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B2B Purchasing Is Moving Online. Here's What You Need to Know

Are B2B salespeople becoming obsolete? Not exactly, but their role in the purchasing process is changing as B2B purchasing increasingly moves online. According to a new report, The State of B2B Procurement from the Acquity Group, over two-thirds (68 percent) of B2B buyers report that they buy products and services online, up from 57 percent last year. And the number of B2B buyers who spent 90 percent or more of their budgets online doubled from 9 percent in 2013 to 18 percent this year.

That doesn’t mean buyers are going straight to your business’s website, however. In fact, fewer than half of B2B buyers buy directly from vendors. Instead, 52 percent use third-party websites such as Amazon Supply to make their purchases.

A whopping 94 percent of B2B buyers do research online before making a purchase. Although 83 percent use supplier websites to find information, they also use a variety of third-party websites when researching B2B products and services. About three-fourths (77 percent) use Google searches, while 42 percent seek out user reviews.

No wonder the role of the B2B salesperson is changing: Increasingly, buyers don’t need salespeople to explain their options. The majority (71 percent) say they like to do their own research—and even buy on their own—as long as they can access a sales rep by phone or online chat if they need help or have questions. Just 12.4 percent want to buy the old-fashioned way: having someone meet with them in person to discuss their options and walk them through the sales process.

How can your business profit from this trend?

  • Consider cutting back on sales reps, but make sure the reps you do have are equipped with mobile devices, online chat tools and other technology to enable them to quickly respond to prospects’ questions.
  • Follow up immediately when prospects express interest. With so much research under their belts, by the time prospects contact your company, they’re often ready to buy—meaning that the sale will likely go to the company with the fastest response time.
  • Consider adding third-party sales channels if it won’t cannibalize your existing sales on your own website.
  • Work on your SEO and use search and paid online advertising to drive Google searchers to your website.
  • Think mobile. While another recent report suggested B2B buyers rarely use mobile, this study found one big exception: 55 percent of Millennial buyers (aged 18 to 25) use mobile phones to do their research, and half use tablets. Among buyers over age 45, these numbers are 30 and 31 percent, respectively. As Millennials move up the corporate ladder, their mobile habits will increasingly drive B2B purchasing trends—so make sure your marketing content is mobile-friendly.