Where are B-to-B buyers these days? Online, of course.

Everyone knows that online consumer sales have exploded over the past five years. But what about B-to-B customers? Where are they going when it comes to buying the products they need?

Recent market research reveals that they’re going online, too … and they’re migrating there in a hurry.

In a survey sponsored by MarketingSherpa and ZoomInfo and conducted by Enquiro, a search engine marketing and research firm, a cross-section of B-to-B respondents was asked how they prefer purchasing the items they order all the time for their businesses.

The results were a blowout: nearly two-thirds (63%) prefer to order online. The remaining respondents are divided between preferring to order over the phone and ordering in-person from a sales representative.

Faced with such an overwhelming preference for online buying, the logical follow-up question is whether B-to-B firms are focusing their tactics and allocating resources to online sales in the same proportional effort. In many cases, it’s not even close.

As often as not, B-to-B firms have treated online not as the core of their sales engine, but more like an incremental revenue channel. Frequently, e-business is treated as a separate silo. This makes it less likely for online to interfere (or otherwise cause “issues”) with traditional sales channels. But it also makes it a lot harder for online to be treated with the critical importance that it clearly deserves in today’s sales environment.

And even if B-to-B firms don’t sell directly to end-users but rely on reps, distributors or dealers instead, they need to make sure that their marketing partners are making the necessary investments in online sales functions to support those end-users.

Consider how quickly B-to-B customers have moved online — not only to research products but also to purchase them. By moving too cautiously, B-to-B firms risk being outflanked by Internet “pure plays” — some of which seemingly spring out of nowhere to achieve prominence in only a few short months or years.

To quote a phrase from a nursery rhyme, “Jack be nimble, Jack be quick …” Hopefully, you have a Jack (or Jill) in your marketing department already. Now, give them the tools and the resources to succeed.

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