For a long time, as far as business to business was concerned, e-commerce was only a solution for low-end mass-market B2B products. High-end B2B businesses were supposedly immune and went on with their business as if the Internet hadn’t happened. One used to think that hard-to-sell products and services such as bespoke industrial solutions, lifts and suchlike required person-to-person interactions. This is no longer the case, Bertrand Maugain, co-CEO of Ibexa* told me in this interview. Nonetheless, there is still a long way to go from brand awareness to online transactions.
The unrelenting rise of high-end business to business e-commerce
Disclosure: even though Ibexa has been our client, we have written this post with our usual aim of professionalism, independence and authenticity
The inevitable rise of e-commerce in B2B
The rise of e-commerce in B2B isn’t entirely new to us, but the Covid crisis has undoubtedly increased the rate of change. As always change happens in the Nordics, Germany and the UK, with France following suit. Much remains to be done, however.
I interviewed Bertrand at a party organised in Paris by the Norwegian company to celebrate the acquisition of Ibexa by the QNTM Group via Altor, a European investment fund. He spoke to me about his vision for B2B e-commerce in the field of complex product sales.
B2B e-commerce is no longer a pipe dream it’s a reality
The McKinsey report that has just been released is unequivocal: “B2B The B2B purchasing process is the result of a long life cycle often linked to a contract as there ar... aren’t just moving to omnichannel. They’ve arrived.” warns the US analyst group. We will come back to this report later on in our columns. In the meantime, let’s discover the vision of a major player in the DXP arena. A sector that has already largely transitioned from the traditional CMS to an all-in-one swiss-knife of a digital tool designed to manage customer experiences.
“The more complex your product, the more you have to take care of your customer experience”
“The more complex the product, such as a machine tool or an industrial lift, the more you have to take care of your customer experience,” Bertrand Maugain points out. Previously, machines were shown at events, face to face, and you could touch them. Today, buyers’ expectations have changed. They want to be able to access these products immediately, online and without delay. The McKinsey report stresses this point as well.
A B2B player, in order to sell its complex product, needs to publish rich content
A B2B vendor, in order to sell its complex product, must provide rich content, some sort of marketing package which, combined with top-notch online product presentations, will convince customers who no longer see their sales reps (and indeed don’t even need nor want to see them anymore if they don’t bring value).
B2B e-commerce in complex product sales affects mostly the early stages of the sale
“It is important to distinguish between transactional e-commerce and digital transformation,” Bertrand stresses. For B2B players who sell complex products with long sales cycles, the challenge in e-commerce is not to move to online transactions. Indeed, who will buy a complete lift system for their office building in three clicks on the Internet? Probably no one.
Beyond that, mixing rich content presentations of these complex solutions, with properly targeted marketing messages, works wonders. One’s online marketing must then be aimed at a large number of different stakeholders, to whom the product must be presented and the message adapted to each of these segments.
For this myriad stakeholders, buyers or high end decision makers, content marketing is extremely relevant
“That’s not all,” explains Bertrand, “beyond that, after attracting a prospect, you have to be able to demonstrate your product, your technology, your know-how. You have to build loyalty among these decision-makers, who will come to the supplier’s portal because they know that this is where they will find information and answers to their own customers’ questions and pain points.” Some sort of ‘marketing to your customers’ customers’ a la Regis McKenna.
This allows marketers to build loyalty among these different players, who may one day, once they have become addicted to your business, order directly via a portal where they can interact with an inside sales representative who will advise them on their choices.
In complex sales, the transaction will seldom take place on the Internet, but all the top of the funnel stages will happen online
“B2B Marketing has already been transformed by digital. We are now entering the second phase of this transformation with the B2B sales cycle,” says Bertrand, “from the presentation of the product, to what it can do for me according to my buyer persona, in several languages of course.”
“A PIM (product information management), integrated within a DXP, allows you to do this,” he points out. Today, you need a CMS for content marketing, a PIM for product information, and combining all these elements together will improve the presentation of your offering. In other words, a simple CMS is no longer enough.
Even in complex selling, it has become essential to document and explain things that were previously handled by salespeople face-to-face
The UK, Germany and the Nordics: a step ahead
The DXP terminology is already well understood in Germany and in the Nordics but is less well known in France. In the UK, where web and marketing agencies reign supreme, migrations to these new marketing tools such as DXP, Martech, Salestech etc. are much faster too.
Towards B2B transactional e-commerce?
“We create digital roadmaps with our clients,” Bertrand emphasises. In Germany, they see transactional e-commerce coming their way in just 3 to 5 years. They are seeking to implement transactional e-commerce in the short term, but they are eager to transform the initial stages of their sales process and to improve the UX and content of their complex product offering online.
“Businesses in Europe aren’t dealing with digital as in the old days anymore, where content and e-commerce were kept in separate silos” Bertrand added.
“Markets are moving in this direction at a more or less rapid pace. I am convinced that we are on the right track,” says Bertrand. “We are seeing more and more projects of this type”, he concluded.