As the popularity of B2B eCommerce as a preferred sales channel continues to grow at pace, there are still plenty of manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors that remain to be convinced of its benefits. This is despite all the evidence suggesting that setting up an online store helps to enhance the customer experience, boost order value, increase margin, cut cost and reduce processing errors.
The main concerns for these companies tend to be around security issues; convincing customers to embrace the new technology; ensuring that the system can deal with the complexities of B2B sales processes; and compromising the personal relationship that exists between sale rep and customer. But with Frost and Sullivan forecasting that global B2B eCommerce sales will hit over $6.6 trillion by 2020, not recognising the evolving expectations of customers and failing to embrace B2B eCommerce could significantly compromise business performance.
Here are a few of the common challenges we see on the journey to eCommerce transformation, as well as some of the benefits companies can expect to accrue…
Firstly, successfully moving existing customers over to a new digital sales channel is a big worry for many businesses. Some long-standing customers might be so entrenched in dealing with their personal rep or account manager that they see no benefit in going digital. Does that mean you’ve wasted time, resource and money on a white elephant?
Far from it – recent studies say that nearly 75% of B2B buyers research their purchases online, and over 90% want to order online, so you should be able to move the majority of customers over to your eCommerce platform with ease. With the right system, they’ll find it easier to manage their orders, schedule recurring orders and keep up to date with news and special offers, while your sales team can focus on closing new deals and growing existing customer accounts. If your customers are reluctant to use your eCommerce platform, chances are it’s not making their job any easier – so the site is not doing what it’s supposed to be doing and you’ll need to address any shortfalls in the user experience or technology.
Secondly, some businesses remain unconvinced that an eCommerce platform can handle the complexities of business-to-business trading. This skepticism often comes from the knowledge that many B2B platforms have evolved from b2c solutions, prompting the questions: are they fit for purpose and do they deliver the unique features required for B2B? However, the fact is that leading vendors like Aspidistra have made big investments in developing bespoke digital solutions that operate smoothly and efficiently to provide a world-class customer experience.
Before commissioning a B2B eCommerce provider, careful research of vendors and their solutions will help you identify a platform that offers intelligent, built-in functionality for features such as account-specific pricing, discounts and promotions; order history and real-time inventory levels; the facility for multiple buyer roles within each account; and scalability to support channel growth. With the need for companies to provide the best possible resources for buyers, partners and sales teams, top B2B eCommerce providers are able to integrate eCommerce platforms with other business and accounting systems (such as Sage and Pegasus) to deliver a seamless solution. This helps companies generate new sales revenue, at a lower operating cost with increased margin.
Another challenge that companies perceive they face is in managing customer relationships once a digital channel is operational. Traditionally, sales reps or account managers have a close relationship with B2B buyers, offering them a hands-on, personalised service. Although eCommerce is becoming increasingly popular with buyers, especially for smaller ticket items, some sellers worry that without this close, personal relationship, customer service will suffer.
However, with a best-in-class B2B eCommerce platform, you get the best of both worlds. Reps and customers have a shared view of any issues, and while customers are empowered to manage their own purchasing process, their rep is only a click or phone call away if any personal assistance if needed.
If you’re thinking about implementing a new integrated eCommerce solution or upgrading a legacy system, here are a few factors that are worth considering…
Make sure you do your research – there’s a lot of expert opinion out there and information on eCommerce best practice. Look for all the information that relates to your kind of business and the sector you work in – and equip yourself with the facts before you make any decisions.
Ask prospective vendors all the difficult questions at the start of the process – get them to confirm their B2B capabilities, look at example of their work and make sure they are a good fit for your business. Choose a provider who can scale their solution as your business grows and support you over the long-term.
Remember that customer experience is at the heart of successful selling – with the complexities that come with B2B, it’s best to ensure that you try to offer a streamlined self-service ordering process, backed by the ‘human touch’ support of your sales team.