We all know that e-Commerce is a major influencer for Business-to-Consumer (B2C) buyers. But Business-to-Business (B2B) commerce is not as straightforward as B2C commerce is. B2B Business is not only about influencing customers' buying habits through branding, personalized contents, mobile responsiveness or digital marketing, but it is more about their pricing models for different dealers or retailers, engaging their Sales team, improving their distributor sales, integrating with their shippers/ERP/CRM etc.
But as per global reports, these challenges are not restricting business to move online.
Back in 2013, Forrester released a new report titled “Key Trends in B2B e-commerce for 2013“. On their blog, they noted that growth in B2B e-commerce has been significant, and that by 2013 customer-facing front-end B2B e-commerce will reach $559 billion. And – that number excludes EDI transactions. Compared to $252 billion for B2C, this means that those of us involved in this industry must start leading the charge to innovation instead of relying on trends built in B2C.
So, if you are planning to move your B2B sales channel online, follow few considerations to measure your roadmap precisely. Below are those considerations based on my understanding of market and B2B business.
1.What role your website is going to play in the Sales process?
If you have highly customized offline pricing models, or bound by agreements with distributors, you can have a search engine-friendly catalog site which generate leads for your offline sales. This kind of websites should feature a complete catalog with rich product content, but don't allow buyers to purchase online. So, the purpose of your website will be to funnel consumers to a nearby store locator - a great feature for reseller buy-in.
But you also can have a fully transactional B2B website only for logged-in users with accounts and association with an assigned sales representative or account manager. Your site may offer different levels of functionality for specific brands, categories, or customer groups.
2. What is going to be your online pricing strategy?
You might be inheriting a pricing structure that have grown organically over the years with several dealers who have negotiated specific price books. Replicating similar contracts online can be a difficult task but not impossible with right e-Commerce platform.
Pricing strategies will also differ based on the targets of different dealers or sales representatives. Several rules of Tax, discounts, minimum order quantity, credit limits, specific market focus will drive the overall strategy for pricing.
Generally, if you are using any Enterprise-Resource-Planning (ERP) solution for pricing, integrate your e-commerce platform with the same to have up-to-date pricing for all SKUs.
3. How do you leverage your Sales team by your B2B site?
Traditional Sales team may treat your e-Commerce platform as an expensive distraction from their tried and tested sales methods. But a properly strategized e-Commerce platform can be used to reinforce your sales team.
Realistically, hybrid offline-online business model works for B2B where sales team hold the relationship with the dealers whereas e-Commerce platform plays the role of effective and transparent communicator.
4. Do you really want to access new market?
With an e-Commerce platform, your business reach becomes wider. But you have to understand if your business model supports the same.
As an example, if you are a local Manufacturing company, can you deliver your products beyond your city or country boundaries?
If your answer is yes, then ensure that your B2B e-Commerce platform supports different currencies, tax rules, shipping and payment mechanisms to validate your credentials as a global player.
But if your answer is no, then leverage your local rules rigorously with restrictions of price display or order placement capabilities from outside business territory.
5. How complicated is your order processing?
Too many manufacturers believe that because no two orders are alike, orders can’t be processed online.
The myth: price lists and catalogs personalized by customer and the RFQ process just can’t be handled online.
It’s just not true; but this myth did come from somewhere. In the beginning, B2B sellers tried to use B2C e-Commerce software to do the job. It was ill-prepared to handle the complexities of B2B e-Commerce and required extensive and expensive customization.
Today, B2B e-Commerce platforms are built from the ground up for B2B transactions. Several B2B platforms provide customizable workflow engines for multiple, complex scenarios like quotations, re-ordering, payment terms, multiple approval flows etc.
6. What are the other systems power your business?
In order to sell effectively online, B2B customers expect to see real-time inventory availability, pricing and shipping information. Often the master record for that data resides in one or more of other system like ERP, Product Information Management System etc.
You will need to map out which key data is controlled by which key system, and have joint conversations to understand how they are integrated with other systems. Do they have an API, and is it publicly documented? Can files be imported and exported in an automated fashion? Can they recommend trusted vendors middleware to bridge the gap?
With global explosion of B2C e-Commerce, most of your B2B consumers are more tech savvy now-a-days. The self-service model that drives their B2C experience is definitely influencing their behavior on job. So with initial challenges and planning, B2B commerce can be a game changer for your future.