Where do you start when implementing B2B eCommerce? With repercussions across all parts of the organization, launching B2B eCommerce is an essential project to get right. The challenge is defining what it should look like at your organization.
In this article, we’ll give you four major areas where you should define your organization’s needs: users, technology, implementation methodology and support model.
Let’s dive in!
Defining the needs of your users
Unlike B2C eCommerce, B2B may serve internal users as well as customers. It’s important to map all user personas who will use the portal as well as their needs.
You may have several customer segments to choose from when implementing B2B eCommerce. Maybe you want to start with dealers for one product line in one geography, then bring online distributors for another product line in a different sales area in Phase II. (If you do plan to scale up like this, it’s helpful to choose a solution that includes prebuilt, scalable SAP ERP integration, so you don’t have to make duplicate investments in architecture).
Whoever you’re targeting with B2B eCommerce, you should map out their needs in the portal. What portion of the customer journey do you want to cover? At a high level, here’s what you should consider.
- Product discovery and browsing. If you want to merchandise to customers and introduce them to new products, you’ll need a product catalog — ideally, one that supports any personalization rules or product permissions that you’ve already defined in SAP ERP. To do this well, you’ll need SAP integration (see Defining Your Technology Needs below).
- Error-free order placement. If customers are going to buy from you online, then you need to implement a B2B eCommerce solution that enforces their personalized business rules in the portal. That means things like contract pricing, personalized inventory and accurate SKU permissions.
- Easy post-order tracking capabilities. One reason to implement B2B eCommerce is the efficiency gains that come from customer self-service. But that doesn’t stop with browsing and ordering. Customers also need access to post-order information like tracking numbers, order status, and invoice status. To provide all this in B2B eCommerce, you’ll need comprehensive SAP integration.
- Self-service online payment capabilities. Some organizations choose to accept digital payments at the time of order placement. Others keep their existing net 30/60/90 terms but move the invoicing and payment process online, into the B2B eCommerce portal. Either way, you’ll want to consider your customers’ needs in digital payments. This stage of the buyer journey also requires comprehensive SAP integration.
Internal user needs
Customers aren’t the only ones who need access to B2B eCommerce (or who can benefit from it). In fact, implementing B2B eCommerce makes life easier for several internal departments, too. Here are the basic internal personas who may need access to B2B eCommerce. You’ll want to map them and their needs as you put together your project plan.
- Sales. Though Forrester famously declared “the death of the B2B salesman” a few years ago, this reality hasn’t materialized. B2B eCommerce doesn’t compete with sales reps; rather, it empowers them to sell better with customer-specific product recommendations and on-behalf-of order placement. The key is to know the needs of your sales reps and bake in those needs from the start.
- Customer service. A good B2B eCommerce portal will reduce routine customer service inquiries by offering self-service tracking information. But customers will still need help from reps, and reps can take on value-added tasks with their routine inquiry burden reduced. Since it’s easier to use than SAP GUI, B2B eCommerce can help customer service give accurate information to customers — particularly if the solution supports the mapping of customer accounts for each rep as defined in SAP. (Note: This requires comprehensive SAP integration.)
- IT. If you’re going to implement B2B eCommerce, you should try to create as little additional work for IT as possible. The biggest factor here is whether your solution includes prebuilt SAP integration, or whether it will require a third system passing data back and forth between SAP and B2B eCommerce. (More on that below.)
- Marketing. B2B eCommerce creates vast new opportunities for marketing — both to existing customers and to potential new customers. You’ll want to analyze the needs of your marketing department in terms of product content, merchandising, cross-sell/upsell and administration of the B2B eCommerce store.
Defining your technology needs
Once you’ve mapped the needs of your users (both customers and internal personas), you can assemble the requirements that will define your MVP (minimally viable product). This is essential to help you determine what solutions you’ll consider for B2B eCommerce.
As you can see from our discussion of user needs, there’s one thing you should bake into your MVP. It’s the depth of SAP ERP integration that you need.
If you’ve already defined customer-personalized data and logic in SAP, then the best course of action is to implement B2B eCommerce that automatically reflects that data and logic in real time.
But how do you achieve that?
At a high level, you have only two architectural options.
- Standalone B2B eCommerce solution + integration solution. This architecture requires three separate systems (B2B eCommerce, integration platform and SAP), each with its own duplicate copy of all relevant business data and logic. Any time you want to onboard a new user type (say, customer service reps with customer mapping) or your SAP data or logic changes, you’ll have to rewrite the duplicate logic in the additional systems. Plus you have to keep everything synchronized through batch updates.
- B2B eCommerce solution that includes prebuilt, real-time SAP integration. This architecture keeps your data and logic in one system only — SAP. B2B eCommerce automatically reflects the appropriate business rules and information for every user. (Hint: This is the Corevist Commerce way.)
You won’t find many platforms that take the second approach. Most B2B eCommerce vendors built their platform first and rely on third party extensions to “connect” the web portal with SAP. Unfortunately, these complex architectures introduce unforeseen costs and risks to data integrity.
If you’re going to implement B2B eCommerce, you should think carefully about your SAP integration needs. If you don’t have the resources on hand to manage three duplicate systems and databases, you should consider a solution that includes SAP integration.
Defining your implementation methodology
The journey isn’t over once you’ve selected a B2B eCommerce integration architecture. Remember the inventory you took of different users’ needs? You need an implementation methodology that allows you to test B2B eCommerce configurations with different users, gather their feedback and decide how to proceed.
Here’s where a solution that includes SAP integration really shines. If you’re going to “fail early,” showing different users their unique B2B eCommerce experiences and getting feedback, you absolutely need SAP integration from Day 1. If you run focus groups and workshops without SAP integration, you’re actually leaving out the biggest variable in user experience — whether customers and internal users can actually get the personalized data they need in B2B eCommerce.
Without that integration, you’re actually not testing anything at all.
Unfortunately, B2B eCommerce projects that rely on SAP connectors often leave SAP integration for the end. That means you could go through the whole project phase — focus groups, workshops, gathering feedback and making decisions — with bad data on customer acceptance of B2B eCommerce.
If you’re serious about implementing a solution that works for every user persona, you need SAP integration from the start.
Defining your support model
How much of the complexity of SAP integration can you own?
If you choose the duplicate-and-synchronize architecture — the one with three separate systems and copies of data and logic — do you have the resources to keep everything working smoothly?
The question isn’t trivial. We’ve spoken to many manufacturers who’ve found it impossible to support the three-system architecture. It creates too much complexity and too many moving pieces. Outsourcing those IT resources is definitely cheaper, but that introduces its own issues and doesn’t address the root problem — bad architecture.
If you choose a solution that includes SAP integration, you should consider finding a managed provider. In this scenario, you’re responsible for one thing only — your SAP ERP support — a job you’re already doing. The managed solution provider takes full ownership of the integration and the B2B eCommerce store, leaving you free to focus on your business. (Hint: This is the Corevist Commerce model.)