The astounding growth of e-commerce has been a long time in the making, and the global pandemic has only accelerated the consumer’s desire to safely and quickly purchase products. The 2020 holiday season has already outperformed estimates, with Cyber Week breaking sales records as more consumers solidify their online buying habits like never before.
eMarketer.com says: “Our 18% growth forecast for U.S. e-commerce in 2020 reflects a notable increase in both the number of digital buyers and the average spending per buyer.” Many B2C businesses were quick to pivot and make the necessary changes to accommodate their customers. Still, the cultural paradigm shift — and the speed with which it has arrived — has left many B2B companies scrambling to transition their off-line sales model to a fully digital, direct-to-consumer platform to ensure survival.
Not long ago, you would place an ad in the newspaper, buy a radio spot, or place a sign in your storefront window, and you could consider your marketing efforts complete. But in today’s technology-driven, worldwide economy, competition has never been more healthy. As a result, your digital marketing strategy has never been more essential to your success. As reported on The Drum, B2B digital ad spending will hit $8.14B, up 22.6% from 2019. LinkedIn will secure a fifth of all B2B digital ad dollars in 2020. This article from our KM101 educational library offers easy-to-understand tips on leveraging LinkedIn to grow your online business.
If your B2B company needs to transition to a direct-to-consumer sales model, act now to reap the rewards of current opportunities. Your shift can include selling through popular distribution channels like Amazon, Facebook Shops, Google Shopping, and even on your website. To be competitive, utilize as many of these options as possible and don’t limit yourself to just one — you have to be everywhere your customers are.
You might consider selling through Amazon, as manufacturers and resellers have turned to the online powerhouse to take full advantage of their expansive market reach. Amazon only needs to ensure your product is stocked; they handle everything else to make their one-stop shopping experience easy, including two-day Prime shipping on many items and frictionless returns. More benefits include competitive pricing, quality photography, and product copy, along with their fully digital, effective marketing programs that help drive customers to your products.
As reported by DigitalCommerce360.com, Amazon’s site traffic in July 2020 was up 28.1% compared with February 2020 and up 8.7% year over year. If you need more guidance to start the process of selling through Amazon’s channel, refer to this KM101 article, which offers nine best practices for marketing your business on Amazon.
It is critical to understand that if you do partner with Amazon, you need to abide by their customer-centric policy, which states that they will accept returns for just about any reason. Additionally, as they do all of the work to market, sell, and deliver your products, prepare for your margins to be thinner and further eroded by their returns policy. Amazon also does not share its important site data with you about your customers, which can be a vital resource for your marketing strategy. If you understand these limitations going into the agreement, Amazon can be a valuable revenue source for your business.
Additionally, as you weigh these considerations, you might decide to launch your e-commerce website with better margins from direct sales through your online shopping cart. However, this level of control may introduce some labor-intensive challenges. You’ll need to ensure that you have the staff to pull and ship products, process returns, and even perform customer service. Each step in this process takes time to develop and adds to your costs.
You must also position your business to capitalize on the efforts you make to feed your website through a solid marketing funnel. This recent KM101 article discusses several techniques to capture consumers and convert them from lookers into buyers; it offers excellent guidance into this process.
Another huge benefit of selling through your e-commerce website is the access you have to your site data. By controlling your digital storefront — or even sales through Facebook Shops or Google Shopping — you have optics into your customer’s engagement statistics and after a sale through your shopping cart. This valuable information can direct your reactive marketing strategy to help build ongoing relationships with your customers.
You might even consider a paid post-sale digital marketing plan that automates communications through a CRM software program. For example, you can automate an email response to ask about customer satisfaction and their buying experience, preferences, advertise future sales and discounts, or solicit a positive review. Some higher-end CRM suites automatically link reviews on your website, Google, and other relevant sites to help with future sales.
While creating your site, keep in mind that a critical ingredient to your success is maximizing your SEO strategy to match best practices. Make sure to tag your images with popular search terms, complete meta descriptions, and write content in short, eighth-grade reading level sentences. Outbound links and backlinks from other high-quality, reputable sites help increase your search engine rankings, but you must be wary of links to and from spam websites that may harm your online standing and make it less trustworthy.
Social media offers even more opportunities; customers are shopping online across the myriad of platforms available. Due to the pandemic, Facebook and Instagram have implemented important changes by offering no-cost listings for companies new to their e-commerce tools. The ease and use of Facebook Shops and Instagram Shops provide a more polished interface for sellers to post, tag, and sell products to their followers.
Quoted in PR News, Influence Central’s CEO Stacy DeBroff said, “49 percent of consumers report that… Facebook leads as the most likely social platform for them to click through to shop a brand. Instagram follows, with 25 percent looking to shop via the popular app.” Other platforms will surely follow their lead and offer the same services as the competition grows for your business.
More tools offered by Facebook Marketplace and Google My Business can help engage your customers and drive traffic with minimal or no staffing. If you don’t have large teams to handle your customer service needs, Facebook Marketplace offers bots through Facebook Messenger to interact with your customers using intuitive artificial intelligence. These chat tools give customers quick, automated responses to frequently asked questions and relieve some of the pressure on the human, labor-intensive side needed to run your e-commerce business. The bots also create a more personal, interactive experience compared to an email, which takes valuable time with back-and-forth communication. A small business can appear much larger and more professional with these innovations in its marketing arsenal.
Google My Business has also grown in importance as it offers potential customers essential information about your business. After a Google search, your free listing appears first before anyone even finds your website. Regular updates become more crucial to driving traffic, and status updates about sales or any relevant information about your business support effective SEO. This popular utility allows customers to connect easily through your listing with a call or message, or they can post a rating and review.
We cannot overstate the importance of online reviews, as they have become a significant influence over sales and should be an essential part of any ongoing marketing strategy. Customer comments about your products help to build lasting relationships, credibility, and trust. Forbes details, “Statistics show that 92% of business-to-business (B2B) buyers are more likely to purchase after reading a trusted review, and displaying five product reviews can increase conversion rates by 270% compared to having no product reviews.” Consumers who buy anything online first look at reviews before finalizing their purchase. The more positive verified consumer reviews you have, the higher your search ranking on Google will be, improving your overall sell-through.
Implementing these strategies doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Cost-effective partnerships with a PR marketing agency can help. A commentary by John Lods on MediaPost notes that agency performance and customer demands are inextricably linked. The agencies delivering data-driven results have the upper hand on agencies that stand by older performance models with rigid planning cycles. A new generation of agencies has adapted to the ever-changing marketplace with crucial skill sets focused on e-commerce, media planning, data analysis, search execution, content strategy, and social media. Collaborative teams work together to analyze client data, enabling them to pivot to any customer demand changes quickly.
Online shopping will continue to grow even after the pandemic, but now is the time to consider all of the marketing opportunities available to you for your B2B or B2C e-commerce needs. If you have further questions or seek more guidance, Kahn Media is ready to help develop a successful transition strategy in each of these areas to achieve your goals. Reach out to us!