ECommerce has had an undeniable effect on the demands professional buyers make on the manufacturers, wholesalers, and distributors with whom they do business — in fact, their personal shopping experiences have given rise to a whole new set of demands.
Recent research indicates that companies must invest in B2B eCommerce technology to remain competitive and meet their customers’ expectations: Buyers are purchasing more and more online, bypassing more traditional methods of interaction. Forrester predicts that, by 2019, the B2B eCommerce market will be worth $1.1T, more than double the B2C market at $480B. The same Forrester study found that 56 percent of buyers expect to make half or more of their work purchases online by the end of 2017. The message is clear: Buyers want to find the right products, place orders, and move on to their next task without having to contact a sales rep.
“By 2019, manufacturers and wholesalers will surpass online retailers in the amount they spend on e-commerce systems.” -- Internet Retailer
B2B eCommerce is designed with features unique to business relationships, including quick reorder capability, contract management, support for complex products, customer-specific pricing, support for price quotes and proposals, unique client sites with client-specific products and price lists, and more. A good B2B eCommerce site accommodates all the requirements of the buyer/seller relationship and makes doing business easier for all concerned. A significant benefit of a B2B eCommerce site is improvement in client engagement and satisfaction. But the benefits shouldn’t be limited to the front-end of the site: it’s important to give equal priority to the operational side of the process.
The eCommerce site can be the company’s hub, with data coming in from all sides of the operation. This means that systems like ERP, order management, warehouse management, shipping and fulfillment, accounting, and client relationship management are all integrated with the eCommerce site. In many cases, the ERP will handle many of these functions, making it the most critical integration for a successful B2B eCommerce implementation.
With data coming into a B2B eCommerce platform from these integrated systems, B2B clients receive an efficient, personalized experience. Clients can see details on the B2B storefront that are tailored to their specific relationship, including products, pricing, contract terms, and payment and shipping options. At the same time, data from the eCommerce system helps the organization respond better to its clients’ needs. Analytics about user activity on the site, whether customers order from a mobile or desktop device, and how they interact with sales and support, are all available to improve client satisfaction.
Let’s look at how this might work at a fictitious manufacturer of after-market auto parts, Absolute Best Auto (ABA). ABA sells to auto service and repair centers, wholesale parts distributors, auto dealers and retail outlets. Not all their clients are offered the same products, nor do they all have the same pricing and discount structures. With B2B eCommerce, each client can have its own “storefront” that offers only products and prices relevant to that client. Because the system is integrated with ABA’s ERP, clients get real-time product availability, and ABA’s manufacturing requirements are updated based on sales orders. The ERP integration means the system can apply contract-based pricing and terms, enable orders in bulk quantities, and provide options for the best shipping method. Sales reps and clients have instant access to order history, backorders, and shipping status. Additionally, sales and marketing can see what clients search for, average order values, conversion rates, and what promotions clients respond to. Payments are processed faster with credit card and other online payment methods. And products and product information can be easily changed and updated with the eCommerce content management system or a product information management system.
“If you want to grow your business and reach new markets, you need a particular piece of your ecosystem to solve that particular problem. You need an e-commerce platform that can expose your ERP in a way that creates an exceptional customer experience.” --Zach Hanlon, Director of Product Marketing, Oracle Commerce, Manufacturing Business Technology
These benefits are achieved not just because ABA has a B2B eCommerce site, but because they ensured that systems, especially the ERP and eCommerce system, are integrated. Without broad operational integration, an eCommerce site can serve as an efficient and easy-to-use ordering system, but it falls short of providing operational and cost-cutting advantages. Integrating systems breaks down operational silos, and produces the ultimate asset: data.
Companies that do not integrate their systems often try to create, maintain, and track the same set of data in multiple places. This is an invitation for error. For the purpose of data integrity, there should one primary source for any data type. System integration enables data sharing from the primary source with all relevant supporting systems.
Buyers now expect to be more self-service in the day-to-day interactions they have with the companies they do business with. And companies need real-time data to improve operations, respond to customer demands, lower costs, and measure performance — relying on historical data will not suffice. A well-integrated B2B eCommerce site enables manufacturers and distributors to engage, analyze and execute in a fluid, technology-driven business world.
Darren Sepanek is CMO of E7 Solutions.