B2B buyers in the United States are more active online than ever before. But few are successfully leveraging their suppliers’ websites to find the information and make the purchases they need.

Instead, they're turning to third-party e-commerce sites like Amazon, according to the 2014 Acquity Group State of B2B Procurement.

Spending More Online

The report, Uncovering the Shifting Landscape in B2B Commerce, makes one fact abundantly clear. The  B2B supplier industry must adapt to attract and engage today’s savvy B2B buyers, increase revenue and capitalize on ripe digital growth opportunities. 

The report, based on a survey of 500 procurement officers with annual purchasing budgets in excess of $100,000, shows B2B organizations increased online spending 11 percent in the past year.

But it also shows that many suppliers are falling short when it comes to getting their share of these online sales, losing customers to a lack of information, technical glitches and customer service failures. This opens the door for third-party vendors like Amazon to swoop in and gobble up their potential online profits.

“The more progressive B2B (suppliers) who made the investments and took the leap in the last few of years are poised to garner a significant and differentiated advantage going forward,” said Bob Barr, managing director at Acquity Group. “Those organizations still trying to convince themselves that their customers are going online (rather than calling a sales rep) are increasingly at risk of joining the great brands that were once great but are no more.”

Trends at a Glance

Customer expectations are driving a shift to online sales, the report shows. In addition:

  • Nearly 70 percent of B2B buyers made a purchase online last year
  • The number of procurement officers that spent 90 percent or more of their total budget online doubled last year
  • Nearly half of respondents said they researched company products on a smartphone or tablet

But many B2B businesses aren’t buying directly from vendors. Nearly one in five buyers used Amazon supply and make a purchase using the service at least once per quarter.

This isn’t because procurement officers aren’t aware of supplier web sites. In fact, supplier websites are often the first stop for procurement officers conducting initial research. The problem is procurement officers don’t find the information they need to make a purchasing decision on those sites, so they ultimately continue their search elsewhere, the report said.

Of those shoppers who do stay on supplier websites to make a purchase, some 69 percent ultimately abandoned their cart because the checkout process was too confusing or they ran into frustrating technical glitches. "The number one reason cited by buyers for purchasing from a third-party site like Amazon Supply was an easier ordering process,” stated the report.

So what can your business do to succeed with digital shoppers?

Getting Your Share of Sales

Give shoppers what they need. Ensure that the information about your products is useful and fits your audience. Provide a seamless shopping experience that not only draws customers in but gives them a reason to stay, said the report.

Sales representatives needs to sell, not take orders. Only 12 percent of buyers actually want to meet a sales representative in their product research, shopping experience or ordering experience, said Barr. But they do want to be able to talk to someone if they have a question. The underlying message from this finding is that sales reps shouldn’t be taking orders, they should be in a position where they can help customers find solutions.

Don’t let technology lapses drive customers away. There are too many cart abandonments due to poor online experience. In total, 26 percent of customers left their cart because checkout took too long, 35 percent because the website didn’t load properly, 22 percent because checkout was too confusing, said Barr. “This is real money being left on the table by B2B suppliers,” he said.

Provide customer service and value. Nearly 70 percent of procurement officers said they would spend more for features such as “warranty tracking, notifications, invoice-printing capabilities and the ability to consolidate and record spending,” stated the report. Other features that attract buyers, free delivery and enhanced security. Adding these services can make your site more appealing.

Focus on mobile. Right now mobile is most often being used for research and not a lot of buying. “Increasingly mobile will take over as the buying experience,” said Barr. “Think mobile first, but do not ignore the desktop.”

Integrate your site. While most buyers want to be able to find information online, they also want to be able to talk to a live person on the phone or through a web chat. Make sure your customers have the support they need.

Your goal should be to provide your customers with a comfortable and smooth online buying process to keep your business in step with the times. “The digitization door is closing. If you don’t step through now, you will be left outside looking in at the inevitable winners,” said Barr.