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Commerce is ever-changing as the technology matures, human behavior changes, and the market evolves. 

According to UN trade and development experts UNCTAD, the e-commerce sector saw a “dramatic” rise in its share of all retail sales, from 16% to 19% in 2020. In addition to online consumer purchases, this figure includes “business-to-business” (B2B) trade, which together was worth 30% of global gross domestic product two years ago1.

Manufacturers and wholesalers began to list products online that are more complex. E-commerce platforms offer sophisticated features such as configure, price, quote (CPQ), thus transforming e-commerce websites into a tool sellers use to support customers with different buying scenarios.

There is an uptick of sales and customer support representatives using e-commerce as a tool to facilitate the selling process in a remote setting. A recent Forrester study published in March 2021 finds that 24% of all global B2B purchases are rep-assisted e-commerce2.

This change signifies a shift in seller and customer behavior. Buyers traverse channels and touchpoints to consume information quickly to increase their purchase confidence2. Sellers use the tool, such as e-commerce site, available at their disposal to facilitate buyer’s needs.


There are three e-commerce scenarios that all B2B sellers should be ready to support:

1) Self-service commerce

B2B buyers behave more like B2B consumers as the millennial workforce grows and prefers the convenience of doing presale research independently.

If the product is not complex and the buyer’s purchasing process is simple (more on this below), buyers tend to complete the purchase online, requiring no assistant from the seller.

2) Assisted commerce

A hybrid model where buyers may start offline with sales or customer service rep to gather information but make the purchase online. Or the other way around, where buyers start gathering information online and purchase from a sales rep. 

3) Full-service (with sales rep) commerce

Customer go through the entire sales cycle with a sales rep with e-commerce used as a tool to facilitate the process from start to finish.


"B2B buyers move freely between self-service, hybrid and full-service commerce."


The two factors that dictate whether buyers require assistance are:


Complexity of

the Seller's


Complexity of 

the Buyer's 

Decision Process

In commerce, any product and services whose features are not easily understood by inexperienced buyers and highly configurable to individual configurations are considered complex.


If the seller's products/services are highly complex... 

    • Focus on upskilling customer-facing teams
    • Use data to anticipate buyer's needs
    • Ensure completeness of information online
    • Live chat, mobile chats, and email are preferred

Get ready to upskill the sales and customer service reps to help buyers with the selling process that cannot be digitize. 

Whether or not the buyers discover your product online, they expect a skilled representative that understands the product inside out. Buyers may want to negotiate the price, know the lead time, or be curious to see if the seller can accommodate specific requirements.

The key is to understand the depth and breadth of the buyer selling circumstances. Buyers expect the sales and customer service reps to understand their challenges and know how to add value immediately.

B2B Buyers will reward seller that provided prompt responses.

Analytics will help sellers anticipate the circumstances that buyers may need help. Sellers can use the data to prepare the responses, tweak the process, and develop new value-added services.

A digital e-commerce portal is still a necessity to support buyers that prefers to do research beforehand. Prioritize completeness of information, user experience, and make it convenient for buyers to contact the sellers. Traditional channels like phones and fax are not preferred. Use live chats and email instead.


If the seller's products/services are not complex... 

    • B2B e-commerce website will lower overall cost to serve
    • Create value-added offers to increase upsell and cross-sell revenue
    • Train customer service team to handle aftersales support

B2B sellers are shifting online. Based on our research, over 60% of organizations [having] a strong digital ambition to take over a leading role in e-commerce in their perspective market3

There are obvious perks to having an excellent e-commerce platform.

Lower operational expenses

Not only does the website equip buyers with sufficient information to progress faster in the decision-making process, but sellers will also enjoy a considerable saving by lowering the cost-to-serve. Sales and customer service representatives can focus on high-value tasks. 

Increase in revenue overtime

Sellers can create an up-sell and cross-sell strategy and offer personalized recommendations to expand the business with the B2B buyers through e-commerce websites. 

Boost customer satisfaction

Millennial B2B buyers prefer digital buying experiences because it is efficient and convenient. Buyers are taking an omnichannel approach, with remote, digital self-serve, and in-person channels4. It is vital to be present where customers want to initiate that interaction. They'll reward selling organizations that streamline their ordering operations2.

B2B buyers, in general, expect consistency across all interactions online or offline with sales or customer service reps. As a result, sellers must reconsider how they can deliver a superior customer experience and operational excellence.


In summary 

A successful B2B company must win, serve, and retain customers effectively online and offline. Sellers should be prepared to meet customers where they want to buy.

Digital online presence will benefit B2B sellers regardless of the seller's products/services complexity.

Buyers prefer to transverse freely between offline and online channels, and they will reward those that offer them efficiency and convenience.

Sellers with complex products should upskill customer-facing teams to handle sophisticated requests by using data to understand the breadth and depth of buyer's circumstances.

A self-service e-commerce platform will benefit sellers with less complex products as it will significantly reduce the cost-to-serve and enable sales reps to pursue high-value tasks.


Watch our webinar recording now to learn how to create a B2B strategy for all buying scenarios:

WATCH: How to set up your digital B2B strategy for growth and customer loyalty


  1. UN Trade and Development. (2021, May 3). Global e-commerce jumps to $26.7 trillion, fuelled by COVID-19. UN News.
  2. Cicman, J., Bonde, A., Ewald, C., Powers, S., Wilson, K., & Lynch, D. (2021, March). Future-Proof Your B2B Commerce Strategy To Meet Customers Where They Buy. Forrester.
  3. Intershop, Copperberg, & Evident. (2021, March). The State of International E-Commerce in Manufacturing. 
  4. McKinsey & Company. (n.d.). COVID-19 Tracker | COVID Business Response Center | McKinsey & Company. Retrieved June 17, 2021, from