
- Lay out a clear process — with structured steps that your customers can follow, and the ability to track the progress of your customers more easily
- Get the most out of your investment — while a personal conversation exists only once, the content you create can be repurposed for marketing, onboarding, and training.
But despite all the positives, there are still some downsides:
The mass-content approach lacks the personal touch of a direct conversation, and could be taken as more of a sales pitch than a useful recommendation. It’s difficult to tailor your messaging to the needs of each customer — and it’s harder to gauge your customers’ reactions and receive valuable feedback.
So who is it good for?
If you’re trying to convince a massive set of customers — or you need to keep a tight grip on the messaging you send out — the mass-content approach could be the right choice.
Which customers should I focus on?
The way you start your ecommerce rollout depends on your own company and its short-term goals — there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.
But no matter how many customers you’re trying to draw in, we’ll always give the same advice:
You shouldn’t be trying to move all of your customers at once.
It’s rare for a merchant to pull off a perfect rollout on a large scale from day one — and you should be ready to deal with a few teething problems along the way.
Your sales teams will need some practice before they can perfect their pitch and deal with potential objections — and you may need to work through some feedback from your customers before you can see the smoothest path forward.
So start small, and choose wisely:
Pick a small number of customers for your first ecommerce rollout — looking in particular for the customers that:
- Place weekly orders — so they can see the most benefit, and you can gather the most insight
- Have a progressive attitude — the ones who are willing to co-operate, get used to a new platform, and get the most out of it
- Can benefit the most from ecommerce — such as those still using manual processes for their budgets and approvals
- Are already interested — the ones who have previously asked about online ordering
- Have a good relationship with you — with a strong level of trust, and open communication.
Once you’ve picked the perfect team of first users for your ecommerce site, you’ll be ready to get them started.
|Tip — For most merchants, we recommend choosing around 5 customers to start. It’s enough to get valuable feedback and data, but small enough to stay manageable and reduce the risk of complications.
How can I encourage their first ecommerce order?
First, let’s deal with the good news:
If you’ve picked the right customers and conveyed the benefits clearly, most of your customers won’t need an extra incentive.
There’s already a real demand for ecommerce buying in the B2B space, with 32% of B2B sellers saying that ecommerce is now their most effective sales channel.
But in case some customers need a kick to get them started, here’s what you can do:
- Remind them of the benefits — either with a personal conversation, or with a custom-made piece of content (like a reminder email).
- Offer free shipping on their first ecommerce order — it’s a small cost to you that could lead to massive benefits later.
- Create time-limited discounts — to give them the push to get started with your new site.
- Create online-only deals — such as bulk discounts or special pricing tiers that aren’t available offline.
Of course, these special discounts and deals will only be possible if you’ve got an ecommerce platform with those features built in — like the personalised pricing and discounts that come as standard with Apparatus.
How can I get my sales teams on board?
If you want your ecommerce rollout to be a complete success, it’s going to take effort from both sides. And that means your customers aren’t the only ones that need an incentive.
So what can you do to motivate your sales teams — to get them fully on board with your ecommerce initiative? Here are a few ideas:
- Let them keep their customers — when a sales rep moves a customer over, the ecommerce revenue from that customer can still count towards their sales targets.
- Teach your sales staff the benefits — your sales teams can spend less time on admin and queries, and more time on the ‘fun stuff’ — like finding opportunities and building relationships.
- Set targets for your sales teams — give them specific ecommerce goals to hit (like a certain percentage of customers moved, or a certain percentage of revenue through ecommerce)
- Create rewards for hitting their targets — from financial bonuses and extra holiday days to team events and social days.
- Give them training on producing content — as you scale your ecommerce initiative, your sales teams will have a huge part to play in the messaging you send out — and learning these skills can add variety and novelty to their roles.
But no matter how you motivate them, remember this:
The switch to ecommerce doesn’t replace your sales teams.
Data from Gartner shows that the most successful transactions are ‘rep-assisted’ ecommerce orders — with sales teams actively assisting their customers as they place orders online, and continually producing content and comms that encourage, guide, and educate those customers in ecommerce ordering.
It’s not a ‘fire and forget’ situation. It’s an evolution of the relationship between your sales teams and your customers — and they’ll still have an active role to play during and after the switch.
Ready to bring more customers online?
Setting up your ecommerce site is only the first step. And moving all your customers doesn’t happen overnight.