While consumer apps have undergone huge digital transformation over the past 10 years, many business-to-business (“B2B”) experiences have remained largely offline and clunky. We’ve grown used to consumer experiences being unlocked with a few taps, and payments settling seamlessly behind the scenes with increasingly more ways to pay. With business transactions most things still happen with PDF invoices via email, or even over the phone.
There are many reasons for this: business transactions are significantly larger than consumer ones and many businesses need to keep track of what is being sold or purchased, and want invoices to be reconciled to payments for audit purposes. Many business relationships are more personal, with intermediaries like distributors helping suppliers find and manage their buyer base.
But Covid has accelerated the digital adoption of many B2B relationships. Suppliers and buyers now realise they can find, engage and transact with each other entirely online. There is a growing number of B2B vertical marketplaces, from food and drink, to building materials, to fashion and engineering services. While small now, these marketplaces are cutting out the friction involved with much business purchasing and will grow substantially in the next 5 to 10 years.
So if you’re selling to other businesses, how can you optimise your online platform to make the most of the latest technology available?
Nowadays you can find out everything about your customers online. It’s important to ensure you're onboarding and tracking who you work with in a systematic way. This is especially relevant if you want to take payments online. Many B2B platforms still don’t integrate a proper onboarding process to collect key information or background checks on their business customers and the key people who work there.
Authentication of your clients allows you to cut out fraudsters and time-wasters, while building a deeper knowledge of what your customer demographic will want when it comes to delivery, payments and special promotions.
Many B2B platforms allow you to make an order online, but then the payment experience gets shunted offline to email or telephone contact points. Offering an online checkout page will increase the speed of transactions and allows you to own more of the experience. This is even more powerful if you're a B2B marketplace looking to connect sellers and buyers and want to keep control of the end-to-end experience.
Credit cards or PayPal that work well for low-ticket consumer items (£50-£100) and cost 1.5-3% to the merchant, start to look very expensive when you're selling goods and services worth thousands. Also, depending on your sector, there might be a number of different ways that businesses would like to pay. Your buyers might insist on payment terms (e.g. pay on 30 or 60 days), others might like to pay now but from their business bank account or via direct debit. Others still might want an escrow service where they only release the funds when delivery is made and quality is checked.
Offering different payment methods at checkout will help you close more deals at larger ticket sizes and ensure the smoothest customer experience. It also streamlines your business without the need for large accounts or support teams who take orders, send invoices, and take payments offline.
One of the most effective ways to remove fiction in business sales is by offering financing at point of sale. In some industries this is the norm for big existing players, but even smaller marketplaces should be thinking about this. If you’ve onboarded and authenticated your buyers properly, you’ll be in a great position to build a pay-later credit offering. This gives them the benefit of not having to outlay the cash before they go on to sell the goods to their end customers and will drive huge loyalty to your platform. Equally, you can integrate instant-settlement features for suppliers to unlock cash faster and guarantee they come to you with their goods first.
Of course things do go wrong and payments get delayed or disputed. Again, many B2B platforms get bogged down with this, with large credit control teams who do everything manually and don’t know how best to ask their customers for their hard-earned money without damaging relationships. By thinking of credit control or collections as a product and automating the key reminders and collection steps, you can strip out and standardise many of the processes. Making use of credit insurance also protects you against insolvency that might happen to some of your less stable customers. There are many different providers of credit insurance with different coverage limits, pay-out timings, pricing and contract types. So understanding what’s best for your business will give you the confidence of working with more customers that you might have turned down in the past.
With more happening online, there’s every reason to invest in the reporting and analytics that helps you keep track of all your transactions, payments and finances. Many B2B platforms have an off-the-shelf CRM system for their sales team and an e-accountancy package their finance team uses. But most of the legacy systems often don’t talk to each other and there's no way to see end-to-end what's going on (other than creating your own messy Excels or GSheets). Ideally you want to have dashboards that tell you daily how many new buyers you’ve onboarded, purchases you've made, successful deliveries, incoming payments and average order value trends per customer. This becomes even more important as you start to scale online sales and are making decisions such as hiring and where to focus the team.
Whether you're thinking of moving your customer journeys from offline to online, or you're scaling a B2B marketplace with more suppliers/buyers and transaction volume, all the above might sound very intimidating and it's significant work to get this right.
The good news is that companies like MarketFinance are here to help deliver on all of the above. By working with an embedded finance player with over 10 years' experience in the B2B space, you get the benefit of all the best integrations, payment options and buyer credit, without having to build out all the functionality yourself. This allows you to get ahead and focus on the most important parts of your business - your products, marketing and customer acquisition.
If you’re thinking of any of the above, why not reach out to us on firstname.lastname@example.org to talk to one of the team.