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By Tom Wintaugh
Your guide to the inner workings, primary methods, and latest trends in business-to-business transactions.
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We tend to think of ecommerce payments as being straightforward—a customer decides to purchase a product, provides a method of payment for that product, and goes on their way. But business-to-business (B2B) payments are more complex, with their own sets of standards, processes, and technologies. This article will discuss the basics of B2B payments, allowing both buyers and sellers to enter B2B partnerships with confidence.
B2B payments occur when one business transfers money to another business in exchange for goods or services.
A few examples of transactions that involve B2B payments include:
B2B payments involve several different steps and processes, including payment tracking, processing, receiving, and approving. B2B payment systems will vary by company—many midsize to large businesses have Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable divisions that oversee these processes. Although some B2B payment systems rely on manual processing, automated B2B payments are becoming increasingly common.
Read on for more details on the B2B payment cycle.
While B2C and DTC business can process their payments in a matter of minutes, B2B businesses take an average of 30 days to process payments. This is in part because the B2B payment cycle often involves multiple parties across both buying and selling companies.
The B2B payment cycle typically begins when the buyer initiates their purchase from the seller, who approves the terms of transaction and processes the order. The seller then creates and sends an invoice, which includes a list of the items sold, the total amount of money owed, and the date the payment is due. Lastly, the buyer pays the amount due and the seller sends the buyer a receipt.
In addition to generally longer payment cycles, there are a few specific qualities of B2B payments that distinguish them from B2C or DTC payments.
As mentioned above, recurring transactions are extremely common in B2B payments. Recurring B2B payments function much like consumer subscription services—the seller charges the buyer for their product or service at the same time during regular increments. This model is advantageous for several reasons:
All these benefits combine to strengthen the relationship between the buyer and seller—a fundamental piece of B2B sales.
There are several different payment methods commonly used for B2B transactions.
Paper checks are still a common form of B2B payments. While check payments are straightforward and leave a clear paper trail, it can be burdensome for a company’s Accounts Receivable division to process large numbers of paper checks manually. Additionally, paper checks incur longer processing periods and run the risk of being lost in the mail.
While credit cards are a common method of payment for B2C and DTC transactions, they’re less popular in B2B spheres due to high processing fees on high-value transactions. However, credit cards are both convenient and fast, and so are still a viable option for B2B payments.
ACH, or automated clearing house, transactions are one of the most common methods for B2B payments. Also known as electronic checks or direct deposit payments, ACH transactions pull funds directly from the buyer’s account and deposit them into the seller’s account. ACH payments are conducive to recurring payments and are safe, reliable, and only take a few days to process. However, not all buyers are willing to provide their bank account information to merchants.
Wire transfers are direct payments between two banks. Although not the most common method of B2B payments, wire transfers are useful for high-value B2B transactions because they allow you to transfer large amounts of money at a time. Wire transfers are generally considered to be secure, but can carry high fees, especially for international payments.
Already popular in B2C and DTC spaces, digital payment platforms are becoming more common in B2B industries. Platforms such as PayPal and Square offer speed and convenience to buyers, and may offer sellers a range of advanced features such as the ability to send custom invoices.
Cash payments may also be used in some B2B transactions due to its accessibility, lack of fees, and quick processing times. Cash transactions could work best for businesses with primarily in-person operations, since sending large amounts of cash in the mail poses security risks. Additionally, it can be burdensome for Accounts Receivable teams to keep visible records of cash transactions.
There are a few significant challenges associated with B2B payments due to their complexity.
B2B sellers may find it helpful to keep the following items in mind to combat challenges and stay competitive.
As mentioned above, security is an area of high concern for B2B payments. In a survey from the Association for Financial Professionals (AFP), almost 75% of businesses reported that they had been victims of payment fraud, or attempted payment fraud, in 2020. Moreover, 65% of businesses believed this increase in B2B payment fraud was at least in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many businesses to quickly shift to digital platforms.
However, this doesn’t mean that digital B2B payments aren’t secure—on the contrary, many digital payment options have robust built-in security measures such as encrypted payments, 3-way document matching, and tools that can flag suspicious invoices or payments. The AFP also recommends that businesses combat fraud by keeping all their payment processes consistent across digital and paper-based methods and by reconciling their accounts daily.
As is the case with B2B marketing and B2B sales, the landscape of B2B payments has shifted considerably in recent years. Your business can stay ahead of the curve by keeping up with these B2B payment trends:
By understanding the inner workings of B2B payments, and by keeping up with growing trends in the area, you can enter and maintain lasting client relationships that will help you meet and exceed your business goals.
Ready to give your clients the online B2B experience they’re looking for? Download our free B2B Ecommerce Growth Plan.
Miva offers a flexible and adaptable ecommerce platform that evolves with businesses and allows them to drive sales, maximize average order value, cut overhead costs, and increase revenue. Miva has been helping businesses realize their ecommerce potential for over 20 years and empowering retail, wholesale, and direct-to-consumer sellers across all industries to transform their business through ecommerce.