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“Could you fax me that order confirmation before close of business?”
It wasn’t that long ago that companies couldn’t imagine getting by without their trusty fax machines. After getting a taste of this cutting-edge tech, going back to the glacial pace of snail mail wasn’t just frustrating — it was bad for business. After all, who didn’t have a fax?
But times have changed.
Today, it’s clear that the fax no longer rules supreme, with B2B sales channels muscling in. So which sales channels are taking the humble fax machine’s place — and, more importantly, why?
This is one of the topics we covered in our research into digital transformation and B2B e-commerce. You can download the Digital Transformation Report now, but if you want to learn more about current and projected changes in B2B sales channels, read on!
If you’re familiar with our blogs, white papers, and webinars, the fact that we’re putting e-commerce front and center probably won’t come as a surprise. But this isn’t just because we believe that B2B web stores are an essential part of any strategy aiming to streamline sales and improve customer satisfaction.
It’s what the market is saying.
We asked 300 businesses how they sold their products 2 years ago, how they sell them now, and expect to sell them 2 years in the future. Of the top 10 channels indicated, 3 were some form of web store.
By far the most popular option, both in terms of B2B web store type and overall, is for businesses to have their own web store. Not only does this channel have the largest share, it has also seen the strongest growth over the past two years.
As a company specialized in integrated e-commerce for SAP and Microsoft Dynamics, we couldn’t be happier with this news! And we couldn’t be less surprised: we are well aware of the many benefits a web store set up specifically for your ERP.
This is obviously just scratching the surface. We won’t go into detail now, as we want to focus on the data at hand, but make sure to download a free copy of our Integration Guide for your (very) extensive guide to excellent B2B e-commerce.
Bearing this in mind, it’s remarkable that companies currently not selling through their own B2B web store aren’t planning to get started in the next 2 years.
All other channels included in the list are set to see either decline or growth over the same period. Whether this is because everyone interested in B2B e-commerce started their project on time, or because the benefits of launching their own web store aren’t yet well-known remains to be seen.
Selling through third-party websites is also growing in popularity, albeit at a slower rate. Selling through distributor sites offers your clients the convenience of being able to place orders whenever they want, with the added benefit that your company doesn’t need to manage the sales portal. (Though this does mean that you have little to no control over how your products are sold compared to an owned channel.)
Online marketplaces are also gaining traction among B2B salespeople and professional buyers. Even we have to admit that selling through e-commerce giants like Amazon, Alibaba, and Bol.com offer unique benefits, such as potentially getting more eyeballs on your product. After all, when it comes to SEO, your own fledgling web store simply can’t hope to compete with the biggest names in the online sales landscape.
Do we take a closer look at the benefits (and the downsides) of selling through Amazon in our blog Online Marketplaces: Friend or Foe?
Think B2B sales, and you probably think of salespeople manning the phones (or, more accurately, Skype), preparing quotes, filling out RFIs, and visiting clients. While they’re still in second place in terms of sales channel popularity, it seems that they could soon be going the way of the fax.
While there is a slight uptick in selling through sales representatives compared to 2 years ago, our data indicates that it’s only temporary: in another two years there will be fewer sales through dedicated representatives than 4 years previously.
Does this mean that salespeople are next in line to be phased out by technology?
Sure, sales by Skype (or phone) might be on the way out, but there are other ways that sales specialists can add value. Spending less time in sales calls means having more time to build meaningful relationships with clients, while also providing a better online experience for your clients — as we discuss in this blog about using B2B web stores as self-service portals. This strengthens brand loyalty and paves the way for more sales in the future.
Yet another reason why more and more companies are launching their own B2B web stores.
There’s a slight but undeniable downward trend in companies selling through physical stores and depots.
While brick-and-mortars still come in at number 4, things are not looking great for the window shopping aficionados among professional buyers. Perhaps it’s because there are benefits of visiting a physical store that digital sales channels simply can’t offer, such as being able to hold products in your hand and maybe even trying them out (or tasting them, in the case of the food and beverage industry).
However, the benefits of digital shopping for B2B outweigh those of brick-and-mortars. A web store lets clients browse hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of products from the comfort of their office chair — or morning commute. No need to reserve time to visit a physical location, and no need to make your way through a massive warehouse.
It’s about more than just convenience, though: looking up products online makes it easier to compare options and find the best deal.
While they’re on the decline, physical stores are still a part of the B2B sales landscape. They’re not the only old-fashioned sales channel that’s still relevant though.
What’s striking here is that unlike brick-and-mortars, these more traditional B2B sales channels aren’t exhibiting a solid downward year-over-year trend. Only the call center is set to have fewer users in 2 years compared to 2 years ago — but the number of users is still set to grow compared to current levels.
Do B2B companies regret phasing out call centers?
One possible explanation could be that recent years’ trend of re-embracing outmoded items (fixed gear bikes, vinyl records, typewriters) driven by the much-maligned and frequently mustached hipster has bled into the business world, fueling interest in decidedly not digital sales channels.
But, in all honesty? That seems very unlikely. The thing to keep in mind is that digital channels such as email and B2B web stores aren’t meant to completely replace old-fashioned sales.
Well, maybe they’re meant to replace the fax, specifically.
But other digital channels can enhance good old-fashioned sales calls — whether they take place via landline or Skype. Some purchases require a consultative sales call where the client can ask detailed questions specific to their situation that simply aren’t worth covering in an FAQ on your web store or website. Conversely, not every purchase needs to be discussed with a sales representative first; sometimes a quick email or visit to the web store is enough.
It’s all about providing a diverse set of channels so that your (potential) clients can always select their ideal buying method.
Even if that sometimes means dusting off your fax machine.
This is just a fraction of the data we’ve gathered on the status quo (and future) of digital transformation and B2B e-commerce. Want to see the bigger picture? Need more data to fuel your decisions? Or are you just looking for more fresh statistics? Digital transformation insights await in our report.
The importance of a product data management system for your e-commerce business
Checking the performance of 16 leading B2B e-commerce platforms
B2B e-commerce marketing strategies to drive conversions
We will keep you up-to-date on the latest developments.