The B2B industry, marked by its exchange of products, sharing of information, and providing of services between businesses, is projected to get bigger. Recent news and research has delivered some promising figures for the B2B e-commerce world, and it brings high profit predictions along with some necessary adjustments for marketers.

B2B e-commerce growth is expected to continue in big ways over the next five years, according to recent research data from Forrester. E-commerce will make up just over 9 percent of B2B sales this year, representing $780 billion in sales. By the year 2020, sales are predicted to reach over a whopping $6 trillion on a global scale.

As analysts make predictions about everything from the future of B2B sales jobs (1 million positions likely to be eliminated) to what this means for the world’s economy, the industry is forced to look within and make changes of its own.

B2B Provides a Unique Buying Experience

Anyone with knowledge of the B2B industry knows about long sales cycles, developing leads, and multiple decision-makers across the channels. When it comes to a final sale, traditional channels have been the standard. As technology advances and more B2B businesses set up to handle all business through e-commerce, changes all over the industry will reflect better profits and rapid economic growth. The Forrester study found that 56 percent of buyers in the B2B business will complete half of their purchases for work online by 2017. In other words, only 44 percent are expected to complete purchases on a multi-channel level.

Here are some e-commerce trends you no doubt have heard of in recent days:

  • Alibaba: With more trade volume than both eBay and Amazon combined, and coming in at $27 billion in gross merchandise value, this Chinese e-commerce company is leading the way as the B2B e-commerce market prepares to become two times bigger than the B2C market.
  • China: B2B e-commerce sales in China topped out at $1.6 trillion in 2014, with B2B making up three-quarters of the e-commerce in the country.
  • FedEx: Plans for the shipping giant to purchase TNT Express will allow the company to expand into the e-commerce industry.
  • South Africa: The growth of B2B e-commerce transactions is opening the door for entrepreneurs to have the opportunity to establish themselves in the business industry.

What Does This Mean For the B2B Industry?

  • Forrester predicts that one million B2B salespeople will lose their jobs. As buyers move from interaction with people throughout much of the buying process toward an online interaction, there may not be as much of a need for actual sales personnel. This number, of course, depends on how quickly and efficiently B2B companies can modify positions of sales employees during the next few years.
  • The B2B buying process needs to change from a single-channeled, offline model to a self-serve, digital model with the customer guiding the buying process.
  • B2B companies must focus on e-commerce strategy ahead of the game, especially as 75 percent of B2B buyers say that making a purchase via the web is more convenient then going through a sales representative.
  • This channel shift from offline buying interaction to almost exclusively online purchasing habits is an opportunity for B2B businesses to reduce some costs while adjusting to customer buying behavior. Self-service features are something companies need to be looking at now in order to stay relevant.

As the world continues to move toward an almost exclusively mobile, smartphone, Wi-Fi society, the business sector is no exception. Customers are going to demand a more simple transaction, one that mimics a B2C sale, with features such as interactive product descriptions and customer reviews. Buyers are expected to grow in such a way that from beginning to end, everything is at their fingertips, rather than on the other end of the phone.

If B2B sales in the United States alone really do top $1 trillion in the next five years, B2B marketers would be wise to act now and do everything they can to be a part of these big numbers. As you navigate this tricky business landscape and work to not only stay relevant, but serve your customers well, remember that technology is an ever-evolving world, much like a B2B buyer’s habits.