Planning the right approach to b2b eCommerce

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Today’s b2b eCommerce buyers expect a customer experience that matches the top b2c sites they visit for their personal shopping. With Forrester research saying that more than 70% of midmarket sellers now earn at least 25% of their revenue from online channels, these sellers must optimise their digital operations and sales platforms if they are to benefit from greater customer loyalty, increased revenues and higher margins.

This means provisioning back-office technologies that support the ordering process, stock management, billing and personalised customer support services, as well as investing in delivering the best front-end customer experience. Entering the eCommerce world will open your business up to a wide variety of competitors. Remember that your online experience will not only be judged against local or even national competitors, it will also be compared to every other online shopping experience your customer has had. So it’s important to carefully examine the capabilities of your eCommerce technology partner before you appoint them.

Business-to-business sellers also need to decide on the right eCommerce approach for their business – for example, whether their platform should be cloud-based or on-premise, stand-alone or single-stacked and integrated with other business systems. There are also operational and organisational factors to consider, such as the role of your sales force in the company’s new digital channel, the level of self-service offered to customers through your site, and how you educate customers on a new way of working.

The Forrester report contains some good pointers on the best way to set up business operations in order to capitalise on the opportunities of eCommerce. For example, it covers areas such as how sales team resources should be focused on more complex product transactions or higher ticket items and price negotiations – and it advises that even these activities need some digital support in the form of email, chat functions and digital brochures. And in the world of omnichannel selling, companies also need to stop thinking of their online channel as the competition!

Whatever operational aspects you’re considering, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Whether you opt for a standalone or single-stack eCommerce platform comes down to analysing many different factors, including the nature of your existing technology infrastructure and the ability of your IT team or eCommerce service provider to deliver support and a seamless integration. Interestingly, in the Forrester survey, over 60% of sellers would choose a single-stack option with their next eCommerce purchase.

For many midmarket companies, a cloud-based solution could go a long way to simplifying system management and avoid the over-burdening of your IT team.

Many of the respondents in the Forrester study thought that a cloud solution provides an better way keep up with the latest software innovations, and is easier to flex and scale. At the same time, don’t overlook the value of digital marketplaces like Amazon Business and Alibaba in driving traffic and sales online presence – many of your customers are probably already buying from these sites.

Buyers in the b2b space are more likely to purchase from companies that offer a transparent, personalised service that’s convenient and makes their job as straightforward as possible. Businesses that set up their eCommerce approach with a view to delivering this kind of customer service excellence are well placed to take  advantage of the many opportunities that come with an online sales channel.