B2B eCommerce

How to sell complex B2B products online

It’s not uncommon for manufacturers and distributors selling complex products and services to believe their offerings are ill-suited for ecommerce. The reason is that many B2B sellers feel complex products are better suited to a face-face sales environment where the sales representatives can educate buyers about the product and its benefits to their business, whereas the online channel cannot. Such notions are outdated. Modern ecommerce systems offer proven solutions to create the buyer experiences needed to overcome the challenges associated with selling complex products digitally, and successfully sell even the most complex products online.

Companies that master the art of selling complex products through digital commerce will have a significant advantage over their competitors. By utilizing advanced ecommerce features and tools, such as comprehensive product content, enhanced search and navigation, interactive product configurations, and personalized pricing, B2B companies can enhance their online customer experience and streamline the purchasing process for complex products.

Here are four crucial steps to help B2B sellers overcome obstacles when selling complex products online:

  • Investing in powerful search, filtering, and navigation tools.
  • Providing comprehensive product content to educate buyers.
  • Equipping sales representatives with digital tools to enhance their performance.
  • Implementing online product configurators to facilitate the sale of made-to-order products.

By focusing on these key areas, B2B sellers can streamline the online buying process for their customers and improve the efficiency of their digital sales channel.

Help customers discover & understand your products

For many B2B companies, selling a large variety of products and services can make it challenging for customers to find what they need. Implementing site navigation that makes sense to B2B buyers, while also considering different customer personas, however, can help solve this issue.

Catalogs should be organized into categories, preferably in a simple hierarchical structure with an over-arching top-level category. Products should be logically categorized for buyers that prefer a natural information taxonomy, with the ability to define multiple levels of subcategories.

Search is the most frequently used feature in any online store and implementing a search-as-you-type feature and using autocomplete to show suggested search queries can greatly enhance the customer experience. Ecommerce site search engines should be capable of recognizing product names, categories, and product attributes in multiple languages, knowing synonyms, ignoring cases, and understanding syntax.

To ensure customers don’t get overwhelmed with a long list of results, search results should show categories containing the search terms, suggested products, and product-related content like blog posts or landing pages. Utilizing the data generated by customer search queries can help optimize algorithms and configurations to match those search queries with your products, maximizing conversion rates.

For ecommerce stores with extensive catalogs, filters–also known as facets–are an essential tool to help visitors narrow down search results on category pages.

A particularly useful feature of facets is their ability to show how many products satisfy filter conditions, enabling buyers to quickly and easily find what they’re looking for.

By implementing effective site navigation, intelligent search functionality, and relevant filters, B2B sellers can reduce complexity and make it easier for customers to find products that fit their requirements.

Educate with product content

With many options available and complex products sold online, B2B buyers need help to decide which product is right for them. Buyers want to research and understand their options when purchasing new equipment or selecting a spare part. As a result, B2B sellers need to invest in educating their customers about their brand and products and develop tools to help them to make an educated purchase decision.

Savvy buyers consume a lot of content on various online channels before making purchasing decisions, and sellers need content marketing to drive conversion. Content is much more than just advertising to attract the attention of the target audience. In ecommerce, content also takes on the role of customer adviser or salesperson. It also provides prospective customers with the required information throughout the entire customer journey: from research to product selection and the decision to buy. According to Gartner’s “New B2B Buying Journey”, decision-makers spend 27 % of their time in the buying process doing online research and only 17 % of their time in contact with suppliers.

Brands will use different types of content, such as blogs, news, user guides, e-books, videos, and manuals to showcase their products’ benefits and tell brand stories. Content can also be related to product information, how-to guides, or helping customers realize why your products are better than similar offers from competitors. Content is relevant during initial research and product selection, as well as before making a decision, and after making a purchase. To attract customers’ attention, create a blog and social media posts. To provide additional support with product selection, invest in white papers, analyst reports, case studies, product demos, and data sheets. To support customers after the purchase, provide an FAQ page and usage and repair instructions.

Digitally-empowered sales team

While having well-prepared product content is essential to answer most customer questions, some buyers may still require the expertise of a business representative to make a final purchasing decision. Therefore, it’s important to combine the unique advantages of personal and digital selling.

Thankfully, many ecommerce vendors have implemented tools that allow sales representatives to access the ecommerce storefront on behalf of customers. With this feature, sales agents can log in to the store and assist customers in making their purchase decisions.

If a sales representative typically makes recommendations prior to purchase, leveraging sales quotes to build draft orders can be another way to use modern technology to guide the order process. Customers can receive recommended orders built by their salesperson online and then convert the quote to order from their office without any further interaction.

For more information on digitally empowering a sales team, check out my previous article.

Configurable products and bundles

Made to order products or a combination of products that need to be assembled in a specific way to satisfy customer requirements pose some of the biggest challenges for B2B ecommerce sellers.

In ecommerce, implementing online product configurators for selling configurable products helps sellers overcome this challenge. A configurable product is a product that customers can change, configure, and personalize before it is purchased.  If sellers can master the implementation of ecommerce for configurable products, there is no real limit on what can be sold.

Here are some examples across different industries:

A company that sells corporate wear should allow a buyer to customize a t-shirt by adding a company logo, text, and an image. Do-it-yourself stores, such as Home Depot in the United States, sell many configurable products such as windows, vanity tops or custom-built closets. The equipment manufacturer needs to give the customer 3D tools to design the final machine or part it needs.

Each of these cases requires the implementation of an online configuration tool that is purposely designed for the seller’s business and is integrated into its online store.

Often, B2B merchants are selling a complex combination of products and need to guide customers through several steps to make sure they buy the correct combination. Sellers need to break that process into several actions, and customer choice in previous steps may influence what options are available in the next one. In ecommerce it is called a configurable bundle.

To implement configurable bundle functionality B2B sellers need to define configuration steps, what products can be selected at each step, define validation rules that may be required to ensure the correct configuration, and implement a price adjustments algorithm based on the choices made by a customer.

Selling complex products online can be challenging, but focusing on these four key areas can help remove barriers and create a more streamlined and enjoyable customer experience. This can lead to increased sales, customer satisfaction, and loyalty, ultimately helping businesses achieve their growth objectives.

The benefits of adopting a digital commerce strategy for complex products are clear, and companies that embrace this approach will be well-positioned to succeed in today’s competitive marketplace.

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About the B2BEA

The B2B eCommerce Association is a global network and resource hub for B2B practitioners, offering invaluable opportunities to connect and learn. Our mission is to empower manufacturers and distributors in their eCommerce and digital transformation journeys through useful tools, practical resources and exceptional networking opportunities. Join us to thrive in our dynamic industry

Want to become a member?

Become a member of the B2B eCommerce Association for free today. Connect, learn and find new opportunities. 


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