What’s shaping a new decade of b2b eCommerce?

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As we enter a new decade, emerging b2b eCommerce trends continue to encourage manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors to focus on refining their digital presence. In the face of greater competition from online marketplaces like Amazon, business buyers are looking for increased trust and transparency from suppliers along with intelligent technology that supports a streamlined purchasing experience. Here are a few of the issues that are shaping the landscape…

Creating more customer confidence

To win the trust of b2b buyers, online sellers need to deliver services that make it easier for customers to do their job more effectively and efficiently. This means ensuring that your eCommerce technology is up to the task; for example, a recent survey shows that over 40% of b2b decision makers want self-service functionality, and to be able to see their own pricing online, (the same account-specific pricing they would get from a rep or customer services).

At the same time buyers also tell us they want an up-to-the-minute status on their credit account standing and easy access to a full order history, as well as sight of accurate, real-time stock availability before they place a new order. And they want the ability to pay down invoices against their account, online. This kind of functionality is essential in the provision of a slick customer experience, but it requires an eCommerce platform that integrates seamlessly with your company accounting system such as Sage or Pegasus.

Providing comprehensive product information

Business-to-business purchases have traditionally been very personal transactions, either conduced face-to-face with sales reps or on the phone with customer services teams. In these situations, it’s easy for buyers to get the information they need directly from their personal contact.

Opening an online sale channel that provides a professional self-service customer experience means providing buyers with all the technology features and product information they need to consider their purchase and complete their order – from product search facilities and comparisons, to detailed product specifications, imagery, explainer videos, customer reviews and any upsell /cross-sell options.

Supporting and managing the technology

Many manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors tell us they struggle to find and allocate the in-house IT resource required to lead a new eCommerce implementation, then support and manage the initiative. Ideally, you need to appoint a project leader who understands the strategic requirements of your business and can marry these to the technology necessary to deliver the best possible eCommerce solution.

However, IT departments are often overloaded with work and unable to handle a potentially complex eCommerce implementation, especially if the platform’s functionality is dependent on tight, real-time integration with other business and accounting systems such as Sage. Looking to the year ahead and beyond, we anticipate that an increasing number of organisations will therefore opt for managed b2b eCommerce solutions.

Taking a strategic view to optimise return on investment

Whereas in the past we might have seen companies rushing to launch b2b eCommerce channels simply to follow the latest industry trend, we’re now seeing an increasingly strategic approach to adopting new technology. For example, organisations are preparing business cases that identify the percentage of their overall revenue they can target from eCommerce over a period of, say five years, and then building these goals into prioritising technology investment and role-out that optimises ROI.

Likewise, many b2b sellers who have previously built proof-of-concept online stores to convince stakeholders of the viability of an eCommerce channel, (and then continued to operate those stores as independent entities, disconnected from other business systems), are prioritising the customer experience in selecting a more permanent solution. In our experience, this almost always involves real-time integration with accounting systems as the best way to deliver the information that customers need to buy with confidence.

What’s more, as b2b organisations continue to embrace an ominchannel approach, companies are searching for eCommerce solutions that are able to deliver the same consistent customer experience across all potential markets and audiences, including b2b, b2c, b2b2c and sales reps selling face-to-face.

Addressing the impact of b2b marketplaces

In an environment dominated by giants such as Amazon and Alibaba, b2b sellers are working out how to address the threats and opportunities posed by the big b2b marketplaces, and how best to define their strategic relationship with them. The course of action taken by most companies usually depends on the nature of their marketplace representation.

For example, if your organisation operates in a more tightly regulated or specialised sector that the major marketplaces have, for the time being, steered clear of (so your products don’t feature in those marketplaces), you have the chance to consider and plan your strategic response should this situation change in the future.

If your products feature in the major marketplaces, but you have no governance over transactions, (ie you’re represented by a third party – either legitimately or without your knowledge), you need to gain more control over sales in order to reduce risk and maximise opportunities. Companies that have established a branded presence in the major marketplaces and are able to exercise control over transactions are in the best position to exploit opportunities.