B2B strategies in e-commerce

What counts in B2B e-commerce

Speed, lean processes and the highest possible level of user-friendliness apply as principles in both B2C and B2B online sales. E-commerce expert Gerrit Heinemann analyzes the success strategies of online specialists.


German B2B online retail achieved a whopping 1.3 trillion euros in 2018, according to the IFH study "B2B E-Commerce 2019". Around a quarter of B2B e-commerce sales are generated across Germany via websites, online shops and online marketplaces. This corresponds to a sales volume of 320 billion euros. At 180 billion euros, more than half (56 percent) of the goods handled online are accounted for by goods-based Internet sales by industrial companies and wholesalers. This makes strict control of their online processes all the more important for companies in B2B e-commerce. Especially for providers of multichannel concepts, with which they have to serve their important customers in all sales channels as a reaction to their buying behavior, there is a great risk in "underestimating the online topic and messing up the system instead of messing up", says Gerrit Heinemann, author of the Springer book "B2B eCommerce".

2020 | book

B2B eCommerce

Basics, business models and best practices in business-to-business online trading

This textbook deals with the basics of eCommerce in the area of ​​business-to-business (B2B), in which similar principles of customer approach can be observed as in B2C eCommerce. Gerrit Heinemann highlights the special features and ...

Another hurdle he mentions in the chapter "Risks in B2B eCommerce" is the lack of digital maturity in medium-sized companies in particular. This is underpinned by the "Digital Readiness" study published by the BVDW. According to this, 25 percent of entrepreneurs have not yet dealt with digitization at all or are still at the very beginning of their digital strategies.

Observe the necessary process requirements

In the chapter "The Basics of the E-Shop" (page 291) of the Springer book "E-Business", Tobias Kollmann mentions process requirements that companies with virtual sales should not ignore for smooth purchasing processes for their customers (excerpt):

"Ease of use: The use of an e-shop and the associated processes should be kept as simple as possible.
Reliability: The purchasing process should be technically reliable and stable based on the functionality of the underlying system architecture.
Availability: It should be possible to offer the purchasing process 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year without any technical interruption.
Speed: Relevant web content should be called up as part of the purchasing process in a reasonable time so that the customer does not stop using it due to long loading times.
Customizability: As part of the purchasing process, there should be the option of customizing the information and product range. "

Know the key risks

According to Heinemann, companies are confronted with three central risks in B2B e-commerce transactions:
Diversity of innovative technologies: Stationary retailers are often not clear about which technologies can best be used for the company, bring additional benefits to consumers and prove themselves in practice.
Process adaptation and integration: As a rule, companies are not aware that not only processes should be digitized, but that they also have to be optimized beforehand for a meaningful automation, and this without media disruption if possible.
Barriers to digitization: In addition to a lack of technical prerequisites, for example when selecting software and transferring information from various systems, stationary retailers in particular also encounter barriers, for example when it comes to the role of sales in setting up an online shop, as Heinemann points out.

Use best practices in B2B online trading

Based on successful B2B business models in e-commerce from B2B industrial goods providers, he explains in the chapter "Best Practices in B2B eCommerce" why good sales processes, the size of the range, but also delivery speed and niche advantages are important in order to be successful in B2B online trading. A distinction is made between online pure players, multi-channel providers and digital platforms or marketplaces.

Example 1, online pure player: The pure online pure player Zamro acts as a B2B wholesaler for technical components and tools. The Dutch industrial goods trader was founded in 2016 as a start-up of the Dutch Eriks Group and has also been represented on the German market since 2017. The company focuses on small and medium-sized corporate customers and has over 400,000 products in its range, mainly tools and fastening technology, but also products for the maintenance, repair and servicing of machines.
The strategy:

  • Next day delivery,
  • Competitive advantages through excellent online knowledge,
  • Range size and positioning with know-how as a specialist.

Example 2, multichannel provider:Engelbert Strauss GmbH & Co. KG, as a German mail order and wholesale company for industrial goods, focuses on work clothing as well as industrial supplies, tools and office supplies, among other things. In addition, there is the service for textile finishing, for example with embroidery, printing or laser technology. According to Heinemann, the company is one of the fastest growing medium-sized companies in Germany.

The strategy:

  • Specialization,
  • Pioneer for the transfer to verticalization, as considerable sales are now made in B2C business

Example 3, platform / marketplace: Mercateo operates an open B2B trading platform (mercateo. Com) for the 1.5 million registered commercial customers. Using the marketplace model, customers can compare the offerings of several suppliers from the industrial goods sector by product, similar to a comparison portal. The range includes over 23 million items from around 700 suppliers, including office supplies, laboratory and IT requirements, as well as warehouse and business equipment.

The strategy:

  • Transparent pricing through daily competition between providers,
  • Article-related evaluations of your own sales in relation to the cheapest competitor,
  • Item-specific information about purchase quantities in relation to the price.
  • Buyers benefit from comparing identical products from different suppliers and can thus find a lower total price for their shopping cart.
  • Functionalities: The stored marketplace program takes into account minimum order values, shipping costs, delivery times, number of suppliers or price according to prioritization.
  • The sole front end is Mercateo. The company takes on the entire fulfillment, i.e. order acceptance, orders, complaints and returns management and processing of transactions.

Another example from the B2B supplier business also shows that lean processes deliver cost advantages to companies in online trading:

The international B2B online shop Automation24 offers standard automation technology products for small and medium-sized customers from mechanical engineering, construction and development, manufacturing, electrical engineering and public institutions.

The strategy:

  • Simple, fast purchasing processes,
  • Lean sales structures without field service, branch network or trade fair appearances,
  • Sale of products exclusively online,
  • Order management in the multi-channel concept by phone, fax, e-mail or other online platforms,
  • Cost savings are passed on to customers directly and without surcharges for small quantities, which means that price levels are below the competition
  • Live chat service with technical know-how and comprehensive delivery information after completing the order.

The comparison of the business strategies in B2B e-commerce makes it clear that the differentiation into different e-commerce mechanisms, revenue and service models are a success driver. As in B2C sales, the customer should always be the focus of processes, services and interfaces.