Demographic shifts are drastically transforming buyer expectations in B2B.
Nearly two-thirds of today’s workforce is millennials or Gen-Zers, cohorts that were raised as digital natives. For generations that came of age with the Internet, it’s second nature to turn to social media, online shopping, and search engines to meet daily needs. They’re more likely to do extensive research online before ringing up a salesperson to make a purchase decision, if they even do.
Such shopping habits have been most noticeable in B2C ecommerce. The rise of popular online consumer-facing multi-vendor marketplaces like Amazon has turned the retail space on its head. Because younger demographics are increasingly in the driver’s seat at B2B enterprises, these shopping tendencies are overtaking business-to-business transactions as well and reshaping buyer expectations in B2B.
The digital-native approach is, of course, at odds with how B2B transactions have taken place historically. In response to the move away from manual processes that have been the hallmarks of B2B sales, businesses need to adapt to maintain a competitive edge.
To respond effectively, it’s important to first understand the specific ways in which buyer expectations in B2B are changing. Then, B2B businesses must opt for ecommerce tools and strategies that enable them to deliver the best online-shopping experiences.
The shift in buyer expectations in B2B impacts every stage of the B2B sales journey.
From the point when a prospective buyer becomes aware of a B2B product or service to the moment they decide to place an order (and every stage in between), the preference for consumer-like online experiences is apparent.
Meeting new buyer expectations in B2B demands more than launching a simple self-service website. B2B sales aren’t simple. They’re the byproduct of long-standing relationships. The transactions often involve negotiation, with details hammered out over phone calls, emails, and text messages, or even across the table at in-person meetings. B2B businesses must find a way to digitize all aspects of the B2B sales journey.
Here are five ways that buyer expectations in B2B are shifting, and what they're now looking for when making buying decisions.
For the next generations of B2B decision-makers, it’s all about convenience. They don’t see why their B2B orders should be so much more complicated than what they experience as regular consumers in their own personal lives. That’s one of the preferences feeding a strong appetite in the B2B segment for online options like digital marketplaces, a fact supported by research:
Ease of purchase is only one factor pushing more B2B sales online and altering buyer expectations in B2B. Product depth is another major motivator, and it’s inspiring enterprises to turn toward digital marketplaces in particular.
These sales channels bring together product catalogs from multiple vendors, allowing buyers to effectively create single orders containing items from a variety of sources rather than being limited to a single supplier. It’s perhaps no surprise then that in 2021 B2B marketplace sales surged by 131% to $56.5 billion.
B2B dealings are still heavily informed by relationships. However, B2B decision-makers are spending more time and effort shopping around and evaluating options in recent years, just as they would when making a B2C purchase.
For example, a typical B2B purchase process in 2021 involved 27 “buying interactions,” which Forrester defines as all activities related to learning more about a product, service, or vendor. Just two years prior, it was normal for a purchase to involve 10 fewer buying interactions. The rise of marketplaces dovetails with more purchaser diligence, as they can host buyer reviews of several or more suppliers in a single place.
B2B buyers always took a multi-channel approach, but today’s decision-makers are using more channels than ever before to connect with suppliers. They’re also using previously unfamiliar types of channels, another way in which buyer expectations in B2B are evolving.
This has translated to B2B customers doubling the number of channels they use — and in a relatively short period. For example, in 2016, B2B decision-makers regularly used just five channels to interact with suppliers:
Within five years, five new channels had been added:
The desire for a B2C-like shopping experience in B2B extends to the checkout. In particular, those pulling the trigger on B2B purchases have higher service expectations for shipping.
As in so many other ways, B2B buyers want more choice when it comes to shipping. Companies like Flexport, a logistics and supply chain management enterprise, are rising to the challenge and enabling B2B companies to offer more robust delivery options through sea, rail, road, or air.
B2B buyers also expect faster shipments. While meeting the standard of Amazon’s free one-day shipping through its Prime membership may be unrealistic for B2B companies dealing in far greater volumes and custom products, options like self-serve can get orders processed and out the door quicker. Features like real-time tracking, commonplace in B2C, is also entering the B2B sphere so business buyers can conveniently keep tabs on orders.
Digitize Your Business.
Having a strong online presence isn’t an option — it’s table stakes. To meet evolving customer demands and B2B buyer expectations, transform your business online with a marketplace offering. But make sure you do so with a multi-vendor ecommerce platform that’s been designed for the needs of B2B transactions.
Remember: B2B success in the new digital landscape depends on more than throwing up a website.
When aiming to grow your digital footprint and attract B2B buyers, choose an ecommerce platform that’s been built with B2B sales processes in mind. That way, you’ll not only establish an online presence — you’ll effectively digitize customer journeys, too.