Addressing the challenges of switching to b2b eCommerce

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According to Forrester, the b2b eCommerce market will exceed $1trillion in sales by 2023. Yet despite this continued growth, we still see many manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors who are reluctant to open up an online sales channel. While the advantages of an eCommerce solution range from increased efficiency and lower cost of sales, to improving the customer experience and increasing loyalty, modernising the b2b sales process in this way is not without its challenges. Here are some of the common challenges and how to tackle them…

Firstly, after all the investment and months of work spent developing your eCommerce offering, what happens if some of your customers refuse to use it? Perhaps they’d still rather pick up the phone to their account manager or arrange a face-to-face meeting with a rep. But with Forrester reporting that nearly three quarters of b2b buyers research their purchases online, and over 90% want to make those purchases online, poor eCommerce adoption usually indicates that your site is failing to support customers in the right ways.

The best performing b2b eCommerce websites make it easy for customers to find products and product information, they make it easy to check stock availability, order, reorder and track delivery status, and they make it easy to deal on the customer’s normal discount and payment terms. In short, the easier you can make your customers’ jobs, the more likely they’ll be to use your eCommerce platform.

Secondly, there’s the complexity of business-to-business trading to consider. In comparison to b2c, b2b has many esoteric factors that need to be addressed by an eCommerce platform – for example, accommodating multiple buyer roles within each account, customised pricing and terms of business, and providing the detailed product information required to make informed purchasing decisions. The problem is, many popular eCommerce platforms started life as b2c solutions and have never really got to grips with b2b’s unique issues. So it’s worth finding a vendor that has developed a platform from the ground-up, specifically for b2b eCommerce, which incorporates the right technology out-of-the-box.

By ensuring your eCommerce solution has all the required capabilities, your business is best placed to deliver an outstanding customer experience, increase sales revenue and margins, and reduce operating costs.

Next, because of the longer-term nature of b2b customer relationships, the regularity of purchases and the higher ticket value of products, buyers have traditionally expected a highly personalised service from sellers. As a consequence, some companies are sceptical about moving to an automated ordering process for fear of alienating their customer base. However, the move to an eCommerce solution offers different opportunities for personal interaction and support.

A best-in-class eCommerce solution allows reps and account managers to log in to the site and take orders on-the-move, while they’re visiting customers – and it provides a shared view of the customer’s account so that any problems or issues can be resolved remotely. Opening up an online sales channel also frees up time for your sales team so they can focus on securing larger deals and business development, while your customers are able to self-serve for smaller items and repeat orders on their own terms.

If you’re thinking about switching to eCommerce or replacing a legacy system, there are many important issues to consider in selecting the right platform and vendor for your requirements. Take the time to perform your own research, get up to speed with current best practice in the market, and shortlist the providers and platforms that might be a good fit for your business.

Don’t be afraid to challenge potential providers – does their platform integrate seamlessly with accounting systems such as Sage and Pegasus, can it scale to the needs of the business, and does it offer the technical capabilities you need, out-of-the-box? The customer experience should be at the centre of all your considerations – your goal should be to make the sales process as streamlined as possible with an integrated eCommerce solution. With a combination of the right b2b eCommerce platform and a customer-focused strategy, your business will be ready to capitalise on every growth opportunity.