First published Feb 19, 2020. Refreshed and expanded June 22, 2022.
How much control (and responsibility) do you want over your B2B eCommerce stack?
Manufacturers have a limited number of choices when it comes to eCommerce management models. At a high level, all options fall into three categories:
- Unmanaged solution
- Managed solution
Each type of solution offers its own balance of control/responsibility. As Uncle Ben told Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility”–and that’s definitely true of B2B eCommerce management.
For manufacturers, the question is: What balance of control/responsibility do you want over your B2B eCommerce technology?
There are 4 high-level areas where you’ll need to make a choice between retaining control and giving control to a trusted partner. Here are those areas, and the considerations which go into each decision.
1. Customer relationships: Retain control
Obviously, you should retain control of your customer interaction as much as possible. You should never let anything get between you and your customer. When it comes to B2B eCommerce, you may have to sell on marketplaces like Amazon Business, but you should ensure that your best customer experience happens in your own branded B2B eCommerce portal.
Every customer interaction in your B2B portal offers a chance to build trust and value (or undermine both). That means you should strive to maintain full control of:
- Ease of use
- The transaction itself
Each model (homegrown, unmanaged, managed) allows you to retain control of your customer interaction.
2. Complex business rules: Retain control
If your customers can’t reliably interact with your business rules (like contract pricing, SKU substitutions, delivery rules, etc.) in your B2B eCommerce portal, then you have a problem.
Since SAP business rules are the lifeblood of manufacturers’ transactions, it stands to reason that you should never abdicate control of those business rules to other partners and platforms. You’ve already invested in your SAP ERP system, and it’s the source of “One True Truth” for every aspect of your business and your customer relationships.
A real problem arises when you introduce middleware to the B2B eCommerce scenario. Now you’ve got two more systems (middleware and eCommerce) which will need to conform to your business rules.
Unfortunately, an architecture like this generally requires duplicating all of those business rules in both places. This creates 3 separate systems where the same data must be updated, and it also introduces more potential failure points. When these failures surface in your B2B eCommerce user experience, they can lead to abandoned transactions.
Now here’s a bit of a paradox.
In a B2B eCommerce scenario, the best way to retain full control of your business rules is to choose a platform that integrates directly to SAP, in real time, without middleware.
This is the Corevist way.
Because the Corevist Platform includes prebuilt, real-time SAP integration, it acts as a window into your SAP system. All of your relevant SAP business rules take effect in the web store in real time (including user-personalized rules like contract pricing and ATP availability).
We designed Corevist this way on purpose because manufacturers shouldn’t have to abdicate control of their business rules to other partners and platforms.
On that note, here’s how each model will handle your SAP business rules:
- Homegrown—You retain full control of your business rules, including the entire scope of integration, which may become unmanageable (see below).
- Unmanaged solution—You abdicate control of your business rules to partners and platforms (e.g. middleware and eCommerce) which will duplicate them and thus introduce failure points in the critical path of your customer experience.
- Managed solution—You retain control of your business rules without having to duplicate them in other systems. If the solution includes direct SAP integration, as Corevist does, your IT team can update rules in SAP and see those changes reflected immediately in the B2B eCommerce portal.
3. SAP ERP integration: Delegate to a partner
You should absolutely retain control of your customer experience and your business rules. But that’s exactly where homegrown solutions and unmanaged solutions run into problems: checking both those boxes successfully requires a powerful integration to SAP ERP. And if you choose to manage that integration in-house, you take on all sorts of burdens that don’t add value to the customer.
In fact, a working SAP eCommerce integration requires countless integration points in 9 key areas to create a workable customer experience for dealers & distributors:
- Accounts receivable
- Product availability
- Order creation
- Order change
- Customer master data
- Material master data
- Order tracking
- Technical objects
4. Look and feel of B2B eCommerce: Delegate to a partner
By default, a homegrown solution will force you to take responsibility for the UX (user experience) of your B2B eCommerce portal.
Most managed and unmanaged solutions will also give you some degree of control over the UX.
But having full control of user experience comes with new burdens. If your B2B eCommerce portal must look like nothing else on the web, expect to pay for it–both in the project phase, and in ongoing support. The farther you get from a prebuilt template, the more resources you’ll have to sink into that unique look and feel.
For some manufacturers, that unforgettable design is essential. This is often the case in markets where the B2B buyer must be wooed again and again, much like a B2C consumer.
For manufacturers on the industrial end of the spectrum, a unique look and feel isn’t so important. With all users associated with known customers defined in SAP, and with the portal existing behind a login screen, there’s no B2C-style pressure to capture the user at the beginning of their journey.
In these cases, the complexities of a unique UX can actually slow down your time to value. If you don’t need that complexity, it doesn’t make sense to invest in it. A templatized UX is the perfect solution here. It allows you to launch fast without needlessly reinventing the wheel.
How much control do you need?
Determine how much control you need in each of these 4 areas. In each one, it’s more efficient to leverage value that already exists–whether that’s value in your own SAP ERP system, or in a solution that partner has already built. When you stick to your core competencies and engage a partner for the rest, you avoid weighing your organization down with technical debt. In the long run, that’s the difference between a powerful B2B eCommerce program and one that struggles to deliver value.