Originally published Aug 6, 2019. Expanded Jan 24, 2023.
2023 has delivered new challenges in B2B ecommerce. Inflation, a tough labor market, and economic uncertainty are putting pressure on B2B ecommerce programs in every vertical.
So what are the top challenges in B2B ecommerce today?
And how can you address them at your organization?
Let’s dive in.
1. Handling complex personalization
B2B businesses tend to fall into two camps.
On the one hand, some businesses treat every customer the same. Every customer can buy from the entire catalog, and everyone gets the same pricing. Every customer also sees the same quantity for available inventory. These use cases are what we call “B2C lookalikes,” and they’re relatively easy to support.
On the other hand, some businesses don’t treat every customer the same.
They may negotiate different contract pricing with different customers. Maybe some customers can buy certain SKUs, while others can’t—often due to geographical restrictions or government regulations. Some customers may have personalized inventory quantities that are allocated to them (known as ATP, available to promise, in the world of SAP).
These use cases are far more complex to support in B2B ecommerce. Typically, all those business rules are defined in SAP ERP—and it’s incredibly challenging to integrate them into your B2B ecommerce experience.
(If your B2B ecommerce platform includes SAP integration, as Corevist does, that’s a different story—but that’s a post for another day!)
Customer personalization ties into our next challenge.
2. Building a foolproof ERP integration
Unless you’re a brand-new company, you already have an ERP in place.
And if you have one in place, then it’s the system of record for your entire business—or it should be. To avoid dirty data, missing orders, and incorrect inventory information, your B2B ecommerce solution must talk to SAP ERP in real time.
But integrating B2B ecommerce to SAP ERP is no walk in the park.
This is especially true for organizations that are migrating from SAP ECC to S/4HANA. How do you handle that ERP integration—in the midst of an ERP migration? (Hint: Corevist makes it incredibly easy to maintain your ERP integration and keep your B2B ecommerce experience up and running as you migrate. Learn more here: Should We Wait To Migrate To S/4 To Launch Corevist Commerce?)
Even if you’re not migrating, ERP integration is tricky to get right at launch. What’s more, it often gets harder to maintain across the life of your B2B ecommerce program. If your B2B ecommerce platform doesn’t include prebuilt integration (as Corevist does), then you’ll have to keep 3 systems in sync: B2B ecommerce, middleware or iPaaS (integration platform as a service), and SAP ERP. Each of these systems will require dedicated IT resources to support, maintain, and troubleshoot.
How do you get around this?
One way is to choose a B2B ecommerce platform that includes prebuilt ERP integration. That’s the thinking behind Corevist (which includes 49 prebuilt SAP ERP integration points).
3. Supporting multiple brands, languages, and geographies
For organizations with multiple divisions or subsidiaries, B2B ecommerce comes with unique challenges.
You don’t want to double up on technology investments. If you can reuse your B2B ecommerce investment for multiple divisions, that’s far more efficient.
But how do you handle things like different product lines, languages, and currencies?
One approach is to choose a platform that includes prebuilt SAP ERP integration. In the case of Corevist, you can launch B2B ecommerce for your “most template-like” business first. With your Corevist solution configured to fulfill the needs of this business unit (and integrated to SAP ERP), you can easily reuse that investment (with minimal tweaks) for look-alike business units. It’s one approach to multiple brands, languages, and geographies that maximizes your investment.
4. Balancing customization with ease of support
It’s an inescapable fact in the software world: Customization makes support more challenging.
Any time you customize a piece of software, you introduce risks. (Check out this blog for more: Salesforce B2B Commerce Developers Discuss Headaches Due To Customization.)
Essentially, customization and ease of support exist on opposite ends of a spectrum. On one end, you have the 100% cookie-cutter solution that stays in its out-of-the-box form. At the other end, you have the 100% homegrown B2B ecommerce solution (which we don’t recommend, by the way.)
Most solutions exist somewhere on a spectrum between these extremes.
But how do you find your balance?
How do you create the user experience you need—without biting off more software than you can chew?
The key is to know your available IT resources. If you have the resources to build and support a custom solution, and you have a strategic reason for creating something truly unique, then it may make sense to go that route.
However, if your IT resources are already at capacity with existing support duties, then a custom B2B ecommerce solution may be more trouble than it’s worth.
In that case, a prebuilt, templatized solution makes a lot of sense. This is the thinking behind Corevist—and it’s how midmarket B2B companies start selling online without taking on complex architectures that they can’t support.
5. Aligning technology with strategy
Just because you can build something doesn’t mean you should.
Lately, we’re seeing this in the discussion surrounding composable commerce (an approach in which the merchant assembles best-of-breed components and maintains the integrations between them).
For some organizations, composable commerce is tempting. The sky’s the limit, and you can build whatever you want.
The challenge is to define the organizational strategy first. What are your goals—and what do your customers need most?
In complex B2B use cases, the thing customers often need most is a personalized experience driven by their business rules in your SAP ERP system. That means things like:
- Real-time, personalized pricing
- Real-time, personalized inventory availability
- Self-service ordering (with instant posting to your SAP ERP system)
- Self-service order tracking from all channels (EDI, phone, fax, email, etc.)
- Self-service invoice payments (posting instantly to your SAP ERP system)
If these are the things customers need most, then you’ll want to look for solutions that provide these things with minimal cost and effort. Since the data and logic is already built out in SAP ERP, that means you need to find a solution that’s deeply integrated to SAP.
If your customers don’t need these things, then your strategy (and choice of technology) should reflect that. But it’s essential to define these requirements rather than building something just because it’s possible.
6. Getting buy-in from stakeholders
Even if all stakeholders agree that you need B2B ecommerce, it can be challenging to reach agreement on features, platform choice, integration strategy, and rollout plans. Different departments may have different priorities. Even companies that have a good culture of cross-functional collaboration can hit a roadblock here.
The key is to know what each stakeholder needs—and know how to “talk the talk” in terms of the value that B2B ecommerce offers them.
For example, if a company is losing ground due to a lackluster customer experience, the CEO or sales executive is painfully aware of this fact. They’re looking to transform fast and get the ship back on course. In that case, you’ll want to discuss how a particular rollout plan gets your new solution up and running fast. (For example, Corevist launches in as little as 30 days.)
Every stakeholder has their own pain points. To get all the details (and start getting traction for B2B ecommerce), check out this whitepaper: Get Buy-In For B2B Ecommerce.
7. Calculating holistic ROI
Believe it or not, calculating the true ROI of B2B ecommerce is fairly challenging.
Yes, you want to account for B2B ecommerce revenue and the cost of the solution.
But there’s an additional component that doesn’t get a lot of airtime. We call it the “dark ROI” of B2B ecommerce.
Consider these scenarios:
- An EDI customer logs into B2B ecommerce. Because the solution is integrated to your SAP system in real time, they can quickly check price and availability for a product. They turn around and place that order through EDI. The sale gets logged as EDI, but B2B ecommerce played an invisible “channel assist” role that’s very hard to track.
- A junior-level employee working for one of your customers logs in to B2B ecommerce and builds an order. He doesn’t have permission to place the order, but he shows it to a buying committee. The buying committee decides to move forward with the order, and they contact their favorite sales rep. The order gets logged through the standard person-to-person sales channel, even though B2B ecommerce played an invisible assist role—helping the junior-level employee select the right products for the order.
- Customers use the B2B ecommerce portal to track orders and invoices—rather than calling customer service. This significantly reduces your customer service workload, which frees up reps to work on higher-value tasks like building relationships. The B2B ecommerce channel doesn’t record any revenue whenever a customer uses it for self-service tracking, but B2B ecommerce absolutely contributes to lower operating costs for the organization. (Just ask our client Emmerson Packaging, who slashed their customer service burden by 97%.)
In all these cases, B2B ecommerce ROI is more complex than the simple revenue and cost numbers may indicate. That’s why it’s best to zoom out and consider the efficiency of your selling machine as a whole—something we call the RevOps view of B2B ecommerce ROI.
The takeaway: Rank challenges and tackle them in order
Every organization faces their own unique mix of challenges in B2B ecommerce. The key is to recognize which issues have the biggest impact on customer experience (and the health of the company as a whole).
When you address your biggest challenges first, you gain momentum in terms of revenue, customer buy-in, and stakeholder buy-in—which puts you in a better position to tackle remaining challenges.
Here at Corevist, we eliminate the biggest issue that SAP companies face in B2B ecommerce—their integration to SAP ERP. Our platform includes this integration out of the box. Since Corevist solutions are managed, integrated, and cloud-hosted, they take the risk and staffing challenges out of the equation, allowing SAP companies to delight customers with minimal effort.
Want to become Easier To Do Business With?
Check out the Corevist Platform.
Managed B2B portals and eCommerce with prebuilt integration for ECC and S/4HANA.
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