If you’re a B2B distributor that’s been around for a while, then you probably grew up in a specific vertical and developed a reputation with a loyal base of customers. They trust your brand to deliver quality products…at least for now.
The B2B ecommerce landscape is changing. These days a larger share of your customers belong to younger generations. Also, companies like Amazon balloon their ecatalogs to sell just about everything. The result is very little brand loyalty when it comes to products. Younger customers prefer to research the products they need before comparison shopping. Then they'll buy from the company with the lowest price and best user experience. Amazon has cultivated that behavior by offering a leading edge user experience on par with the best B2C brands. But their biggest advantage is a massive product catalog. Need fasteners? Amazon sells those. How about sheet metal? Amazon sells that too. With free 2 day shipping.
So how does one compete in this new marketplace? The first step is accepting that your B2B company can no longer be only a distributor. It also needs to be a technology company. It needs to leverage customer data, web analytics and the most recent ecommerce technology to create a world class online experience. Like Amazon, it also needs to grow its online catalog to include products that are adjacent to its core competency. This means adding new product verticals and relating those new products to its existing assortment. If you’re selling cutting tools, you should also be selling safety equipment for use with those cutting tools. Information architecture then becomes critical to navigating and searching a large ecatalog and cross-selling those product groups.
In the past, B2B industrial suppliers could focus on selling high-quality products with a specific application. In the near future, they will need to combine that core competency with technology, business intelligence and a robust product catalog to stay competitive in a 21st century marketplace.