The 4th edition of Netcomm’s B2B Digital Commerce Observatory, presented last March in Milan, highlights the exponential growth of online B2B: 61% of Italian companies have B2B eCommerce activities with their own site or on marketplaces, 11.7% more than in 2021. Among these, companies focused on the use of B2B marketplaces are increasingly prevalent – they make up 34%, a 10% increase over 2021 – not only for sales, but also for lead generation. Among the 39% that have not yet adopted B2B eCommerce solutions, 13% intend to develop them in the next 12 months, a percentage that has doubled since 2021 and demonstrates the growing interest in online sales tools, especially among larger companies. The share of turnover from digital sales in B2B stands at 11%, but is expected to grow by 14 percentage points within three years.

“In the post-pandemic, the possibility of customer loyalty through service improvement and innovation has become the main reason for companies to digitise their B2B business transactions. Today, in fact, it is considered decisive by 39% of companies and, with an increase of no less than 20 percentage points compared to 2021, it has even surpassed the reasons linked to the expansion of the market towards new geographical areas,” explained Roberto Liscia, President of Netcomm. “This demonstrates a greater maturity in the growth path of B2B commerce, which is now in a phase of greater attention with respect to the various opportunities linked to going online and the use of multiple digital services. Despite some brakes mainly related to the perceived high complexity of the project and fears of a low return in terms of benefits, we nevertheless expect the pace of growth to be even faster in the coming years and the share of turnover from digital sales to reach 25 per cent by the end of 2025”.

eCommerce oriented’ prevails

The companies that have already activated digital channel processes and services in a structured way are 27% and can be defined as ‘Heavy Digital’, as their digitisation process has already touched all canonical stages, with a focus on marketing-oriented pre-sales, direct site sales and after-sales.

The largest share, 34%, however, is made up of the so-called ‘eCommerce oriented’, i.e. those companies that have focused on eCommerce and have based their sales strategies on it, either through a direct site (8 out of 10) or through a marketplace (3 out of 10). Of these, one in 3 entered the B2B online sales universe with the onset of the pandemic, driven mainly by the desire to expand their market into new geographic areas and improve their customer service.

The ‘non-digital’

Outside the share of companies that make use of B2B eCommerce solutions (61%, in total), there is a small portion of companies (14%) that are still in an embryonic state of development on the path to adopting digital tools. The so-called ‘Light Digital’ only focus on pre-sales and/or post-sales phases, but they are keen on digitisation and believe it can represent a development opportunity in the future. In fact, among them, 1 in 2 say that they will invest in training and consultancy services over the next year to support the digitisation process and 4 in 10 on the development of their own direct eCommerce via a website.

The number of companies that have not yet activated the digitisation process at any stage remains considerable: they make up 25%, which we can refer to as ‘No Digital’ and which identify among the main obstacles the complexity of the project, combined with the lack of lining skills and the amount of investment required, as well as difficulties related to logistical aspects and fears of conflict with other sales channels.

The most used services: eCommerce site, marketing and after-sales

Online sales via their B2B eCommerce site is the most widespread digital activity (40% of the companies surveyed use it), followed by marketing and after-sales services, where the ‘Heavy Digital’ are the undisputed champions. Light Digital, on the other hand, prove to be very focused on the pre-sales phase aimed at lead generation, which is activated by 60% of the cluster and is growing compared to 2021.

Investments for digitisation

To cope with the digitisation process, companies had to undertake lining reorganisation initiatives and/or investments. In 53% of cases, the skills of already employed staff were developed, while for 39% the tasks were delegated to external professionals and companies – mainly web agencies and ICT companies. Only 26% of the companies hired staff dedicated to new B2B activities with digital channels.

In the next 12 months, investments will focus primarily on training and consultancy services, but also on the development of digital marketing content, both of which will increase significantly compared to 2021. Furthermore, the intention to invest in direct eCommerce will remain high, especially by those companies that have already adopted it and, in light of the positive return they have enjoyed, wish to strengthen this tool.

Roberto Liscia