Smoothing the way for b2b eCommerce

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As manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors increasingly move their sales and ordering processes online, the benefits of a best-in-class integrated eCommerce solution are difficult to ignore. Companies that have found and implemented the right solution are enabling customers to self-serve 24/7 through feature-rich digital platforms. These platforms are delivering better margins from larger orders, lower costs and increased efficiency through automated systems and the elimination of manual data inputting.

Whether you’re still deciding if b2b eCommerce is a good move for your business, or you’re in the process of selecting a solution provider and platform, here are some considerations to help smooth your way to the best outcome…

Is b2b eCommerce the right way forward?

Think about how you take orders at the moment. Is there a standard procedure or is it ad-hoc? Do your customers expect personal visits from sales reps or do they phone your in-house team? If your telephone sales team are constantly bombarded with calls and emails, and your sales team is always stretched to fit in customer visits, (even to take very small orders), opening a digital sales channel could be the perfect way to streamline processes and free-up staff time.

You might already be operating a legacy online ordering system, but perhaps it’s underperforming? May be it’s struggling to keep pace with features like account personalisation offered by other platforms that integrate with business systems, or it’s failing to deliver the mobile browsing experience expected by today’s b2b buyers? Either way, an upgraded platform featuring the latest technology could give you a real competitive advantage.

Likewise, if your business is growing and sales are increasing, how much resource are you dedicating to keying in customer orders? The latest eCommerce platforms are designed to automate the entire buying journey, allowing you to scale your business to customer demand and deploy staff to areas of the business that most need support.

If customers have been requesting improvements to your ordering process, it’s likely that they’re looking for a digital solution – and if you’re not able to offer them an eCommerce option they may well move to another supplier. Conversely, if you’ve invested in the technology to offer an intuitive, fully featured online sales solution, your business is well placed to attract customers away from your competitors.

Selecting the right eCommerce provider

Having established that your business would benefit from offering customers a b2b eCommerce option, you need to find the right technology provider to partner with and implement the solution. In assessing different systems there are a number of key factors that need to be taken into account. Firstly, does the solution fit with the way you sell? For example, if orders have previously come through a combination sales rep personal visits and over the phone, you need to ensure that your eCommerce solution can accommodate all eventualities – including buyers and reps placing orders on the move.

Secondly, you need to consider the solution’s ease of implementation and on-going management. Ideally you’ll want a mix of great functionality and operational simplicity, so you can be up and running quickly and any day-to-day tweaks and configurations can be easily made through an intuitive back-end system. Crucially you’ll also want your eCommerce platform to integrate seamlessly with your business and accounting system (such as Sage or Pegasus) so that you can provide customers with a high degree of customisation, personalisation and real-time data such as an accurate inventory position. Many software vendors claim to be able to achieve such integration, but in our experience very few are able to deliver on their promises.

Price is of course another critical factor in your choice of platform. But price should also be considered in relation to return on technology investment, and the cost and efficiency benefits that will accrue over time from lower data entry costs, increased sales rep productivity, larger orders, and increased margins.

Finally you must determine whether your b2b provider can offer a solution that will solve the issues facing your customers and your team, whether they have the skills to successfully implement their solution, and whether they have the commitment to support you and your technology over the longer term.