Tech vendors have a number of ways to reach their audiences, but they're increasingly using e-commerce to connect with IT buyers and exploring how social can help move prospects toward a sale.
B-to-b e-commerce already totals $559 billion annually and dwarfs the $220 billion generated by online consumer transactions, according to Forrester Research. But tech and manufacturing marketers' strong commitment to e-commerce continues to grow, whether they're creating commerce portals of their own or making products available in e-commerce marketplaces such as AmazonSupply.com, Ariba Discovery, Google Shopping for Suppliers, Newegg.com, Spiceworks.com or ThomasNet.
A recent BtoB report, “The Emerging Role of B-to-B E-Commerce” (based on a survey conducted in March and April with 222 respondents, most of whom represented computer, peripheral hardware and manufacturing companies) found that 31% of respondents said that this year, they are “strong” or “complete” adopters of e-commerce compared to 25% who said that they were either “strong” or “complete” adopters in 2012. By 2014, 40% of respondents said they expect to be as committed to e-commerce as a means of marketing and selling to their customers.
Rob Mihalko, VP-seller marketing at Ariba Discovery, said the growth of b-to-b e-commerce can be attributed to its expansion well beyond the typical consumer model. “B-to-b e-commerce definitely is broadening beyond the transactional,” Mihalko said. The technology is improving as well, offering more consumerlike experiences, he said.
Ariba's parent, marketing technology company SAP, announced this month plans to acquire e-commerce company hybris. The acquisition will provide SAP customers with an on-premise or cloud-based e-commerce platform that can be integrated with other SAP products, including its analytical, social, customer service and CRM applications.
For SAP and others, the social connection with e-commerce may be key. In many cases IT marketers and buyers are already connecting on social media and using those channels to discuss product features and seek advice.
“There are very broad, horizontal networks out there that focus on friends and business content, like Facebook and LinkedIn; but when you go vertical, you have to go deep into the work flow,” said Jay Hallberg, co-founder and VP-marketing at Spiceworks, an online community of IT pros that offers free systems management tools and help-desk software.
Lauren McCadney, senior manager-social media with technology products provider CDW Corp., said social interactions significantly enhance CDW's position in the marketplace. CDW is active on Spiceworks' social forums as well as on general social sites, McCadney said.
“Among IT professionals, 69% use at least one form of social media to perform their jobs,” McCadney said. “And of those aware of CDW, 37% engage with the company via at least one form of social media.”
McCadney said that IT buyers who use social media have a greater propensity to buy. “Are these people who already have a strong affinity with CDW, or is the opposite true—that they learned more about us from social?” McCadney said. “Either way, it suggests that engaging on social can boost IT marketing effectiveness.”
Nigel Hickey, infrastructure administrator at National Specialty Alloys, a provider of stainless steel and nickel alloy to manufacturers, sources IT equipment, requests for quotes and orders products through a variety of channels, and also engages with other IT pros on social forums.
While e-commerce offers its advantages, Hickey said, there's still value in a relationship with sales. He often orders directly through his long-time sales rep at tech supplier ChicagoMicro, which provides counsel about competing products.
“I don't mind paying an extra dollar or three if the support is awesome,” he said.