As all organizations expand their capabilities to do business remotely, B2B is under increasing pressure to deliver seamless and consistent eCommerce experiences. A successful implementation of B2B eCommerce requires translating its unique characteristics and business processes into experiences that support a wide range of customer contexts and needs. And that may seem like a daunting endeavor. Here are a few considerations for B2B sellers to keep in mind when embarking on an eCommerce digital transformation.
Standard and custom B2B offerings
B2B organizations, in addition to selling standard products, may have offerings that allow for various levels of customization (or configuration) that impact the complexity of sale and the price. An eCommerce experience may therefore require different workflows for buyers who simply add items to the cart, and those who need to configure a product or design a solution.
Multiple roles and decision-makers
A purchase in the B2B world usually involves multiple decision-makers. In the simplest scenario there is a subject matter expert making the product or service selection and a procurement gatekeeper who allows the purchase to go through and may be the person submitting the order. Workflows with multiple roles and permissions, quote generation, quote approval, and an ability to reference a purchase order are typical requirements for a B2B eCommerce experience.
Longer decision cycle
B2B customers don’t buy on impulse. They typically have a relationship with the seller, and they may be faced with limited supplier options due to dependency on other products and services that their enterprise uses. They may also be restricted to preferred or approved vendor selection. They usually arrive at an eCommerce experience with a purpose in mind that follows an earlier and longer period of consideration. A customer 360 view is critical to enable a personalized and guided experience that’s relevant to the customer and their specific needs at the time of product or service discovery leading to purchase.
Special pricing agreements
B2B sellers offer special pricing agreements to their customers. It’s not uncommon for the same buyer to have multiple pricing agreements with the seller based on the types of offerings or projects. An eCommerce experience must recognize a customer’s special pricing agreements and apply the correct pricing accordingly.
Integrations with buyers’ business systems
B2B buyers may prefer to conduct all their purchasing from within their business systems. Integrations such as punch-out catalogs enable eProcurement experiences that, together with approval workflows and electronic purchase order generation, can occur from within the buyer’s procurement system. Such experiences when combined with, for example online order management capabilities, may be an attractive alternative to eCommerce for certain B2B buyers.
Market access channels
B2B organizations may be selling to their customers directly, through distribution, or through 3rd party partners. eCommerce experiences must recognize the customer’s buying relationship with the seller. This may mean re-directing customers to their respective distributors at specific stages of the customer journey, or integrating eCommerce experiences with partners’ digital assets via APIs or white-label solutions. Organizations may want to collaborate with their distributors and partners to deliver consistent experience across market access channels.
For B2B organizations with complex market ecosystems, direct and indirect market access, international markets, and multiple 3rd party partners involved, creating an eCommerce platform to enable partners’ commerce capabilities, may be the right strategy and business model. Organizations should drive their digital transformation toward an eCommerce platform incrementally, by gradually building up their digital competencies. Solving for the B2B-specific requirements listed in this article is a good place to start.
Conclusion: Successful digital B2B eCommerce is challenging
Developing B2B eCommerce capabilities must account for the unique characteristics of B2B markets. The complexities of B2B offerings, roles and decision-makers involved, purchasing decision cycle, market access channels, pricing agreements, potential integration requirements, as well as the pros and cons of eCommerce platforms, makes it challenging to deliver business value successfully. Added to this, B2B buyers today are expecting a seamless, consistent, and personalized digital experience they have grown accustomed to as consumers – this means sellers need to spend time understanding the customer journey, using many of the same methods and techniques that have become commonplace in B2C.
For traditional organizations that are not digitally native, building B2B eCommerce may require a replacement of existing legacy systems and digital assets. Developing eCommerce capabilities can be a perfect opportunity for a gradual, iterative transformation leading to digital maturity through cycles of learning and incremental value delivery.
If you would like to read more about the topic, I recommend reading the following:
- B2B Ecommerce Punchouts Are Here, Big Commerce
- Discovery Driven Digital Transformation, Harvard Business Review (2020)