This article was originally published in Navigating Commerce.
The past couple of years have been nothing short of transformative for B2B commerce. Classically offline industries now have the digital tools to open ecommerce channels without committing to a multi-year, multimillion-dollar project, while technology has lowered the barrier to entry for new players who want a piece of the $17 trillion B2B pie. With the convenience of third-party marketplaces, which grew over 100% in 2021 and 2022, B2B players can more easily connect with new buyers while simplifying supply chains.
These changes have demanded new solutions for how business purchases can be made—and technology has quickly kept pace.
With payments in particular, the innovation has tackled the complex B2B purchasing journey, translating it into a seamless online experience while still offering all of B2B’s requirements like net terms, invoicing, and varied pricing structures.
As recently as five years ago, it was difficult to imagine a world where one could purchase hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of steel online the way we purchase a pair of sneakers. But now, seamless B2B payments have become the expectation. In 2023, we’ll see those expectations progress even further, setting a new standard for B2B transactions.
Here are the trends defining the new standard for payments in B2B.
Last year, the call to create an online channel in B2B was defined by urgency. Faced with the notion of “move online or get left behind”, everyone from wholesale to manufacturing was eager to digitize. McKinsey reported that in 2022, 65% of B2B companies across industries offered an ecommerce channel for purchasing their products and services. The significance of this cannot be understated, especially considering that before opening online stores, many of these companies were showing inventory via paper catalogs and taking payments over the phone.
This migration online established new possibilities for what B2B purchasing journeys could be. New tools moved businesses forward faster than anyone could have imagined—as integrating ERPs, offering personalization, implementing online invoicing, and using third-party tech to process payments became much more commonplace. Online channels opened the gates to new customers, and merchants saw AOVs increase and unlock trapped cash from their balance sheets. What began as simply “having an online presence” transformed into something much bigger: embodying the digital space and leveraging those tools and integrations to create a roadmap for the future.
Today, that embodiment of digital is setting a new standard for business payments, and is defined by the following elements:
Personal relationships in B2B have long enabled strong loyalty and business partnerships. But alongside B2B’s digitization, many players have wondered how to translate that trust to new channels. As transactions become less personal and more globalized, it is no longer reasonable to expect to have personal relationships with all of one's buyers, and vice versa.
B2C, of course, has already succeeded in translating trust online. For B2B, it’s not as simple. With higher purchasing volumes, the stakes become much higher. A wholesaler can’t be expected to independently build a checkout that enables the kind of trust needed to facilitate these transactions—but a solution that can seamlessly underwrite buyers in seconds can help. That’s why leveraging strong technology partners is the key to bridging this gap.
Last year, the modular approach to providing strong customer experiences became mainstream. In contrast to the limitations of "old school" monolithic architectures, composable commerce enables ecommerce businesses to customize their technology stack to completely optimize for their specific needs. With this approach, businesses can choose a payment stack that’s easily customizable instead of being forced into a less-than-optimal payment processor.
Prioritizing agility is not something to overlook, considering that 74% of B2B executives believe that buyers expect an experience personalized to their needs across the purchasing journey.
In short, B2B players that adopt technology partners to customize their payments stack position themselves to go to market faster, adapt quickly alongside customer needs, and ultimately come out on top.
B2B’s digitization has been expedited by the demands of millennials, who now make up 65% of the global workforce and are involved in 73% of all B2B purchasing decisions. This generation grew up with social media, review sites, and search engines, and it shows– McKinsey’s 2022 report found that 77% of B2B customers are willing to spend $50,000 or more through an online channel.
While in 2022, having an online channel was a strategic way to appeal to millennial buyers, it’s no longer enough to stand apart from the pack.
What will be the differentiator in an increasingly crowded B2B ecommerce space in 2023? Digitally native payments. And, because credit cards aren’t the long-term answer to online B2B payments, the payment technology today enables business buyers to pay the way they would offline: ACH, wire—and now with embedded financing making its move in B2B—online net terms at checkout.
Buyers today expect and demand more from their payments experience. Gone are the days of the “lowest price mentality.” DC360 reports that more often than not, business buyers prioritize convenience over price. And picking up the phone to read off an SKU of a product you saw online is far from convenient.
Businesses who choose to adopt digitally native payment systems are saying to their buyers, “we see you”, by giving them the payments experience they’re looking for. On the business side, digitizing payments positions businesses at the center of the transaction experience. This point, in which buyers hand over their payment details, can either make or break the loyalty and trust established thus far.
Last year, McKinsey reported that 94% of business executives saw omnichannel sales as an effective way to survive in B2B.
As omnichannel becomes the new standard for B2B, sales teams will have the ultimate tool at their disposal: self-serve digital payments. This model is so impactful for sales teams because of its scalability. Self-serve enables more customers to make more purchases in less time, with less money, and less manpower. Time, money, and manpower in turn can be spent on winning large enterprise clients or nurturing more complex customers.
Self-serve digital payments are not only a game-changer for B2B sales teams, offering them a scalable and cost-effective solution for handling payments and streamlining operations, but will become an increasingly important tool for newer businesses to be more competitive against legacy players who are reluctant to adapt.
The trends of 2022 have unlocked new possibilities for digital payments in B2B. Now, in 2023, we will see a new standard for business transactions as players continue to leverage digital tools and integrations to meet customer demands and create a roadmap for the future.
Author bio: Daniela Mzhen is the Content Writer at Balance, the B2B-first payments solution for the digital age.
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