B2B buyers have special needs when purchasing online. FitForCommerce founder and CEO explains how to make B2B e-commerce sites effective purchasing tools for customers.
Recent growth of business-to-business e-commerce is led by higher buyer expectations and technological advances. Most business buyers have adopted e-commerce as private consumers and are, therefore, increasingly demanding the same convenience and options from B2B organizations.
However, an optimal B2B multichannel selling approach cannot be obtained by simply providing a business-to-consumer way to buy online. This is because B2B selling typically involves much more complex processes, such as configurable product offerings, pricing and promotions based on the needs of the individual business buyer, and often with the cooperation of teams of sales reps.
Beyond basic commerce capabilities, such as product merchandising and order processing, B2B enterprise commerce platforms should include these five key criteria for B2B commerce effectiveness:
1. B2C best practices to meet buyer expectations for superior online product research and purchasing
Advances in B2C online shopping have changed the expectations of the business buyer. B2B commerce platforms can no longer simply replicate an offline catalog; they need to include more and better product content, personalization, dynamic on-site searching, user reviews, social integration, video, and even mobile sites and apps. Effective B2B commerce platforms incorporate best practices from B2C commerce, such as presenting products in a way personalized to a customer’s needs. On a B2B site, this can mean configuring product displays and prices according to a client company’s business rules, permitting the company’s buyers to choose only among approved products and make purchases within spending limits. Furthermore, the platform must capture proprietary customer purchasing information such as Cost Center, Job Code or Purchase Order Number, and include reporting tools that provide customers a variety of selection and sorting criteria to review past purchases in detail or summary form.
2. Advanced configurability, not only of end-user capabilities and pricing options, but also of complex product and service combinations for quoting and ordering
The complexities of B2B online selling translate into customer hierarchies, with differing pricing for each, contract terms, multiple payment options, purchase authorization rules and approval workflows, product portfolios, product configuration and marketing. The result is a complicated purchasing environment that requires unique processes and technology capabilities. The B2B channel requires advanced functionality to support sophisticated pricing and product configurations. This includes business rules and workflows that dictate specific pricing for individual customers, approval processes and governance rules in order to execute the sales and marketing strategy across all channels. Furthermore, authorized users should have access to the system and be empowered to set business rules, by segment and channels, without I.T. involvement, to ensure that sales representatives do not spend unnecessary time on internal processes and instead can focus on current and new customer sales.
3. Analytics and segmentation for creating separate and distinct product offerings and pricing, quotation and contracts
Most B2B organizations dedicate resources to analyzing product, customer and sales data. Leveraging this data enables the B2B seller to develop segmented strategies to offer the optimal pricing and product mix personalized to each customer’s needs. However, many B2B organizations find that their customer-facing commerce platforms are not fully capable of displaying products and pricing based on real-time updates of data on available products and customer demand. If such data on product, pricing and governance rules are not included in the offer, then the analytics and segmentation efforts will be wasted. An effective B2B enterprise commerce platform must include tools that can execute strategies and rules based on advanced analytics and segmentation to enable guided selling through the online channel.
4. Sophisticated workflows to support complex buying cycles and selling execution across multiple channels and markets
B2B enterprise commerce platforms need to be able to handle the complexities of selling through both a company’s own sites and its channel partners’ sites, which requires tight integration of and visibility into the technology systems of all supply chain partners. An effective B2B enterprise commerce platform must have capabilities to provide insights into all aspects of the order across channels. This includes delivery dates for products and services, monitoring of order processes, and automatic notifications to customers regarding their order status. The commerce platform should be the single source of truth across business units, divisions and brands, and provide consistent product and order information regardless of whether the customer is interacting with a field sales rep, a call center rep, or the web site. Additionally, no matter how the seller manages inventory and processes and fulfills a customer’s order, it should provide customers with the same ease of placing orders and receiving order confirmations.
5. Single, global platform that can adapt to local market execution
B2B enterprises that target multiple markets will likely have sales and marketing strategies that are tailored to local market conditions. This typically includes offers and pricing that vary by geography or market segments. Organizations should deploy a centralized platform that allows for global control of product information and customer orders, yet offers the flexibility to adapt product information, marketing campaigns and order processes according to the interests and needs of customers in each targeted market.
Bernardine Wu is founder and CEO of FitForCommerce, a multichannel consulting firm that helps B2B companies and retailers define and execute growth strategies and select technologies. Other professionals at FitForCommerce also contributed to this article. Follow Wu and other FitForCommerce B2B commerce experts @FitForCommerce.