[report] Price, convenience, or relationships – what matters most to B2B shoppers?

Widespread and cheap Internet access, new customer shopping habits, the emergence of mobile devices, and continuing globalization have been changing the nature of B2B.

Have they also changed what matters the most to B2B clients?

To find out, e-point SA and the Mobile Institute conducted a study about B2B buying habits in Poland and published their findings in the report The B2B Buying Process in Poland:  Challenges, Trends, Inspirations. This was the first research project of its kind in Poland, and over 150 company representatives took part using questionnaires and extended interviews. While the report is certainly useful to those in the Polish market, it also provides a lot of universal insights that apply to companies across the globe.

So what did the research show?  

Why B2B clients shop online

More than two-thirds (69%) of those surveyed buy products online for their companies. The most common reasons for doing so include:

  • They can purchase at the time and place of their choosing (70%).
  • It’s convenient (67%).
  • It’s quick (65%).
  • It’s easy to find products online (54%).

Moreover, as many as 36% of B2B clients would like to make purchases for their companies using a mobile device.

Interestingly enough, price is not the key factor when B2B professionals choose a business partner, although  57% indicated price was a decisive factor and 51% were influenced by others’ opinions of a potential business partner. But the most universal factor was by far good terms of cooperation (83%). This follows the global trend: B2B buyers value a good customer experience more than price.

The growing popularity of B2B e-commerce

Polish B2B companies have been consistently entering the online channel; today, 96% of respondents operate a company website, which is chiefly used to present offers, share information, and stay in touch with potential clients. This hasn’t changed much since 2009, which "implies that the overall model of online presence remains sustainable and has not changed drastically", comments Tymoteusz Doligalski, PhD, an assistant professor at the Warsaw School of Economics.

Nowadays, though, a mere website isn’t enough. "The progressing digitalisation of the world, along with greater client maturity, make e-commerce platforms a natural professional tool both for our sales force and our clients. In the Central and Eastern Europe markets where the Inter Cars Group operates, we have seen sales made using our e-commerce solutions surge for years. In some markets, they account for 80-90%", says Tomasz Skórski, Digital Products Development and Architecture Manager for Inter Cars.

Interestingly, companies that have invested in B2B e-commerce identify the following benefits:

  • Winning new business (81%)  
  • Increasing sales (73%)
  • Changes in how they communicate with clients (71%)

However, despite the widespread adoption of the B2B website, there is room for improvement in the Polish e-commerce sector.  Polish B2B companies like talking about themselves, their mission, and their heritage on their websites: as many as 62% post the history of their company on their site.  But they tend to focus less on enhancing their client solutions: only 49% allow product purchasing via their website, just 25% offer a showroom browser, and a mere 15% make useful tools (such as configurators, calculators, or creators) available to clients. In short, Polish B2B companies are choosing safe online strategies, but they’re not fully tapping into the potential for building relationships via the online channel.

Self-service solutions must support relationship building

Polish companies, as a group, are reluctant to implement self-service solutions. Although they are very aware of such solutions’ usefulness for busy B2B clients, they prefer to nurture the business-client relationship and treat IT solutions as a means to this end.

"It has been a common trend to seek strategic partnerships with suppliers who are particularly precious to a given line of business, where they either have a unique product or the scale of a given type of purchase is so large and the need for responsiveness and close cooperation with the supplier so vital that we stop treating them as usual sellers but prefer to view them as business partners. We expect more than just service from them; we want them to understand our business and our needs", explains Agata Mazurek-Bąk, Chief Buyer at the Veolia Group.

This sets Poland apart from western markets, where leading research agencies forecast a dynamic growth in B2B self-service. According to Gartner's study, by 2020 the average business client will be performing 85% of their purchasing operations without any human interaction. And according to Forrester Research, by 2020 the demand for B2B sales representatives will have shrunk by one million people – and that’s just in the United States.  This is because business clients prefer to buy online, with only minimal contact with a salesperson.

Therefore, B2B faces a crucial challenge: building relationships and understanding client needs while still providing convenient digital tools. New technological solutions – such as customer portals, CRM, dedicated B2B e-commerce platforms, and social media accounts – can provide some much-needed support in this area.

Transitioning to new business models

It’s very clear that B2B business models have been evolving and opening up to new forms of partnering. "In western markets, we have seen innovative distribution ideas in our sector, as well as reaching out beyond the classic model of cooperation.  Increasingly more frequently, business clients are provided with useful tools and applications to grow their companies and feel supported in many aspects of their activity" states Józef Kostecki, Director for Project and Process Management at Iglotex.

Producers and distributors who once communicated only with business clients are now dealing with more end users. "New technologies, new user practices, new business context – all of this presents a great opportunity to companies wishing to adapt to new circumstances.  Challenges in harmonising various communication channels and sales are equally present. B2B e-commerce solutions, whether self-service or mobile, must blend into the existing ecosystem and be tailored to the style of business and to the needs of the partners", notes Wawrzyniec Hyska, Business Development Director at e-point SA.

In conclusion, this report showed that most B2B buyers are busy people.  They don’t have a lot of time, so they increasingly buy online because it’s fast and easy.  Still – and perhaps surprisingly – neither convenience nor price are what B2B clients and suppliers value the most.  That honor goes to strong professional relationships.


About the study

The purpose of the study run by e-point SA and Mobile Institute was to gain insight into the present purchasing and selling process in B2B in Poland as compared against global trends. The report has received an honorary patronage of the Polish Investment and Trade Agency and a professional patronage of the Chamber of Digital Economy . The media patronage is extended by the magazines Magazyn E-commerce and Nowa Sprzedaż.