Best Practices in B2B Ecommerce
What B2B ecommerce best practices should manufacturers follow? This question is critical to success in the digital age—but the resources you’ll find in Google aren’t entirely relevant for manufacturers. Much of the ink spilled around “B2B ecommerce” refers to B2C companies that are trying to get into distribution. Obviously, that’s not a manufacturer’s world.
So what best practices should manufacturers use in B2B ecommerce?
Here’s our take (click to jump):
B2B Best Practice 1: Offer real-time inventory/ATP personalized by customer account
If you take one thing from this article, it should be this:
If your customers can call in to get inventory availability, you need to provide that information in ecommerce. If you don’t, you’ll introduce a friction point in the self-service buying process.
The only way you can show real-time inventory data is with real-time ERP integration (which Corevist includes out of the box).
In the SAP world, real-time inventory comes in two flavors:
- Displaying the full inventory quantity to all logged-in customers.
- Showing a personalized ATP (available to promise) quantity which your SAP system calculates for each of your accounts.
Either way, whether you show customers total raw inventory or an ATP quantity, Corevist Commerce takes that information from SAP in real time and displays it on the web. In the case of ATP, the displayed quantity is driven by the customer’s SAP sold-to.
In both cases, the moment inventory data changes in SAP, that change is reflected in Corevist Commerce for all relevant users.
Of course, we’ve seen rare cases where a manufacturer actually doesn’t want customers to see inventory availability. This is often the case if the order fulfillment process includes some kind of manual approval workflow which may delay the order (for example, if regulatory compliance is involved).
Corevist adapts to workflows like this with inventory display turned off, plus full flexibility to support your manual order approval process.
B2B Best Practice 2: Get each customer’s pricing right
Since manufacturers often have contract pricing negotiated with each dealer/distributor, it’s imperative that your B2B ecommerce solution show the correct pricing.
If pricing is inaccurate (or—even worse—missing), your buyers will be forced to pick up the phone or send an email.
If that happens day-in and day-out, the ecommerce portal has essentially become useless to them. If they can’t see an accurate price, they can’t very well place an order.
Since contract pricing and scaled/quantity pricing are defined in SAP, we believe it’s best to bring it to the B2B ecommerce store through real-time SAP integration. That way, every logged-in user sees their personalized price—including any quantity discounts that are defined in SAP.
FREE Case study: Protect Pricing with User Privileges
What’s the alternative? You could maintain all your pricing rules separately, in the ecommerce solution and in middleware. But that will require ongoing data maintenance in 3 places (SAP, middleware, ecommerce). At scale, that’s prohibitive.
It’s also why we built Corevist Commerce to function as a real-time window into your SAP system. Your SAP business rules function in real time within the Corevist portal, so your customers get the same pricing interaction through self-service which they would get if they called Customer Service.
B2B Best Practice 3: Answer the rich content question
You know you need to provide a best-of-breed B2B ecommerce experience. But what does that mean to different buyers? Do all your buyers have the same needs?
Chances are, they don’t.
If you have multiple customer segments, multiple brands, or multiple geographies/sales areas, you need to map the needs of every customer segment that will get an ecommerce experience.
The biggest break point we see is between customers who need an Amazon-style browsing experience, and those who would rather just type in SKU numbers to place an order.
Customers who need B2C-style rich content
Some buyers may want a B2C-style experience for ease of browsing, learning about products, and comparing different options. As we’ve documented elsewhere, Millennials are ditching distributors and buying directly from manufacturers. Their digital-first expectations are raising the bar for the kinds of online experiences which manufacturers must offer.
FREE Case study: 150% Sales Growth with Rich Content
How do you know if this trend affects your business? Talk to your customers. Conduct a survey, both online and through Sales reps and CSRs, and find out what your buyers are looking for in a customer experience.
If you have a customer segment (or segments) that need product images, product comparison, suggested products, and so on, B2B ecommerce best practices dictate that you should provide these things.
Example: B2C-style ecommerce for B2B
ABOVE: Corevist Commerce offers B2C-style rich content + real-time SAP integration.
Customers who DON’T need rich content
Other buyers who prefer to order by SKU might actually find the B2C-style experience frustrating. Give them a B2B online ordering portal, with saved carts, upload carts, and SKU-based order entry, and they’ll be happy.
Here’s how saved carts work in Corevist Commerce:
B2B Best Practice 4: Define your B2B ecommerce revenue target
As we’ve written elsewhere, we believe there’s 1 question that will define your B2B ecommerce success: What percentage of your overall revenue do you want to come through ecommerce?
It’s a powerful question.
Now, you can ask it in two contexts:
- What % of existing revenue do you want to transition to ecommerce? In this case, a few corollary questions arise naturally. What % of existing customers do you want to adopt ecommerce? How are you going to turn them into dedicated ecommerce users?
- What % of future revenue do you want to flow through ecommerce, with ecommerce as the competitive differentiator that drives that new revenue? Other questions naturally follow this one: Where are your future customers doing business now? What benefits are they getting from your ecommerce competitors? What are their pain points in doing business with your competitors?
Obviously, you don’t have to choose between these two—in fact, a smart plan will ask both questions. You should strive not only to transition existing business to ecommerce, but also to take new market share from competitors who are lagging behind you in online customer experience. An intelligent B2B ecommerce plan will empower you to do both (possibly in successive phases).
B2B Best Practice 5: Make sure your B2B solution supports order approval workflows (if you need them)
If there are multiple decision-makers involved in your buyers’ purchasing process, then your B2B ecommerce solution needs to account for that (and support role-based privileges).
For example, say there are 3 types of users working for your customers. They’re differentiated by their privileges as it relates to orders:
- Level 1—Can build orders but can’t see pricing or place orders.
- Level 2—Can build orders AND place them, but can’t see pricing.
- Level 3—Can build orders, place orders, AND see full pricing.
We see use cases like this when the manufacturer needs to protect the personalized pricing which they offer each customer. In high-turnover fields, where workers change jobs frequently, it’s best to hide pricing from the first two levels of worker, since they may take that knowledge with them to the next job.
Corevist Commerce includes full support for role-based privileges. For more, check out this case study:
FREE Case study: Protect Pricing with User Privileges
B2B Best Practice 6: Choose your B2B ecommerce management model
This is a fundamental question, and it doesn’t get much play from B2B ecommerce solution providers: Who’s on the hook for your ecommerce infrastructure as a whole?
That question has far-reaching implications for the life of your ecommerce business. Because enterprise-class ecommerce is a system of systems, someone has to own that system—the larger infrastructure of which the ecommerce platform is just one piece.
If you source your ecommerce platform from one vendor and your ERP integration from another, you’ve got a system of systems without an owner. That leaves your in-house IT team or another third party with the responsibility for the overall B2B ecommerce infrastructure.
That works fine for some organizations. Others can’t justify it.
We built Corevist Commerce to solve this problem. It’s a fully managed solution for manufacturers who don’t want to worry about their B2B ecommerce infrastructure in-house. We offer the platform (Corevist Commerce), the implementation & integration, ongoing support—and we help you grow the business—and 1/3 of Corevist clients have no in-house IT resources dedicated to supporting our platform.
Here’s what that looks like:
Want to see this in real life? Download this case study on Blount International. You’ll learn how this industrial manufacturer launched Corevist for B2B ecommerce—with no additional strain on their internal IT team.
B2B Best Practice 7: Get your Sales team on board from the start
As we’ve reported, Forrester Analyst John Bruno claims that the #1 way to kill ecommerce is not to incentivize Sales reps to use it.
That makes sense. Out of all your employees, your Sales reps are (hopefully) the most in tune with customer needs. So they’re the ideal people to sell ecommerce to your customers.
To do that, though, you’ll need to incorporate the concerns of Sales into your B2B ecommerce plan—from the very beginning. That way, you include them in your ecommerce transition and ensure you don’t alienate them.
For more on what this looks like, watch this webinar: Getting Sales On Board with Ecommerce.
B2B Best Practice 8: Look for economies of scale that can serve all your global divisions and brands
Here’s another talking point which isn’t getting enough play: If you have multiple divisions or brands that need ecommerce, it just doesn’t make sense to force each division to pursue their own solution.
Why? Because the first 2 B2B ecommerce best practices depend on real-time ERP integration.
And if your ERP system is centralized or templatized across all your divisions/brands, then you’re not leveraging available economies of scale if you force each division to go their own way and build their own integration.
In fact, if that’s the case, each division will make large, duplicate investments in one-off ecommerce/ERP integrations. This will hurt your bottom line now, but also in the future, as each division’s ecommerce channel will have its own technical quirks and will require the individual attention of a dedicated team.
Corevist Commerce is different. Our solution is built on a real-time, configurable SAP integration that’s ready for reuse in any/all storefronts. Because our implementation is as templatized as your ERP system(s), Corevist allows you to scale your global ecommerce business fast.
Here’s what that looks like for a sample project with 10 global storefronts:
Moving forward: FREE case study
Want to see B2B ecommerce best practices in real life? Download this case study on Mannington Mills. You’ll learn how this top manufacturer of flooring launched a B2B ordering portal for power users (i.e. SKU-based ordering only), then realized they needed to add rich content to meet the needs of evolving customer segments.
Mannington added a catalog with rich content to Corevist Commerce. The results were incredible—150% sales growth in the ecommerce channel.
FREE Case study: 150% Sales Growth with Rich Content