B2B online trade: There is still room for improvement

B2B online trade: There is still room for improvement
Published on: Apr 25, 2019
Updated: Aug 19, 2022

In times of Amazon and Alibaba, it is increasingly important for medium-sized B2B retailers to also position themselves digitally if they want to prevail against the big players in the long term. So far, however, only 16 percent of medium-sized B2B companies are active in online trade. The potential, however, would more than exist. B2B e-commerce sales in Germany are expected to rise from 40.2 billion euros in 2018 to 46.3 billion euros in 2019. The total sales volume in B2B is around 80 trillion euros (!) and is thus twenty times higher than B2B online sales. So there is still a lot of room for improvement. However, B2B traders face more than just one challenge when it comes to implementation.

B2B customers are usually more demanding than B2C customers. On the one hand, this is because they usually want to buy larger quantities of goods. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for B2B trade to involve goods that require explanation. These require a lot of time and close contact with the customer. For this, reliable and competent customer service is of course indispensable. B2B customers already receive precisely this customer service when they shop at Amazon Business. This is especially bad for medium-sized B2B traders, because they too should somehow be able to keep up with Amazon in the future.

###Performance of the 100 largest German online shops

Challenges in B2B online retail

There are some challenges and hurdles that B2B retailers have to overcome in order to succeed online.

1. Scepticism among decision-makers

The problem:

The implementation of B2B online trade often fails due to the scepticism of the decision-makers involved. Especially in sales, the doubts accumulate. What happens to the sales force, for example? Will they become superfluous if customers only buy their goods online? How can online sales be linked to the existing IT infrastructure? Decision-makers ask themselves these and other questions and try to weigh up whether the effort is worthwhile for them or not. Valuable time is lost as a result, of course.

The solution:

All decision-makers should be involved in the digitisation process from the very beginning. Through regular exchange, open questions and existing doubts can be addressed and a solution found for each problem. The sceptics must be made aware that digitalisation brings more advantages than disadvantages and that their jobs are not endangered by it. This means: first remove doubts and hold objective discussions until an appropriate solution has been found for all parties involved.

2. Demand of the target group

The problem:

Probably one of the biggest differences between B2B and B2C is the definition of the target group. In the B2C area, private individuals are addressed, whereas in B2B the focus is on business customers. In addition, the target group in the B2B area is usually smaller but more demanding. This is often because, as already mentioned, this customer group wants to buy larger quantities of goods as well as goods that require explanation.

The solution:

Business customers should be addressed and looked after personally. A close customer relationship is advantageous here. Above all, business customers with large quantities of goods expect impeccable support and advice at the time of purchase, but also afterwards. The after-sales phase must not be overlooked. Many products from the B2B sector require regular maintenance.

3. Inadequate e-commerce strategy

The problem:

For many B2B traders, digitisation already fails when it comes to setting up a suitable e-commerce strategy. For example, should the entire product range be offered online or only some of the goods? How can the sales force and online sales be linked at best? Which laws must be observed and complied with when it comes to digital sales in the B2B sector? Discussions about this eat up a lot of time that could also be used more sensibly.

The solution:

Here it is important that experts from all affected areas are involved in building the e-commerce strategy. This is the only way to successfully implement digitalisation. However, this does not mean that all topics should be discussed to the bitter end. A strategic timetable is advantageous here. Which issues should be resolved by when? Who is the main person responsible for which area and by when do they have to complete certain tasks? Only in this way can the strategy be successfully implemented in the end.

Customer relationships in B2B online trade come first

The B2C sector is often perceived as a mass market. B2B, on the other hand, is a different story. The relationship that B2B traders usually build with their customers offline, by phone or in person, must not be lost in e-commerce. However, online retailers should pay attention and consider the entire customer journey - from ordering to shipping to returns. But how can B2B retailers maintain the relationship with their customers even after the order has been placed? The answer is simple: through individual and proactive shipping messages. This is the only way to build a bond with the customer. Communication with the customer must not stop after the order has been sent, because shipping is the key to customer loyalty.

###See shipping messages in action!


It is important that B2B retailers should not enter the online business at any price. However, they should also bear in mind that close customer contact is essential in the B2B sector - online as well as offline. Nevertheless, the implementation of a digitisation strategy requires detailed time and strategic planning. However, SMEs in particular must not miss the boat on digitalisation. After all, there is enormous potential in this area, which is otherwise used at worst by large companies such as Amazon or Alibaba.

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