Person on ladder reaching for the sky

More than half of all US sales from manufacturers and distributors, wholesalers and business to business (B2B) goods and products providers were made digitally in 2019. This was an 18% growth, compared to 2018.

B2B ecommerce alone is expected to account for 17% of B2B sales in the US by 2021 and by 2023 it is expected to be worth $1.8trillion of sales.

However, at the beginning of 2020 the US B2B sector was anticipating a slowdown in sales. A combination of continuing trade wars and slower economic growth worldwide were expected to have an impact. Despite these concerns, ecommerce growth was expected to continue at a faster pace than the sector as a whole.

This was before the coronavirus pandemic took hold, causing many businesses to scale back their operations.

What role will B2B ecommerce play in the US as we look forward to recovery?

US B2B ecommerce – looking forward

Measures to manage the coronavirus pandemic will lead to permanent changes in the B2B landscape for some businesses. Forward looking B2B companies are looking to innovation and ecommerce to bring them through.

In the first quarter of 2020 many B2B sellers saw ecommerce sales growing, but the pandemic brought about unpredictable rises and falls. Many businesses are expecting sales at the end of 2020 to plateau or show a downturn. Without any precedents, it is difficult to know how to respond.

Some businesses are now starting to build their post-coronavirus strategy based on new approaches to technology, marketing and operations.

Building blocks for B2B ecommerce growth

The speed of growth in B2B ecommerce has accelerated during the coronavirus pandemic. However, many businesses were unprepared for the dramatic changes in the market. There is an urgent need to implement a robust infrastructure to continue operating efficiently online in the future.

A recent report (April 2020) found that almost half of B2B purchases now take place online and that many businesses are moving away from traditional sales representatives in favor of ecommerce. There has been a major shift in buying behavior, with the number of people buying directly from salespeople dropping from 44% before the coronavirus pandemic to just 16%.

Identifying opportunities – productivity will help businesses to manage their margins and improve profitability. B2B buyers are turning to online procurement to make business purchasing more cost-effective and efficient and to speed up the buying process.

This is one of the reasons why the role of the sales representative is changing. Buyers want to research and evaluate their options quickly online; they will only want to speak to someone from your sales team when they can add value or simplify the process.

Equipping your sales professionals to respond to bespoke and technical requests quickly and with confidence will give you a competitive advantage. This means that they must have accurate and reliable systems and processes. They will need to see everything your buyers can see online and have access to all your back-office business tools as well. This makes integration of your enterprise systems and your ecommerce platform a priority for future growth.

Easy purchasing – online buyer/seller networks and e-procurement are growing quickly in the US B2B marketplace. Although still the dominant method of B2B purchasing, use of traditional electronic data interchange (EDI) is slowing.

Increasingly buyers are looking for automation and procurement integration with as many suppliers as possible. Businesses that meet this requirement will be well on their way to establishing long-term relationships.

Solutions can include punchout catalogs, purchase order automation and electronic invoicing, for example.

Easy payments – the immediate implications of the coronavirus pandemic meant that many businesses saw employees working from home for the first time. To keep things running smoothly new ways to provide quotations and invoices and to accept payments were needed in many cases.

Now that these principles are established, businesses can harness these new and flexible approaches to give buyers an easier, more retail-like experience.

Learning from data – new relationships between buyers and sellers are emerging as both adapt to changing market conditions. Self-service and business to consumer (B2C) like experiences will further change buying behaviour and provide new data-rich resources that can be turned into actionable insights using artificial intelligence.

Data-driven decisions will be more important than ever in the post-coronavirus world. While marketplaces will still play an important part, businesses that connect directly with their customers will benefit from deeper insights into their behaviour that will be invaluable in building long term relationships, both online and offline.

Taking control of your B2B ecommerce growth

Research suggests companies already planning how to capture market share as we recover from coronavirus are more likely to succeed in the longer-term. Agility and a focus on customer value and support will provide a competitive advantage.

For B2B companies that have recognized the power of ecommerce as a foundation for growth, Cloudfy offers a complete out-of-the-box solution and seamless integration with leading business systems. For specialist requirements, there’s a powerful application programming interface for easy customization. As a software as a service (SaaS) solution in the cloud there’s no need for major capital investment and with regular updates, you will remain at the forefront of the latest ecommerce developments.

Find out how Cloudfy can help your manufacturing, wholesale, importing or distribution business to grow. Book a free demonstration.