How to make the right choice for your B2B ecommerce platform?
After considering the features needed for the B2B web store, wholesalers, manufacturers and distributors have to decide on the right ecommerce platform. This is a strategic decision that needs to be future-proof, even if companies are taking a first step into B2B ecommerce and do not expect online sales revenues to be high in the short term.
Companies may consider consumer ecommerce platforms used by B2C retailers, e.g. Shopify or Magento, which at first glance appear to offer customization options, or decide to opt for a B2B ecommerce specialist that can handle complexity and demanding high-volume orders.
Features and functionality critical to the B2B buying process may not exist on consumer B2C platforms, and while it may be possible to customize by adding additional features, this can be expensive and problematic when the consumer platform upgrades or adds a new feature/functionality. A customized B2B platform may be ‘ignored’ with the upgrade and businesses left with an older working version of the platform.
A platform that was designed specifically for B2B transactions will be able to handle the complexities of wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers right out of the box.
Customers should be able to log in and see a custom catalog with products and pricing that apply to them. They should be able to see stock levels and make quick bulk selections across a wide range of categories and product variants. B2B ecommerce platforms can use the same Product Information Management (PIM) system a wholesaler with a large range of products may be using, which can improve search functionality for all the different products. Relevant search functionality can be enabled by product numbers as well as variants such as size, color etc.
The platform should be able to accommodate wholesalers selling multiple manufacturers, be able to break quantities down by multiple ship dates, and allow customers to quickly access their order history and place reorders by simply duplicating and adjusting past orders. This speed and accuracy of order fulfillment is critical to B2B buyers that need to replace stock quickly.
Pricing is one of the most complex areas and the most important to get right for B2B buyers. Customized pricing per account is the norm and can be based on multiple variables such as customer relationship, order history, purchase price, tiered pricing by volume and/or product type. B2B ecommerce platforms that are integrated with an ERP system can take the pricing and business logic directly from there and avoid the need to replicate and maintain this separately for online sales. This means that prices really can be determined in realtime and prices shown in the web store are always up-to-date, considering every relevant variable. In contrast, consumer ecommerce platforms will struggle to effectively handle specifc pricing and payment conditions at a per client level. When a customer’s specific payment conditions are taken directly from an ERP, there is no need to exchange this information or add these conditions manually per customer in your web store. It’s also possible that a B2B company can decide to take new customers, and direct those customers to register and prepay directly online.
Calculating sales tax or VAT on business orders can be quite complicated, especially if companies sell in different states, or countries. Complex rules to calculate sales tax or VAT can be natively available in your web store using an ERP integrated ecommerce platform. Without this real-time order accuracy and efficiency, a B2B buyer may lose confidence and resort to offline channels without the option of convenient online ordering.
Customer management and engagement
Customers prefer when they can access all their order history – online and offline - and can make repeat orders based on previous orders. This helps to provide a better service and joined-up customer experience.
Even allowing customers to make notes with an order may not seem very significant but it can be very valuable to customers and improve shipping efficiency e.g. please deliver at the back door. This ‘order comments’ feature is widely used by B2B web stores, and when it is centralized in one place it saves time and improves efficiency. Features such as ‘best sellers from ERP’ is another ‘nice to have ‘ feature to introduce new products or favorites to customers by showing what’s popular with other buyers in similar businesses and importantly includes offline as well as online best sellers.
The nature of B2B ecommerce affords some great opportunities for very personalized and targeted marketing based on purchase history, behavioral triggers and more, since every interaction on the platform is tied very specifically to a unique, known account.
Interfaced vs. Integrated with ERP: what’s the difference?
There are many ecommerce suppliers that claim to deliver integrated solutions. However, read the fine print carefully – the majority deliver web stores that are interfaced. With interfaced ecommerce, the software solution is installed on top of the ERP system, meaning that the connection between the business logic and database of the ERP is setup manually. Information that is available in the ERP is being duplicated into the ecommerce software, thus having its own database that is being synchronized constantly.
In short, interfaced web stores can cost money and time. Integrated B2B ecommerce software sits inside the ERP, all information stored in this system – for example article numbers, prices and current stock availability of products – is re-used and can provide a more efficient service as well as improving the online customer experience. These are key factors in increasing B2B web store usage, customer satisfaction, and last but not least, online sales revenue.
B2B ecommerce Recommendations
- Look for ecommerce platforms and suppliers that specialize in B2B ecommerce for wholesalers, distributors, and manufacturers. These companies understand the complexities of B2B ecommerce and have valuable B2B experience in your sector, as well as customer references and live examples of B2B web stores. This allows you to get up and running quickly with software that gives you many B2B ecommerce best practices without requiring customization.
- If you are handling B2B transactions, the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, will play a big role. The ecommerce site is an extension of your sales organization and, therefore, must be tightly integrated into your ERP system (which includes software for managing product information and pricing, inventory records, customer orders, and financial accounting). The benefits of basing your ecommerce platform on your ERP include:
- saving time on complex data synchronization
- saving cost by using the ERP as the ecommerce database
- enabling real-time validation on pricing and avoids duplication and errors
- a better user experience and increase in customer satisfaction, as order history and pricing enable easy repeat orders and predictive ordering.
- The reality of business today is omnichannel, meaning customers use multiple sales channels, e.g., mobile, Web, in-person, contact center, to interact with companies and suppliers. The expectations on the part of customers, and especially B2B buyers, is that suppliers should have ‘a single view’ of their customer relationship across all channels including up-to-date order history, pricing, product catalog etc. B2B buyers also expect that each channel – offline and online - has access to the same information, and this is effectively enabled using ERP systems with full customer order history that supports both online and offline sales channels.
- More companies will be expected to do B2B analytics and specific reporting and KPIs to commercial and management teams around ecommerce return on investmet (ROI). B2B specific reporting and key performance indicators (KPIs) on ecommerce B2B buying behavior will need to be done at the ‘individual client’ level for B2B companies, rather than at an aggregate level that is acceptable in consumer ecommerce. When considering an ecommerce platform, take into account whether B2B buyer analytics, reporting and KPIs can be easily done at individual client level in terms of products bought online, annual online spend, number of visits, etc.