As consumers, we’re inclined to think of e-commerce as a largely business-to-consumer (B2C)-facing industry. The reality is that the business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce industry is growing rapidly, with overall sales predicted to reach $1.4 billion in 2021 ― making it even more lucrative than the B2C e-commerce market.

If you’re looking to dip your toe into the e-commerce world and are wondering whether B2B e-commerce is the way to go, this guide will explain:

  • What B2B e-commerce is
  • The difference between B2B and B2C e-commerce
  • How to start and operate a B2B e-commerce business

We’ll also provide some examples of B2B e-commerce as points of reference.

An Overview of B2B E-Commerce

B2B refers to transactions made between businesses rather than individual customers. B2B e-commerce, therefore, refers to online transactions between two businesses.

Like B2C e-commerce, B2B e-commerce covers many different industries. There are several types of B2B e-commerce, including wholesale, manufacturers, and distributors.

What’s the Difference Between B2B and B2C E-Commerce?

The main difference between B2B and B2C e-commerce is the target audience or customer. While B2C e-commerce businesses sell directly to end-users, B2B e-commerce businesses sell directly to other businesses.

With B2B e-commerce, this also means that there’s often more than one decision-maker involved in the purchase, rather than one individual. The motivation behind purchases is also different ― businesses typically make purchases as investments in their own business or for reselling or manufacturing rather than personal use or gain.

For this reason, the quantities involved in B2B e-commerce orders tend to be higher, and the types of products on offer include raw materials as well as ready-to-sell products.

B2B E-Commerce Examples

Are you still not sure what a B2B e-commerce website looks like? Here are a few examples to help set the scene.

Alibaba.com

One of the most notable B2B e-commerce businesses is Alibaba.com, a global B2B e-commerce marketplace that connects suppliers, manufacturers, and wholesalers with businesses looking to buy products in bulk as inventory for their companies.

As you can see in the image below, many products on offer have a minimum order quantity since they’re intended to be sold in bulk quantities.

Alibaba Products
An example of the type of bulk products aimed at other businesses on Alibaba. Source: Alibaba.com

Avery Dennison

Avery Dennison is a B2B e-commerce company that specializes in packaging, printing, and labeling solutions. Its products are aimed at wholesale retail customers who want to make purchases in bulk.

Avery Dennison Products
Avery Dennison is B2B e-commerce experts in retail-focused labeling and packaging solutions. Source: Avery Dennison

Restaurantware

Restaurantware is a B2B e-commerce company that manufactures and distributes wholesale restaurant and bar supplies like eco-friendly takeout containers, dinnerware, and glassware.

Restaurantware Products
Restaurantware manufactures and distributes a large range of restaurant-focused supplies. Source: Restaurantware

How To Start and Operate a B2B E-Commerce Business

Starting a B2B e-commerce business requires extensive planning to be successful. Unlike B2C e-commerce ventures where customer bases are much larger, B2B e-commerce businesses require efficient teams of account managers to help establish and nurture relationships.

If you’re already running a B2C e-commerce business. However, you don’t need to start from scratch in terms of e-commerce platforms since many offer a hybrid approach. These platforms meet the needs of both B2C and B2B markets from the same platform.

However, to start a B2B e-commerce business from scratch or to incorporate one into your existing B2C efforts, you’ll need a solid B2B strategy. That’s where a B2B e-commerce business plan comes in handy.

B2B E-Commerce Business Plan

Like any other business, you’ll need an e-commerce business plan to help you work out where you’re going, how you’re going to do it, and exactly what you’ll need to be successful.

Your B2B e-commerce business plan should include:

  • An executive summary: A high-level overview of the business concept, including the products, visions and goals, your team, your marketing strategy, and expected growth trajectory.
  • Your product plan: How will your products be sourced, manufactured, stored, and distributed? How much will the products cost to be produced?
  • Market analysis: What does the industry as a whole look like? Where is the potential for growth? What are the gaps in the market?
  • Customer profile: What do your ideal customers look like?
  • Marketing plan: Where and how will you market your products to reach the desired customer profile? How much do you need to spend to acquire new customers?

How To Market Your B2B E-Commerce Business

Even if you’re well-versed in conducting B2C e-commerce marketing activities, marketing a B2B e-commerce business is an entirely different affair. Here’s a list of what you’ll need to think about when marketing your B2B e-commerce business:

How to present your products

Since purchase behavior is so different between B2C and B2B customers, the way you present your product offering is important.

Focus on how your products add value to your clients’ business. Since B2B e-commerce purchase journeys tend to be more research-intensive given the higher quantity of goods and higher price tag, make sure to include the following on your website:

  • Buyers’ guides
  • Case studies
  • Customer support details
  • Product/demo videos

Get detailed with product descriptions

Don’t leave the product descriptions to manufacturers or suppliers. Complement existing product descriptions with engaging details about how the product brings value to their business. If you want to go one step further, think carefully about your product photography plans too.

Create an informative FAQs list

B2B e-commerce purchase journeys are less emotional than B2C customer journeys. Your B2B customers will want to know the facts about products, minimum order quantities, and any specialized information aimed at their specific industry or sector. Provide these through a frequently asked questions (FAQs) list.

Make sure your website is B2B-friendly

Your website itself is part of the marketing process. Make sure your website has the following features and capabilities for B2B audiences:

  • Ability to set minimum/maximum order quantities on a per-item basis
  • Offer volume-based discounts
  • Customized pricing for different customer groups
  • Multiple payment options such as procurement punchout, credit cards, automated clearing house (ACH) payments, and pay on credit

Take the Leap Into B2B E-Commerce

The good news about B2B e-commerce ventures is that there are thousands of product routes you can choose and become successful. The key, however, is to build up a product and marketing plan before jumping in headfirst.

Growing your B2B e-commerce business doesn’t have to be a complicated affair or take you years to set up. Always remember to go back to basics and start with what problem you are trying to solve for your customers. Once you pinpoint the solution, you’ll be well on your way to fostering customer relationships and sparking growth.

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