Originally published Aug 6, 2019. Expanded Aug 26, 2021.
B2B eCommerce is a challenging proposition for manufacturers. You’ve got a defined customer base that’s already doing business with you (maybe placing orders through phone, fax or email). Their transactions are governed by your SAP ERP business rules. If you’re going to do B2B eCommerce, those web orders need to conform to the appropriate business rules — just as orders from phone, fax and email do.
For many organizations, this is the primary challenge of B2B eCommerce, and it creates all kinds of secondary challenges.
How do you map those difficulties to address them effectively?
B2B Challenge #1: Choosing the right sales area for your first rollout
If you only sell to one customer segment or geography, then this isn’t terribly challenging. But if you have multiple sales areas, you’ll need to think strategically about which one gets B2B eCommerce first.
At a high level, the question is really this: Which sales area has the strongest likelihood of a quick win?
If you choose a solution with a templatized ERP integration (like Corevist Commerce), there’s an additional layer to the decision here. You’ll want to launch B2B eCommerce for the sales area that best serves as a template for your remaining sales areas.
That leads us to our next B2B eCommerce challenge.
B2B Challenge #2: Finding a solution that’s built to allow easy spinoff sites
If you only have one sales area and customer segment, then you won’t encounter this challenge. You can launch one B2B eCommerce site for all customers. But if you have different customer segments, geographies, brands or product lines that require their own B2B eCommerce experience, then you need an efficient way to bring those additional segments online.
What if you could launch B2B eCommerce in one sales area, with prebuilt SAP integration, and reuse that investment for spinoff sites to serve additional customer segments and geographies?
You don’t want to reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to.
The key here is reusable SAP integration architecture. You’ll want to find a solution that 1) includes prebuilt, configurable SAP integration and 2) makes it easy to launch new spinoff sites that have their own look and feel but use the same SAP integration architecture.
Hint: Corevist Commerce is architected this way.
B2B Challenge #3: Giving customers the personalization they need
Since B2B transactions are often governed by customer-specific business rules, they can get pretty complex. Customers need personalization like contract pricing and accurate inventory allocation if they’re going to do business with you online.
So let’s do a quick gut check. How many of these features do your customers need in B2B eCommerce?
A) 100% accurate, personalized pricing
Pricing is the bane of B2B eCommerce. B2B relationships are complex, and pricing rules tend to reflect that complexity. If your customers have personalized pricing specified in their contracts with you, the problem gets even trickier. How do you import all that pricing data into your B2B web portal—not only for launch day, but for every change to pricing that ever happens?
B) Personalized catalog for each and every customer
For manufacturers and distributors with large catalogs, it may be infeasible to show every customer every product you sell. In fact, it might even violate your ERP business rules around sales area, geography, or market.
Rather than give every customer access to every SKU, you need a way to trim each product catalog to the set of SKUs that’s relevant to that customer. Before long, it becomes impossible to maintain these catalogs manually. Throw in the need for personalized pricing, and you’ve got a real nightmare.
C) 100% accurate inventory/ATP calculations
“How much of Product A is in stock?”
We find that this is one of the top reasons customers come to the web portal. They want to know how much is available, right now.
Inventory data lives in SAP—including the ATP (available to promise) calculations which you run for each customer. Unless someone is manually updating your ecommerce store with ERP inventory data, night and day, you simply can’t display accurate inventory numbers. And if you want to alter that availability number with an ATP calculation, you’ll have to rebuild and maintain those complex rules in 2-3 places (ERP, middleware, and ecommerce).
D) 100% accurate orders posted to the ERP in real time, hands-free
One of the great difficulties of B2B ecommerce is that most ecommerce platforms want to be the system of record. They want to “own” every aspect of your business data. They don’t want to share.
But manufacturers were using SAP ERP long before the ecommerce revolution. SAP ERP already “owns” business data, and it’s not giving it up.
That means every single ecommerce order has to get posted to the ERP system. There are only 3 ways to achieve that:
- Standalone B2B eCommerce solution with orders manually rekeyed into SAP (this is unscalable and inefficient for large order volumes)
- Standalone B2B eCommerce solution with middleware/batch updates to SAP (must maintain business rules in 2-3 places; higher risk of order errors)
- Real-time SAP integration which only posts 100% error-free orders to SAP.
You guessed it, #3 is how we do it in Corevist Commerce. Our solution queries SAP in real time to make sure an order is SAP-approved. If there’s a problem, we return an intelligent error message to the user so they can correct the error (discontinued/disallowed SKU, below minimum quantity, etc.). Corevist Commerce only accepts 100% SAP-ready orders, which means no order errors and no manual follow-up to keep things running smoothly.
E) Flexible assignment of multiple ship-to/sold-to IDs to ecommerce user
Who’s going to use B2B eCommerce — and who are they buying for?
If you have sales reps, dealers, distributors, or any other kind of user buying on behalf of multiple customers, your web channel has to support that. It needs to be able to map each B2B eCommerce user to the customer IDs associated with that user. Otherwise, your web channel will be useless for users who need to buy on behalf of multiple entities.
F) 100% accurate order status/tracking for all orders, regardless of channel
In B2B eCommerce, customers need more than just the ability to shop and buy. They also need order status, change order capabilities (if allowed by your business policies), and shipment tracking. Most B2B solutions provide all of this, with one notable exception: Without real-time ERP integration, your customers will only be able to see their orders from B2B eCommerce — not orders from all other channels.
G) 100% self-service account management
B2B eCommerce comes with all kinds of complexity. If your customers are paying by invoice, there’s a danger they’ll go over their credit limit if you don’t show them how much credit they have left. Without any visibility into their credit standing, and with no ability to pay down open invoices, your customers’ orders will need manual intervention from a CSR (customer service rep) to be processed.
How to achieve comprehensive B2B eCommerce personalization
If you need any of these features in B2B eCommerce, then you’ll need a comprehensive, future-proof ERP integration.
But it’s challenging to achieve this depth of integration with a standalone B2B eCommerce platform and third-party integration software. Keeping all three systems synced is not trivial, and for many organizations, this challenge can undermine the viability of B2B eCommerce. (This is why Corevist Commerce includes 53 prebuilt integration points to SAP ERP.)
B2B Challenge #4: Defining a project methodology that uncovers needs you didn’t know about
“You don’t know what you don’t know.” This statement proves itself true in nearly every B2B eCommerce project we undertake.
Organizations have many reasons for pursuing B2B eCommerce — but it’s rare that a company understands every need their customers actually have (or every challenge that will pop up in the project phase).
Lack of knowledge isn’t an excuse to stay out of the B2B eCommerce game. So how do you uncover the issues and challenges you don’t know about?
The key is to define an Agile project methodology that allows you to fail early. You need to put live, working B2B eCommerce software in front of real customers and internal users and ask a single question, “Why can’t we put this into production today?”
When you ask this question iteratively, refining the live, working software every time, you’ve got a powerful methodology for delivering business-critical value on GoLive day.
This is the methodology that we use at Corevist. It’s how we ensure that all voices are heard — and that we launch B2B eCommerce with the most essential functionality in place, saving nice-to-have functionality for future rollouts. Read more about it here: Our B2B eCommerce Project Methodology.
B2B Challenge #5: Supporting a complex technology stack
If you need comprehensive SAP ERP integration (i.e. integration that supports customer-specific business rules), how are you going to support that architecture long-term?
Using a conventional, standalone B2B eCommerce platform, you’ll need that third-party integration system passing data back and forth between B2B eCommerce and SAP ERP. You’ll need to create (and maintain) three separate copies of all data and business logic — one copy for each system. When business rules change in SAP, you’ll have to update them in the other two systems as well.
Now factor in an update cycle for your integration platform — and an update cycle for your B2B eCommerce solution, too.
That’s a lot of complexity to own. Some organizations may have the IT resources to do this… do you? Do you even want that drama?
This is where a managed, SAP-integrated solution really shines. If you can find a partner who not only owns the technology and the integration, but also supports it after GoLive, you can launch B2B eCommerce without increasing your IT workload.
Hint: This is what you get with Corevist Commerce.