The old ways of personal relationships and face-to-face contacts still hold sway in B2B deals. It's time businesses moved onto all digital. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

The evolution of B2B ecommerce from a niche segment to where it will soon equal or surpass traditional channels has been underway for some time. B2B purchasing was, and even until recently, been dominated by a generation that favored centralized, face-to-face interactions and personal relationships.

Even though this older generation controls the purse strings and still holding on to the traditional reins, with the baton in the process of being passed on, B2B purchasing is now the responsibility of a much more web-savvy Gen X. Whether we like it or not, this activity will soon be under the management of the first all-digital generation for whom devices are an extended appendage of their bodies. We know them as millennials.

It needs to be understood very clearly that they have absolutely no problem extending their B2C shopping practices to their B2B purchases. And they will. Retailers like Amazon have been the pioneers in creating frictionless experiences that consumers have got used to. Such experiences are now commonplace across almost all B2C categories, and no good online platform can survive for long without super seamless experiences.

The same buyers are now getting into positions where they are becoming responsible for work as well as business-related purchases. B2B vendors are rushing to adopt the same principles and methods to their own online buying experiences.

In all probability, the B2B ecommerce model is likely to be a hybrid model, where buyers would like to shift between online and offline transactions and interactions for purchases and service. As this gain’s traction, the importance of putting together the data and creating seamless experiences will only gain in importance.

Follow the customers

By 2023, Gartner forecasts 15 per cent of mid-to-large B2B brands to launch their own marketplaces, and 70 per cent of all marketplaces to support B2B transactions.

The transition to digital is not without risk, and the high-profile cyberattacks and increased fraud are going to cause their share of problems. In case of B2B, transactions are likely to be higher value and therefore more concerning. For both B2C and B2B businesses, securing customer data and protecting company infrastructure from fraud and security breaches are as important as any other aspect of ecommerce.

Adopting and investing in a mobile strategy, especially as more millennials and younger digital-only generations take leadership roles, will be key for any B2B business looking to sustain and grow their ecommerce revenue into the future.

Still some digital catch up to do

As per Gartner, the only way forward for B2B is a greater reliance on ecommerce and the continued advancement of the trends and technology we are used to seeing. B2B sales organizations are not selling the way today’s buying customers want to buy. This is slowly but surely creating a growing buyer-seller divide.

This current phase is a truly pivotal moment for traditional B2B sales leaders and organizations. It’s time to acknowledge that the world has changed and that we can’t sell the way we used to.

It is imperative to learn from the habits of B2C organizations like Amazon to truly understand the customer and use data and deeper insights to be more effective. Since online B2B is likely to be bigger than online B2C in a few years, this provides organizations a fresh opportunity to co-exist alongside the Amazons of the world.

Interesting times ahead. We may get to hear of some upcoming startups from this region creating new success stories of the future.