Last updated: The future of B2B e-commerce: Start with the basics

The future of B2B e-commerce: Start with the basics


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The most surprising aspect of B2B e-commerce isn’t the explosive growth the sector is experiencing—it’s the fact that more than half of B2B companies still lack a digital commerce channel.

And of those that do engage in e-commerce, many still rely on antiquated, home-grown systems that lack functionality, scalability, and the consumer-style e-commerce experiences that business users have come to expect.

In a 2012 hybris survey, 88% of B2B respondents indicated that they would prefer to buy online, yet 71 percent said they still conduct business with a company that has no online ordering capabilities.

This is simply mind-boggling.

At this stage in the game, there really is no denying the advantages a stable, integrated e-commerce channel can bring. The productivity, efficiency, and long-term cost savings gains can be tremendous. And this doesn’t necessarily mean adding all the bells and whistles. It starts with the basics. An intelligent, planned technology investment can slingshot legacy businesses into the 21st century and keep them relevant in the marketplace.

Empowering the sales force

A hesitation on the part of some companies is that adding a digital commerce channel removes the human element that has been critical to their success. This is simply not so. Face-to-face interaction will always be a necessary part of doing business for many companies. A properly implemented e-commerce channel can only improve these interpersonal interactions.

With the right system, sales reps can gain real-time access to inventory levels and customer-specific pricing. They can instantly verify customer credit limits or generate price quotes. They’re provided with a single order entry hub, which flows directly into back-office systems (bye-bye fax machine).

They have the ability to access the most up-to-date product catalog and spin-off high quality print collateral, as needed. All of which combine to allow a company’s sales force to better serve their customers, and serve them more efficiently.

B2B e-commerce doesn’t have to be self-service. It can lead to better service.

Cater to the customer

That said, the e-commerce channel can also give B2B customers more control and provide added transparency throughout the relationship. Customers can be targeted with specific product catalogs and pricing, as mentioned, but they can also be presented with tailored content, allowing them to cut through the noise and get at the information that really matters to them.

They gain access to the order lifecycle for order tracking and planning future budgetary needs. They’re able to access self-service tools, like user manuals, that reduce customer service requests. For complex order types that don’t lend themselves to the customer placing the initial order, they have the ability place replenishment orders and alter quantities, without involving their sales rep.

And if the needs dictate, integrating a customer’s procurement system with the e-commerce solution not only simplifies the transaction process, it deepens the customer relationship.

Aligning internal people and processes

All of which lessens the burden on front-line sales personnel and resource intensive back-office processes. This allows both groups to focus on the needs of a business’ largest, most complex customers. With the proper integration into back-office ERP, CRM, or Order Management systems, there is no need for duplicate data entry. Data entry errors are eliminated. More automation is achieved. This leads to direct cost savings, which can be reinvested in the ecommerce system to continually evolve the channel along with business needs.

I can go on and talk about the ways B2B companies can leverage their e-commerce implementation to benefit their own marketing and merchandising efforts, their distributors and resellers, and their lead generation efforts, but you get the point.

Now, if only the majority B2B companies that are still operating in the pre-digital age would get the message, we’d be getting somewhere.

The future of B2B e-commerce is happening now, and you need a playbook.

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