As manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors take on the challenges and opportunities of B2B e-commerce, they must separate from the hype from reality.
1. Enterprise-grade solutions now available for the mid-market
A few years ago, midsized businesses had no other option than to purchase fairly basic e-commerce solutions, without a proper integration into their back-end systems. Such an integration, although quite crucial for a solid B2B e-commerce setup, was financially out of reach. As technology evolved, more options became available for smaller businesses and prices went down.
Professional B2B e-commerce is no longer just for the big boys, it’s available for everybody and that will have a big impact on the number of online transactions worldwide.
2. Omnichannel in B2B
An omnichannel strategy in B2B is not new. It increased customer expectation trends coupled with a rejuvenating labor market will trigger a bigger push for omnichannel shopping among buyers. These customers want to have all information available, no matter what channel they choose to use.
As a result, B2B businesses want to allow customers to shift between channels. Whether customers go online to place an order, contact a sales rep, send an email, or call in directly, they expect the same level of information and customer service.
In order to really become an omnichannel business, you need to have a “single source of truth” for your customer data. In most cases this will be your enterprise resource planning, or ERP, system. Your ERP system will serve as the foundation for your online sales platform as well as your offline channels.
“Omnichannelling” will be on the agenda of executives at B2B companies for the coming year as it has been (and still is) the case for retailers.
3. B2B-specific reporting and KPI’s
Many key performance indicators for B2B e-commerce are vastly different from the KPIs used for retail e-commerce. B2B businesses have a different relationship with their customer base and overall have a completely different purpose, compared with B2C. In B2B, each customer may have its own set of criteria for how it wants to view and purchase products, including how it authorizes each purchase, how it wants orders shipped to different corporate facilities, and how it wants to re-order supplies. Reporting on performance for B2B e-commerce, therefore, should focus much more on the individual customer and less on the kind of aggregated market data that be more useful in measuring the performance of selling online to consumers.
4. Sales automation
Personalization of the shopping experience has always been a major topic in retail e-commerce, but in B2B you usually have much more data to work with, resulting from long-lasting relationships and frequent ordering. Typically B2B customers have to log in before they can browse the catalog with their specific product prices, so you can identify them easily and get more value from personalization. This leads me to believe that personalization based on “intelligent” automated product suggestions will play a big role in the future of B2B e-commerce, much bigger even than in B2C.