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B2B e-commerce is big business, accounting for more than $1 trillion of sales in the US. But online sales can’t be taken for granted, as close to half (45%) of B2B e-commerce marketers say they have lost customers due to poor customer experiences, per a survey [download page] by Elastic Path of 300 decision-makers in the field.

There’s also concern afoot about the future situation, particularly regarding the world’s largest e-commerce giant. Some 52% of those surveyed believe that Amazon Business (the B2B arm of Amazon) poses a threat to their companies. And this is with good reason: on the consumer side, Amazon is by far and away the largest player, commanding more than 7 times the share of runner up eBay.

Moreover, a large majority of respondents agree that if they do not improve the commerce experience they will see a negative impact on both customer acquisition (80%) and customer retention (82%).

How are B2B e-commerce professionals addressing CX?

The good news is that it appears firms selling to other businesses online are being proactive in addressing these challenges. Foremost, they are putting dollars to work to solve the problem. Some 9 in 10 (91%) agree that their company is investing enough money and resources into improving the digital customer experience.

Technology is obviously a key part of this. At the top of the list in terms of implemented solutions, around 3 in 5 (58%) have implemented personalized buying experiences. Separate studies show the broad benefits of personalization, with RedEye finding that 8 in 10 companies have seen improvements since implementing personalization.

Mobile checkout experiences have also been implemented by a healthy share (55%) of the sample. This is encouraging as B2B companies have not typically made the move to mobile as fast as their B2C peers, at least in terms of planned B2B tech adoption or media spend (in which desktop maintains a healthy lead). This likely reflects the nature of work, where many professionals still spend the majority of their time on desktops.

Account-specific buying agreements have also been implemented by half (51%) of those surveyed, mirroring a growing priority for businesses to start and/or scale their account-based marketing efforts.

Does B2B e-commerce threaten the role of the salesperson?

Within the B2B buying process, there has always been some tension between buyers and salespeople. A survey from 2017 by Merkle found that close to two-thirds (65%) of buyers complained that vendors and reps were more interested in selling their services than listening to their needs. Buyers are also doing more research upfront by themselves, as the average number of information sources they consume before purchasing has gone up.

So could the trend towards self-service indicate a reduced need for the salesperson? Perhaps so, as 57% of all respondents believe that the digitization of commerce will cause their companies to reduce the number of salespeople they employ. Furthermore, this percentage is even higher at the very top, as fully two-thirds (66%) of the C-suite respondents believe this to be the case. Indeed, a study by PROS noted that the reduction of overhead costs was one of the key benefits of B2B e-commerce.

However, there is also evidence in Elastic Path’s study to suggest that companies are looking to better enable their sales reps rather than just reduce headcount. Technologies implemented to help sales teams better serve customers include digital payment processing (59%), e-signature solutions (54%), real-time quoting (38%) and mobile support (35%). As such, the report’s analysis has a more tempered approach to the sensitive issue of headcount, suggesting that sellers that use such tools to strengthen customer relationships and identify opportunities to upsell and add value will thrive, while those that do not risk being replaced by self-service platforms.

The full report can be viewed online here.

About the Data: Data is based on a July survey of 300 B2B e-commerce decision-makers of managerial level and above, with 25% being based in the C-suite.

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