Winning cross-border customers requires a focus on both strategy and execution
Despite supply chain disruption, geopolitical unrest, and economic pains, the global B2B eCommerce sector is booming. Cross-border deals now account for at least 25% of American B2B operators’ sales, according to a recent survey, and that trend is only set to increase as new technologies make it easier for B2B sellers to expand their brands into new markets.
But while it’s never been easier to sell internationally, achieving lasting success requires new strategies. From marketing to payment, and from sales to fulfillment, new markets bring new complexities, and B2B brands need to adapt and invest in order to succeed.
Here are 7 key areas that B2B brands should focus on as they expand into cross-border digital commerce:
Refine your marketing strategy
B2B sellers are increasingly seeking to provide consumer-grade experiences for business buyers with personalization and media-rich marketing and sales tools. It’s important not to abandon that approach when expanding internationally. Outsourcing this work to local partners can be effective, but most brands handle cross-border marketing themselves to avoid extra costs and delays.
The first step is to recognize that some parts of your marketing strategies will work in new markets, and some won’t. Be prepared to devote additional resources to this effort: you might need more market research, new lead-generation resources, or regionally tailored advertising and marketing campaigns. To support this process, be sure to measure sales and marketing KPIs on a market-by-market basis in order to identify areas where work is needed.
Take localization seriously
Catering to customers in new foreign markets isn’t as simple as running your existing website through an automated translation tool. Machine translation can’t account for cultural nuances: English marketing materials tend to be more casual and concise than those in German, for instance, which often take a more descriptive approach and highlight specific product features.
Differences abound between English-speaking markets, too: Canadian, American, Australian, and British buyers all have different sensibilities and different linguistic quirks. Content for Middle East and South Asian markets might need to be further localized for Right-to-Left languages such as Arabic and Hebrew. Paying attention to details of this sort reflects on your brand’s professionalism and credibility, so don’t neglect it!
Get pricing right
International expansion obviously requires the ability to take orders in a range of currencies, but you’ll also need to pay attention to hidden costs such as shipping and customs fees. Business buyers hate these sorts of last-minute add ons as much as regular consumers, so make sure you’re clear about exactly how much a cross-border transaction will cost you and your customer.
Beyond these considerations, it’s important to be mindful of local pricing norms: in some areas, customers will expect to see price lists include local taxes, while in others taxes are displayed as a separate line item at the checkout stage. Make sure your eCommerce platform supports payments in local currencies and gives you the flexibility to customize the checkout experience for a range of different buyer expectations.
Take compliance seriously
Taking a brand across borders means having to deal with taxation requirements in different countries. For instance, selling in British or European markets may require the ability to handle VAT appropriately, and to remit VAT returns and additional tax forms correctly — a new layer of complexity for brands that are used to American sales tax laws.
Tax compliance isn’t the only concern: start selling overseas, and you may find yourself subject to new data privacy rules that impact your ability to collect customer data, or to use customer information for marketing purposes. Violations can lead to substantial fines, so be sure that you’re aware of any local requirements for the jurisdictions you’re selling into.
Review payment options
Processing payments is crucial to B2B eCommerce success, but customers’ preferred payment options vary from one market to the next. Payment methods such as Apple Pay and Paypal might be available globally, but adoption varies significantly from one market to the next. Other payment methods might carry fees for international transactions, or require extra time to process a cross-border payment.
B2B merchants also need to consider the cross-border effectiveness of their credit card processors and payment service providers, as not all will work in the regions they’re targeting. Staying current on local regulations regarding chargebacks, refunds, and contract law is also a good idea.
Make ordering transparent
Expanding a B2B eCommerce brand into foreign markets necessarily complicates the fulfillment process, so it’s important to be as clear as possible with buyers about issues relating to product availability, shipping times, and potential delays or disruption.
Given ongoing supply chain challenges, a brand’s ability to provide customers with a robust and predictable shipping and delivery experience can go a long way. Digital commerce tools can help by allowing brands to collate real-time information from multiple suppliers and shippers, and communicate that information to buyers as part of the RFQ or purchase process.
Streamline international fulfillment
Shipping across borders can be complicated, but as international orders grow more routine, buyers are expecting orders to be fulfilled promptly and without hiccups. Building a global network of fully owned warehouses and distribution centers is challenging for even the biggest brands, so developing relationships with fulfillment partners in key markets is important.
Connecting these partners to your online store is essential for smooth data sharing. Brands will also need to have a strategy for returns embedded in their shipping and fulfillment processes, and to communicate clearly with buyers about how such issues will be handled.
Poised for growth
For B2B brands, selling across borders is an important growth opportunity — but it brings unique challenges with which merchants that are used to playing on their home turf can sometimes struggle.
To reach global customers, brands need to build out marketing, sales, and fulfillment infrastructure capable of adapting to local needs, overcoming a range of new challenges — and still delivering the consistent excellence and personalized services that business buyers now expect.
Opening up foreign markets and meeting the demands of international customers won’t come easily. But by building a network of partners, deploying robust technology, and putting the customer first, brands can build a solid foundation for cross-border expansion.
Yoav Kutner is the CEO and co-founder of Oro, Inc, which has created OroCommerce, the No.1 open-source eCommerce platform built for distributors, wholesalers, brands, and manufacturers. Yoav previously co-founded and served as the CTO of Magento.
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