The Time Is Now for B2B E-Commerce: Part 1 of 8

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the preferences of B2B buyers and sellers and accelerated the digital transformation of B2B businesses.

  • The evolution of B2C e-commerce serves as a blueprint for B2B e-commerce, which will see trillions of dollars in sales shift online over the next several years.

  • Companies like Keysight Technologies, Ranpak, and PENCOM are embracing B2B e-commerce and capturing market share by launching new initiatives and adapting to changes in buyer behavior.

  • As an e-commerce veteran, my goal is to share my 20+ years of hard-earned knowledge with you. The time is now to lay out and execute an e-commerce roadmap for your B2B organization. Let’s begin!

I am partnering with fabric this Fall season to revisit concepts in my book Billion Dollar B2B E-Commerce and reflect on how organizations approached these concepts during the height of COVID-19 that pushed more business online. This is part one of an eight-part series.

Beyond this year’s splashy headlines about the digital transformation of retail and the move towards “the next normal” due to COVID-19, the untold story that’s been quietly developing is the astonishing rise of business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce. Since the start of the pandemic, B2B buyers and sellers have gone digital in a major way, creating a paradigm shift that has completely upended traditional business practices and turned the entire e-commerce world on its head.

While the transition may have begun long ago, the events of the last year and a half have only accelerated this change. According to a survey by McKinsey, 70-80% of B2B buyers and sellers now prefer digital self-serve and remote human engagement over face-to-face interactions, and 89% of respondents believe the changes are likely to become permanent.

Digital Commerce 360 found that sales on B2B e-commerce sites grew by 10% to reach $1.39 trillion in 2020. That means B2B sales completely dwarfed the volume of business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce sales, which only reached $791.70 billion in the U.S. last year. Meanwhile, eMarketer projects that B2B sales will grow to nearly $1.5 trillion this year, and soar to over $2 trillion by 2024.


This Story Has Been Told Before

I believe that B2B e-commerce is on the cusp of exploding (even more than it has during the pandemic). It is the last great frontier of digital commerce, and its transformation is accelerating whether businesses want it to or not.

As an e-commerce veteran that got my start in the earliest days of the internet, I’ve spent over a decade as a hands-on C-level executive and over 20+ years building digital commerce operations to hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. Having stood on the frontlines, shoulder-to-shoulder with both early-stage and multi-billion-dollar enterprises, I’ve witnessed first-hand the wave of creative disintermediation caused by the rise of B2C e-commerce.

However, I’ve also seen how many B2C retailers found incredible success by venturing into the then unknown and unproven world of e-commerce. Even companies that were slow to embrace digital transformation have become wildly successful businesses in their respective industries. (Has anyone ever heard of Staples or Target?)

The Time Is Now

Disruption is upon our industry and ignorance is not an excuse for inaction. B2B leaders across manufacturing, distribution, wholesale, and retail must sit up and pay attention or suffer the same fate of the slow and resistant B2C companies of the past. Those who are taking action today are capturing a competitive advantage and driving enterprise value right now. This is happening across all kinds of industry sectors.

– Billion Dollar B2B E-Commerce, Chapter 1, Page 7, First Edition

Consider these companies that launched B2B e-commerce initiatives in 2020/2021:

  • Leviton, a Melville, N.Y.-based manufacturer of electrical wiring equipment with 6,500 employees worldwide and estimated annual revenue of $1.5 billion, recently launched the Leviton B2B portal. This new online ordering system is designed to simplify the critical needs of distributor procurement and sales professionals around the world.
  • Ranpak, a supplier of paper-based packaging products, just launched a B2B digital marketing campaign to find new direct-to-consumer (DTC) decision-makers for its products. Over the last eight quarters, Ranpak has increased digital and technology investments and expects to have a record year both financially and strategically. The company is on track to achieve multi-year growth objectives of double-digit top-line growth.
  • H2 Brands Group, a leading national consumer products company with 23 brands and over 12,000 products, accelerated its digital strategy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It recently launched a new B2B e-commerce site, which allows its customers to access a world-class shopping experience that rivals some of the best e-commerce sites today.
  • PENCOM, a company that specializes in mechanical hardware, custom manufacturing, and distribution, just launched a new Engineering and Design Solutions webpage using a headless and modular commerce solution. The site connects B2B customers directly with PENCOM’s engineers, who offer custom design, application support, value engineering, reverse engineering, and 3D modeling services.
  • Klondike, a producer of high-performance oils, lubricants, greases, and fluids, also used headless and modular commerce software to launch their advanced LUBE-LINK oil finder. The new oil and lubricant database allows B2B customers to find the right product for the job quickly and effortlessly.

These are just a few examples; more are entering the market every day. B2B buyer behavior has shifted fundamentally, just as it has with B2C. While the industries and company sizes vary, the stories and lessons are remarkably similar. Buyers are shifting research and purchase behavior online, and by following best practices and making the buyers’ jobs easier via e-commerce, these companies are winning.

Lessons for B2B

Today, B2B companies are destined to follow the same path as the B2C companies that came before them. Although many have not yet had to contend with these changes outright, they’ll need to study and learn from their B2C counterparts or run the risk of falling so far behind that catching up will not be possible.

[My objective here] is to provide you—the B2B executive, manager, business owner, or entrepreneur—with a solid foundation of e-commerce knowledge and to give you the tools to lay out and execute an e-commerce roadmap for your organization. My intent is to help you avoid critical mistakes and also help you learn the foundational requirements of e-commerce, the importance of leadership, and the specific tactics you will need to successfully execute the creation and launch of a B2B e-commerce operation.

The time is now to take action.

– Billion Dollar B2B E-Commerce, Chapter 1, Page 7-13, First Edition


Topics: Commerce
Brian Beck

B2B e-commerce expert and author of Billion Dollar B2B E-Commerce.

Learn more about fabric