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Business to business (B2B) companies are finding it much easier to build customer loyalty with online-only customers than with offline-only customers, according to research from Forrester Consulting and commerce platform provider Hybris. This article is copyright 2013 The Best Customer Guide.

The study, entitled 'Online and Mobile are Transforming B2B Commerce', explored what impact e-commerce is having on how B2B companies sell their products and services, and found that a fundamental transformation is happening in how businesses are acquiring and retaining customers in this market.

In fact, in the US, B2B e-commerce revenue was found to be more than double that of B2C revenue, standing at US$559 billion annually in sales. The study also found that B2B players that fail to embrace online and mobile as sales and marketing channels risk losing market share in the short and medium term, as well as losing a sustainable competitive advantage in the long-term.

"B2B companies must implement effective e-commerce strategies sooner rather than later, or risk losing customers to competitors that are already doing so," said Brian Walker, senior vice president of strategy for Hybris. "By recognising the potential and market value of selling online, B2B businesses will come to find that e-commerce is a goldmine for retaining customers and building loyalty."

The study's three most significant findings were:

  1. Selling online and on mobile devices represents a significant new opportunity for B2B companies.
  2. B2B companies that wait too long to implement ecommerce assume a big risk.
  3. Self-service tools are changing the way in which B2B customers interact with companies.

One major problem is that every B2B buyer is also a B2C consumer, and they have become accustomed to performing consumer product research online - and this has transformed how they expect to research and conduct business purchases. Underlining this point, the study showed that 50% of B2B companies currently selling direct to business partners online indicated that their end-user B2B customers are using either consumer websites or B2B versions of consumer websites to purchase products or services for their companies.

The trend toward increased B2C-like online buying patterns in B2B was further reinforced by the finding that 69% of B2B companies currently selling direct to business partners online expected to stop publishing printed catalogues within five years.

B2B customers are also increasingly using mobile devices to buy online, with B2B companies that are already selling online reporting that more than half of their customers use smartphones to research and make purchases, and more than half are also using tablets to make business purchase decisions.

"Mobile is emerging as a valuable channel for B2B commerce. Companies must develop strategies for customers to have a seamless buying experience whether shopping online or via mobile devices and tablets," warned Walker.

Finally, the study found that it is much easier to influence and build customer loyalty with online-only customers. In fact, online-only customers were found to be more likely to add additional items, order products in bulk, and make repeat purchases compared to their offline-only counterparts. B2B companies also reported that cross-selling and up-selling strategies and building customer loyalty are much more effective online than offline.

"B2B customers now research and complete purchases online more than ever before. To take full advantage of this opportunity, B2B companies must invest in technologies to support e-commerce as it evolves and grows, focus on online and mobile as critical channels for the future, and prepare for competition from already established B2C e-commerce sites as well as B2B rivals," concluded Walker.