The setting of The Office, where B2B retailers use a squadron of sales reps to reach business owners, will become increasingly rare in the future. Though the change has come slowly, more and more business are interacting with B2B retailers online. According to recent estimates from Forrester, B2B e-commerce sales will reach $780B by the end of 2015 and $1 trillion by 2020. This shift will require B2B retailers to evolve and adapt their approaches if they wish to remain profitable. This article will discuss what's causing this shift to more online B2B sale and how retailers and marketers can take advantage of it.

A discussion on how the internet is changing B2B marketing may seem obvious, but there is a lot of evidence that many B2B retailers aren't enthusiastically embracing digital marketing. Right now, there is a disconnect between the way B2B retailers do business and how their customers would like to do business. Forrester reported that though three out of four (75%) B2B buyers prefer to buy online when purchasing products for work, but just one in four (25%) of B2B companies actively sell online. Business owners are working to bridge that gap and it will transform the B2B industry, though not always in positive ways. Forrester estimated that 1 million US business-to-business salespeople, or 20 percent of the sales force, will lose their jobs to self-service eCommerce by 2020. In other words, within five years, one in five B2B salespeople are going to lose their jobs. This is unfortunate, but it's as unavoidable as the demise of the gas pump attendant or the elevator operator.

Another problem is that the B2B industry has been slow to adapt to changing internet technology. According to Ragalix, less than half (47%) of global B2B marketers believe the growth of mobile ads and mobile content is not significant to them. As has been discussed in previous articles, there is a plethora of evidence showing that mobile content is growing in importance for all industries and that mobile ads are extremely effective.

One internet marketing tactic that B2B marketers are using to great effect is content marketing. A recent report from the Content Marketing Institute found that B2B marketers consider their online content nearly as effective as their in-person sales representatives. Specifically, two out of three (66%) B2B manufacturing marketers said in-person events were an effective form of content marketing and online-only topics received similar scores such as 65 percent for videos, 62 percent for webinars, and 61 percent for case studies.

Knowing the value of the internet for spreading a B2B message has practical applications. B2B marketers can easily increase the reach of their content by using online content promotion to target audiences that are hard to reach via in-person sales reps. More B2B marketers are using this application. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 87 percent of B2B manufacturing marketers use video for content marketing, a 10 percent increase from the 80 percent of marketers who did so in 2014.

The benefits of using the internet for B2B marketing go beyond increased content reach. Modern technology allows internet marketers to create automation systems that handle small tasks that can increase revenue but are often overlooked. For example, automated emails sent to customers at a point when they should be running low on supplies or triggered follow-ups for people who were in the sales funnel but fell out for some reason.

In truth, many B2B marketers are using these automation to improve their online marketing. According to a different Ragalix study, nearly four out of five (79%) of B2B marketers worldwide used marketing automation. Of those who reported using marketing automation, 82 percent said lead nurturing was their key objective. It also appears that many of these marketers met that objective. Nearly two thirds (64%) of the B2B marketers in the survey that used marketing automation saw benefits within 6 months of implementing the program.

However, to keep expectations realistic, it's prudent to note that just three out of 10 (31%) rated their automation efforts as "very effective". That said, since 62 percent of B2B marketers who use marketing automation expect their automation budgets to increase in the next 12 months, it's clear what ever value they found was substantial enough to warrant greater investment into the technology.

These multiple pieces of research show that the B2B industry is changing and that B2B retailers who don't adjust to these changes will find their profitability fall in comparison to their peers. For more data about the power of the internet for B2B marketing, read this article with 10 stats that show why B2B marketers need to use social media.