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Many manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors now operate an online sales channel for their business customers. Those who don’t are almost certainly losing out on revenue as well as compromising future business. But planning and implementing the best ecommerce approach for your business can be challenging, especially when companies know they have to deliver on the customer experience expectations set by their b2c counterparts. So if you’re on the journey to b2b ecommerce, here are some thoughts around best practice that might help you avoid the most common pitfalls along the way.

The first priority is to have a clear understanding of your organisation’s vision for ecommerce success. This will involve taking a holistic view of the business issues you are hoping to address and the strategic goals you are trying to achieve. The process will need the close involvement of key stakeholders who should be consulted throughout the project’s development. Without their input, progress will invariably be slow, and at worst, the final result may not be fit for purpose. With this in mind, there are some key considerations for achieving best practice in researching, justifying, developing and maintaining your b2b ecommerce solution.

The purpose of the research and justification stage is to build a solid business case for your investment. Start by clearly defining the reasons for taking the ecommerce route and conduct an ROI analysis to assess the value it will add to your business. This should be structured to provide senior management with a compelling argument for an online channel that justifies the business expense. In addition to hard figures, think about including softer metrics such as the impact on customer satisfaction and retention. These factors will have a positive effect on the business but will not always be obvious in your profit and loss account.

You’ll need to consider which stakeholders should be included in the development process and clearly establish the scope of their involvement. Look closely at what your system needs to achieve from every angle and perspective, and then carefully examine these requirements and their impact on your customers. All this information should be incorporated in the RFP for your b2b ecommerce platform.

To select the best ecommerce partner for your business needs, you’ll need to set out the criteria for vendor analysis, qualification and selection, and define the role of your stakeholder team in choosing your preferred solution provider. How will it increase productivity in different parts of your business, where will it improve existing processes and how easily will it scale with your business requirements?

From the customer’s perspective, think about the platform’s functionality and its ability to deliver a rich and personalised user experience. Will it integrate tightly with your existing business and accounting system to provide the real-time stock, price and discount levels your customers need to make purchasing decisions? Is the user interface intuitive and streamlined and does it offer smart promotional tools that help to optimise sales?

Remember that your platform should have the capabilities to deliver a user experience that equates to those of the best b2c sites – it’s what your business customers will expect. With more than half of global b2b buyers forecast to make 50% of their purchases online within three years, they want seamless omnichannel experiences, round-the-clock self-service access and all the accurate information they need to make a purchase.
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