Entering European markets offers B2B companies promising opportunities to win new customers, even (and especially) during the Corona pandemic. We explain why you should primarily rely on digital distribution channels and give you useful insights for strategic planning.
The fact that B2B companies should increasingly rely on digital sales and communication channels when internationalizing their business is certainly not a completely new trend. However, the importance of B2B e-commerce in Europe has continued to grow strongly with the current Corona pandemic. Recent studies, such as those conducted by bloomreach, show that general website traffic in the B2B environment has increased by more than 30 percent in the weeks between the end of March and the end of April 2020. Sales generated from search queries have even increased by 197 percent, as online channels were usually the only option for consulting and sales during the lockdown in Europe.
Hence, user habits have been shifting even further – the German digital association Bitkom speaks of a “Digital Turning Point”. More than ever, European B2B customers expect to be able to complete all steps of their customer journey digitally, from initial consultation to purchase. Therefore, companies planning their market entry in Europe are well advised to respond to this development.
Further, there is another aspect beyond the Corona pandemic and its consequences for stationary retail that speaks in favor of a professional digital presence: After all, B2B target groups are often geographically dispersed, especially in niche industries, and local branches are not very effective in this case.
But what is it precisely that should be taken into account when internationalizing?
Determining the potential of the target market
Eventhough initiating a digital business generally involves fewer risks, it is important to precisely determine the potential and the size of the target market – and thus the demand for one’s own products and services. A good indicator can be already existing inquiries by interested potential customers – companies are well advised to check in detail from which European countries they come. In addition, it is advisable to include numbers on product demand generated from Google as well as Amazon and other relevant local marketplaces into the analysis. Likewise, detailed information on the individual competitive situation should be available.
In the future it will be more important than ever to scan and predict possible market changes. After all, those who are well informed keep an overview of competitors and their effects on market growth, can react quickly and flexibly and thus position themselves well for the future.
Defining goals and getting to know the local target group
In parallel with the market analysis, the company’s own objectives should be defined. What is it precisely that is to be achieved by internationalization? Is it the primary objective to sell products and services directly to local business- and corporate customers? Or is it rather about increasing the reach of your own company in order to be able to pass on generated leads to local business partners? A sharpened view is also required with regard to the local target group: the needs and expectations of European customers often differ significantly from those of customers in their home country. In most cases, communication and presentation on marketplaces or in the company’s own web shop must be adapted. It may even be necessary to rethink the products or services as a whole. Online surveys in the target country may – among other strategies – provide more detailed insights.
Online marketplaces: Defining relevant sales channels
In the following step, it’s all about identifying suitable digital sales and communication channels. Leading local online marketplaces such as lieferanten.de or wlw.de (Germany), Direct Industry (France) or Europages (Italy/Spain/France), which are often represented in more than one European country, are ideally suited for direct product sales in the B2B sector. Through these portals, companies gain direct access to commercial buyers from a wide range of industries and increase their visibility. In addition to detailed product information, added value such as videos, information sheets or company information can be beneficial in order to achieve a greater reach.
Anyone who wants to act more independently and individualize content more strongly, along with the aim for long-term customer loyalty, should also consider setting up their own B2B e-commerce shop.
Developing new markets via B2B webshop and business app
Compared to online shops for end customers, the implementation of a B2B web shop seems to be quite complex. After all, the products and services often have a need of explanation, price and discount systems are unique and purchasing structures within the customer companies are complex. The trend is therefore leading towards individual shop systems that are adapted to the company’s requirements and at the same time offer a fully integrated solution for sales and IT.
Despite the differences to the B2C business, B2B online shop operators must also offer their customers a clear value in order to be successful in the long term. This can be done, for example, with personalized offers, an exciting product presentation or multi-currency support that enables orders to be placed using the preferred local payment method. It is also worth considering the possibility of making the online shop available in the form of a business app that retail partners can download from the App Store to obtain detailed information and order products. Such an app should always be advertised via other digital channels, so that the target group knows that it exists.
Thinking about the logistics – from the very beginning
Last but not least, in the course of internationalization, the handling of logistics processes must be strategically planned. Should a fulfillment provider take over goods logistics, complaints management and customer service on site – or do you have your own capacities? Local know-how is also needed for this important decision: For example, customer expectations regarding product delivery times from non-European countries should be examined more closely. Often, a local logistics solution proves to be more target-oriented and cost-effective.
B2B companies should proceed in a similar way with legal questions concerning, for example, the data protection of e-commerce solutions. If experts are involved, companies play it safe and bundle their own competencies.
Digital sales and communication channels have become indispensable when trading with European business and corporate customers in times of the Corona pandemic. B2B e-commerce offers promising opportunities to win local customers – at relatively manageable costs and risks. That is, if companies obtain comprehensive information about the requirements of the target market and local customer needs before entering the market and pursue a clear strategy from the selection of digital sales channels onto the logistics processes involved.