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Learning the Basics of B2B Payments

Your guide to the inner workings, primary methods, and latest trends in business-to-business transactions.  

By Miva | May 11, 2022 | 8 minute read
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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.  

What are B2B Payments?  

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:  

  • A business purchasing software from a SaaS company.  
  • A business that pays an office supply company for monthly deliveries of printer paper and ink. 
  • A restaurant that pays a wholesaler for regular shipments of produce and other basic ingredients. 

How do B2B Payments Work? 

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. 

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.  

How are B2B Payments Different from B2C Payments?  

In addition to generally longer payment cycles, there are a few specific qualities of B2B payments that distinguish them from B2C or DTC payments.  

  • Higher value transactions: B2B solutions often carry a higher price tag than the average B2C transaction. This can be because the solution is complex, such as a software program or a specialized piece of equipment; or because the order is high volume, as in a bulk order of materials. 
  • Larger quantities of product: When a company purchases operational products (such as office supplies or cleaning materials) they often order in bulk, since the product is used by an entire company rather than a single consumer or family. Likewise, retailers often place bulk orders of materials from wholesalers to stock their stores.  
  • Recurring transactions: Businesses often require B2B products or services on a regular basis and set up recurring transactions on a consistent schedule. Conversely, many consumers make their purchases on an as-needed basis (though this landscape is shifting due to the increasing popularity of subscription services).  
  • Different methods of payment: B2B payments use a wider variety of payment methods than B2C or DTC payments. While most consumer transactions use credit cards or cash, B2B transactions may use credit cards, checks, ACH withdrawals, wire transfers, or digital payment platforms.  

Recurring B2B 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:  

  • The buyer’s payment is automatically authorized, which cuts back on the time involved in each transaction.  
  • The buyer doesn’t have to remember to place an order every month or quarter, since payments and deliveries are automatic.  
  • The seller benefits from a reliable cash flow.  

All these benefits combine to strengthen the relationship between the buyer and seller—a fundamental piece of B2B sales.   

B2B Payment Types 

There are several different payment methods commonly used for B2B transactions.  

Checks 

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.   

Credit Cards 

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 

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 

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.  

Digital Payment Platforms 

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 

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.  

B2B Payment Pain Points 

There are a few significant challenges associated with B2B payments due to their complexity.  

  • High processing costs: B2B payments can incur high processing costs due to varying methods of payment, manual AP (accounts payable) labor costs, and more.  
  • Payment delays: One study showed that not only do B2B payments take an average of 30 days to process, but 47% of B2B sellers are paid late for their product or service.  
  • Lack of visibility: Communication difficulties between buyers and sellers, combined with a lack of clear breakdowns of charges, point to a need for increased transparency in B2B sales.  
  • Fraud risk: B2B transactions run a high risk of financial fraud due to authorization issues and lack of security in some B2B payment methods.  
  • Difficulty scaling: Many aspects of B2B payments are still completed manually and businesses without advanced digital solutions may find it challenging to keep up with growing numbers of payments without considerable errors or delays.  

B2B Payment Considerations 

B2B sellers may find it helpful to keep the following items in mind to combat challenges and stay competitive.  

  • International B2B payment concerns: When selling B2B solutions across national borders, you’ll need to consider differing tax rates, currency exchanges, compliance laws, shipping regulations, and more.  
  • Flexible B2B payment options: Each business has their own preferred payment method, and if your company can’t accommodate those preferences, clients may take their business elsewhere. By staying flexible and accepting a variety of payment methods, you can keep and attract more buyers.  
  • Detailed documentation of processes: You can combat a perceived lack of visibility by keeping your B2B payment documentation clear, from detailed invoices to transparent communication around possible delays 
  • A shift to digital: Moving your B2B payment processes to a digital platform can streamline your buyers’ experience and ease the burden on your internal team.   
  • Online B2B quotes: Offering an easy process for requesting B2B pricing quotes online through your B2B ecommerce website can help you create an improved purchasing experience for your buyers. 

B2B Payment Security 

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.  

B2B Payment Trends 

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: 

  • Shift to digital payments: In their survey of small businesses, Mastercard reported that 76% of respondents said the pandemic pushed them to become more digital. Additionally, 82% of respondents changed how they conducted B2B payments, with 51% shifting their clients to digital payments.  
  • Mobile payments: Mobile payment platforms, including peer-to-peer payment options, are emerging in B2B spheres to help meet the demand for increased speed and convenience.  
  • Automation: Automated B2B payment solutions can cut back on processing times while reducing some of the burden on Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable teams.  
  • Buy now, pay later options: Installment payments are already popular in B2C and DTC industries, and some B2B businesses are introducing the trend in their own payments as well.  

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 

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Author's Bio

Miva

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.

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