B2B ecommerce is picking up steam, and according to Frost & Sullivan, “Global business-to-business (B2B) eCommerce sales are predicted to reach over $6.6 trillion by 2020, surpassing business-to-consumer (B2C) valued at $3.2 trillion by 2020.” As we wrote recently in this post, there are several trends supporting ecommerce in the B2B space, and the change in the way buyers engage with their suppliers is also a reason why B2B companies are leveraging key digital marketing principles to grow their businesses (see Five reasons why digital marketing is relevant for traditional B2B SMEs in Singapore).
B2B ecommerce platforms require certain features that are specific and different than ecommerce for consumers. Therefore, a number of platforms have evolved to specifically offer these features—and some of the best known consumer ecommerce platforms (such as Shopify or Magento) have also created versions of packages dedicated to B2B.
B2B eCommerce Features
Here are ten important and relevant features of B2B ecommerce platforms to consider when developing an ecommerce plan.
While in consumer ecommerce offline-to-online this often refers to online integration with offline retail in an omnichannel fashion, in the B2B world this refers to the ability for sales people to create an order in their quote system and for a buyer to take that order created by a salesperson and complete it online (or vice versa, for a buyer to start an order online and for a salesperson to complete it on behalf of that buyer). Integration with CRM (and a quote system, if separate) is crucial for this feature. If this is a key need of yours, consider ecommerce platform based on CRM or one that can be well integrated with your CRM. Examples of some of these platforms include Apttus, Oracle Commerce Cloud and Salesforce B2B Commerce.
2. Schedule meetings/calls with salesperson
In addition to the ability to handover orders between offline and online, it is also useful to have the option to get in touch with a salesperson. Some platforms have the ability to show who is your dedicated salesperson, their availability and allow you to book a call or meeting with them. If ecommerce is your first step in creating a low-touch sales process, but your customers are used to a log of handholding, this is a good feature to have.
3. Quick order / Reorder
Buyers may have dealt with your company for a while and they may wish to continue to do business in ways that they are comfortable with. B2B ecommerce platforms can minimize the level of disruption and can facilitate the ordering process in many ways. For example, they can submit an Excel file or CSV with the part numbers and quantities, re-order in one click based on the last order, and confirm the re-ordering of the last order.
4. Standing orders
To make it even easier to reorder, some platforms even have the ability of placing standing orders, so that the buyers don’t even need to click once to re-place an order. This level of convenience can be useful in manufacturing supply chain situations where buyers have a good understanding of their needs.
5. Customer-based price lists
Price lists are a key differentiator with consumer ecommerce systems (where typically there is one price and some promotions/discounts). In B2B ecommerce, which products are available to which customers and at what price are in part of the sales process. Most B2B ecommerce platforms have sophisticated options for the management of these price lists—some are better integrated with your CRM, some with your ERP, and depending on who makes the pricing decisions at your company this may be a deciding factor.
6. Tiered client account management
B2B ecommerce also need to account for the fact that buyers are only one of the users of the platform. There are others on the customer’s side who may need access to get product info and order samples (for the product development team), to get shipping info, invoices and other documents, to lodge a complaint or process a return… B2B commerce platforms need to be able to offer multiple roles with the ability of doing multiple task (e.g., not all of them may be authorized to place orders).
7. Payment methods and approvals
Some companies are used to using purchase orders and want to continue to do so; they may have complicated rules to check the credit balance available and to request increases in credit. Others may be looking at ecommerce as a way to change their payment methods (and get a larger share of customers to pay upfront with some type of electronic payment). All will have to deal with invoices and credit notes. B2B ecommerce platforms will have to support all these different payments options.
8. Minimum order
In B2B transactions it’s typical to have some type of measure for minimum order sizes. B2B ecommerce platform needs to be able to set limits in flexible ways (quantity by product, overall order value, …) to meet the specific needs of a business. Often these minimum quantities need to be customer-based too, so it needs to provide with a good integration with CRM and other systems where the customer data is stored.
CRM, ERP, billing system, … just to name a few. It is often worthwhile to explore how well the ecommerce platforms integrate with other business systems already in place.
10. D2C or B2B2C
If you are already thinking of your “ecommerce phase 2”, depending on your industry and products, you may be thinking of selling directly to consumers or enabling your channel partners to be able to offer ecommerce to their end customers. Some B2B platforms offer these features; typically, the platforms supporting consumer ecommerce have an advantage here (like BigCommerce, Digital River, Magento Commerce, SAP Hybris)
Read more about all the B2B ecommerce platforms here.