November 19, 2019
So many vendors to choose from, so little time. The influx of eCommerce platform providers has often been cited as one of the big challenges for B2B companies trying to digitalize their sales operation.
Research shows that 60.7% of manufacturers and 38.1% of distributors do not have an eCommerce site. And while Forrester predicts that B2B eCommerce transactions will reach $1.5 trillion by 2021, that will make up just 13% of total B2B sales that year.
While it’s clear that B2B commerce is definitely making strides, and we're seeing quite a bit of uptake in that space, it’s still fairly early days. Picking the right eCommerce solution that is truly built to support a B2B eCommerce framework is imperative. Here’s my advice on what to look for—the core B2B functions you need—when you are evaluating various B2B eCommerce platforms.
1. Make sure multiple buyers from within a business can easily purchase from you.
There are plenty of vendors out there who say they specialize in B2B eCommerce, but many do not actually have those B2B-specific core features. True B2B eCommerce platforms have built-in functionality that allows businesses with multiple buyers to purchase from you using the same account. You also want to be able to set different kinds of roles and permissions for those buyers in terms of who is allowed to make purchases, request quotes, or make updates to the company account. And the B2B eCommerce platform must support an order-approval process based on those permissions that control how much they may spend, the items they can purchase, their available “ship to” addresses, and payment options.
2. Customization is key.
Your eCommerce provider should also be able to support price quoting in addition to just enabling standard orders so you can craft personalized offers for large or made-to-order requests. The entire quoting process should be digitized, with the ability to negotiate with your customer, convert the quote to an order when an agreement is reached, and check out online. The ability to present custom catalogs and pricing to different customers is also of utmost importance, since B2B buyers frequently have negotiated contracts that must be honored across all channels, including online. Solutions should allow you to support these contract terms or integrate with your ERP system in real-time to ensure each buyer has the right experience and pricing.
3. Quick ordering is a must.
B2B buyers frequently reorder the same set of products, over and over again, making quick ordering options essential. For example, a printer might want to give its B2B customers the means to reorder the same paper and ink products monthly without having to start from scratch each time. The commerce platform must enable buyers to place those types of orders quickly and efficiently by either quickly typing in or uploading SKUs they want, creating an order from a previous order, or setting up standard shopping lists that can be quickly added to the cart. Taking the friction out of these day-to-day purchasing experiences saves buyers time and encourages them to purchase more.
4. Strong content development to drive more B2B sales.
Strong content development is a must in today’s B2B landscape. B2B eCommerce involves complex and high-consideration products, and there are often multiple stakeholders engaged in the purchase. You need to be able to present rich content that serves those different stakeholders so they can efficiently research and evaluate your products. Providing detailed information, such as product specs, computer-aided design (CAD) drawings, usage and configuration guides, comparison charts, volume pricing, user reviews, and more allows buyers to easily answer their questions so you can close the deal. To generate and continually update all of these resources, you need management tools that empower your business users to create, schedule, and publish everything on their own, without help from IT. You also want to have the ability to personalize and target different content and product recommendations to specific customers or buyer roles. This will enable you to create a relevant and efficient experience for your customers that will help them find the information they need faster.
Rich merchandising of your products, including the ability to show off many different angles through images and give buyers the ability to zoom, view customer reviews, and see product specs are the expectation in the B2C world, and it’s no different in the B2B space.
5. Flexibility is key since things are changing fast.
With all of the changes happening in business today, both from a technology standpoint and in terms of buyer expectations, your B2B eCommerce platform needs to fit your current business requirements, as well as the future business models and strategies you may want to employ. For example, you might want to consider an eCommerce platform that can support both businesses and consumers. With the growth of direct-to-consumer (D2C) strategies, B2B companies increasingly need to engage with both their channel partners and end consumers online. Having one platform that can serve both groups allows for more efficient management and use of resources and a faster time to market.
There are also different models being tested right now in the B2B space. For example, some companies are looking to sell services in addition to products to augment their revenues and develop closer customer relationships. These companies need an eCommerce solution that can handle products and services in the same transaction. Many are also looking at selling subscription services with automatic renewals to make purchasing more convenient for their customers and to encourage loyalty. These companies need an eCommerce solution that can support subscription management, scheduling, and recurring billing. Finally, B2B marketplaces are emerging to create a one-stop-shop experience for B2B buyers and a new way to support channel partners. With all of this flux and experimentation, you want to make sure you have a platform that is flexible and able to support you no matter how your go-to-market strategy changes.
6. B2B buyers are mobile.
It is absolutely imperative that your B2B eCommerce platform provider supports mobile commerce. Research shows that 80% of B2B buyers are using mobile at work, and more than 60% report that mobile played a significant role in a recent purchase. Having a mobile-friendly site enables you to serve buyers who are field-based and depend on their smartphones to place orders from their job sites, as well as your own sales reps as they visit clients. It even makes it easier for desk-bound buyers to research a purchase or check an order status as they commute. To serve all of these use cases, you need, at minimum, a responsive site that will work across any device. But, increasingly, companies are turning to Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) to deliver faster performance and to tap into some of the native device capabilities, such as the camera to scan a bar code or push notifications to remind buyers it is time to make another purchase. You want to make sure that your eCommerce platform is investing in new mobile technologies to ensure you can optimize your experience as mobile usage continues to grow.
7. Look to the cloud.
B2B companies should focus their eCommerce platform/vendor search on cloud-based solutions. Cloud offerings in the commerce space are mature and offer distinct advantages, especially to B2B companies with limited commerce experience. By taking care of all the infrastructure, cloud-based solutions free up your team to focus on creating the best online experience possible.
Additionally, cloud solutions typically include tooling and a global footprint that helps you get to market faster. They also have integrated a range of solutions that boost security and performance, such as firewalls, content distribution network (CDN) services, and monitoring tools. Cloud solutions easily scale to support your business growth or peak periods, giving you peace of mind. And having one vendor for the application and infrastructure simplifies overall management and tends to hasten issue resolution. Net-net, cloud solutions take many of the challenges out of digital commerce and ensure you can deliver the performance, reliable, and secure experiences required by your customers.
8. It takes a team to win in B2B.
As you consider eCommerce options, it’s also important to evaluate the ecosystem supporting the solution. Change and complexity are constants in B2B. Companies are contending with new audiences, business models, and marketing strategies. At the same time, they are digitalizing complicated business processes and integrating with highly customized business systems.
With so much change, it is critical to have an implementation partner with B2B expertise – who knows how to deal with both the technical and change management issues that are likely to arise. You also want to be sure your vendor has a deep bench of solution partners and developers in markets around the world to ensure you have choice and can get started on your project right away. Another key ecosystem element to look for is the number of supporting solutions available for the platform. An active marketplace with extensions and prebuilt connectors to enterprise systems will help you tailor your solution without having to invest in expensive and time-consuming custom development. With a strong ecosystem, you get a steady source of expertise and innovation to drive your business forward.
The bottom line.
When it comes to eCommerce, the fact of the matter is most B2B businesses aren’t experts in the space. That is why it is so important to have a partner and ecosystem with the depth of expertise to help guide your B2B eCommerce strategy.