With Frost & Sullivan forecasting an 8+% compound annual growth rate for b2b ecommerce to 2020, business customers are placing increasing pressure on manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors to move their sales operations online. But while the potential for ecommerce growth is substantial, business-to-business sellers face some unique challenges compared to their b2c peers.
For example, b2b ecommerce is a more complex business model involving intricate customer relationships, workflows, pricing and contracts. Products may be sold in a wide variety of configurations and invariably, each account customer will have multiple buyers along with their own pricelist and payment terms.
There are more sales channels to consider too. In addition to using an online portal, b2b buyers can usually place orders face-to-face with sales reps, by phone or email, and even by fax, depending on the nature of the purchase. The buying process is often fluid and flexible, so your ecommerce platform should ideally be the same. That’s why it’s also important to ensure that website content is consistent with your approach across all channels. The aim is to deliver a smooth and seamless customer experience, whatever their preferred choice of engagement – and that requires tight integration of your ecommerce platform with back-end business systems like Sage.
Successfully integrated ecommerce systems can provide customers with up-to-date inventory levels, account terms, discount structures and order histories – as well as giving you valuable insights such as buying trends and purchasing behaviour. They also enable you to segment your customer base and personalise offers for buyers so they receive them at the right time, in the right context.
Customer satisfaction should be an overriding priority. With most b2b buyers having cut their teeth on b2c sites where you can update your own personal information at any time, the convenience of this ‘do-it-yourself’ feature makes it an important consideration for your b2b site. While this feature helps to increase the accuracy of your customer data and also enhances the user experience, it’s important to balance its inclusion with the value of sales force customer relationship management requirements – so it may be wise to limit this facility to certain customers and data fields.
On a different note, a mobile site offering is now a b2b ecommerce essential, with a recent study revealing that nearly 80% of b2b companies believe mobile to be the future of ecommerce, with over half of those surveyed already able to support mobile ecommerce. It’s all about meeting the needs of your customers and providing them with the opportunity to do business their way while enjoying a consistent, high quality user experience – 24/7, wherever they’re working, whatever their device.
Regardless of whether your customers prefer to engage with you via desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone, one of the critical considerations for any ecommerce solution is to make the purchasing process as easy and straightforward as possible. Large, repeat and scheduled orders are the norm in b2b trading and your ecommerce platform needs to support these practices. Through integration with your business and accounting systems, buyers should be able to view their individual payment terms, shipping details and contractual obligations as they check out, ideally as part of a simple, single-step, same page process.
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