Originally published March 6, 2018. Refreshed August 3, 2021.
So you’re evaluating B2B eCommerce platforms. Feeling overwhelmed yet? 😫
It’s tough to compare your options in B2B eCommerce. Vendors talk a lot about features, user experience and hosting options. And while these aspects of B2B eCommerce are important, they’re not the whole story. There’s much more going on “under the hood” that you should know about—even as you’re just comparing platforms.
We’re talking about integration architecture. This can affect your entire business, which means it isn’t an afterthought—it’s something you should consider right now, the platform comparison phase.
In fact, you could say “architectural intelligence” is the secret to comparing B2B eCommerce platforms. Let’s dig into that.
Video: The secret to comparing B2B eCommerce platforms
Want more info on comparing B2B platforms?
Check out our FREE B2B eCommerce platform comparison chart. We’ll teach you how to use your ERP integration needs + your revenue size to determine which platforms will work for you—and which won’t.
What you won’t find elsewhere as you compare B2B eCommerce platforms
Don’t get us wrong, features and UX are definitely important in B2B eCommerce. And while you should consider them as you compare platforms, remember that they’re not the whole picture.
Here are a few things you won’t hear from vendors as you compare B2B platforms:
- How your ERP integration will work out over the long haul. (Hint: Most vendors take no responsibility for this. They leave it to third parties who will build a custom, bolt-on integration but can’t possibly support it as your ERP configuration evolves over time.)
- How ERP integration problems will undermine your customer experience. (Hint: Most B2B platform vendors emphasize the aspects of customer experience that don’t depend on ERP integration.)
It’s unfortunate that the market doesn’t talk more about this, because problems with ERP integration can make or break your B2B eCommerce initiative.
But they don’t have to. Our FREE B2B eCommerce platform comparison chart shows you how to use your own organization’s capabilities (and revenue) to narrow down your choice of platforms.
But… I know what features I need in B2B eCommerce!
Don’t get us wrong, features are absolutely important. But you should look at architecture first—particularly how you’ll integrate to your ERP.
Here’s the thing. At this point, every major B2B eCommerce platform probably has all the features you need (both for customers, and for internal users). From a functionality standpoint, most major platforms aren’t actually that different. You’ll see this as you compare them.
Of course, there are exceptions, like Salesforce (which offers a unique CRM-first approach) and Corevist Commerce (which puts SAP ERP at the core). But most other B2B platforms aren’t that different from each other.
So why do the top B2B eCommerce vendors focus on the things that make them similar?
Because they don’t have good answers for the bigger question of ERP integration. This is where we see true differentiation between B2B eCommerce platforms.
Why make such a big deal out of ERP integration?
Does ERP integration really matter that much?
The answer depends on your business. For some companies, deep ERP integration is so critical, customers won’t use B2B eCommerce without it. For other organizations, it’s enough to sync basic data between ERP and eCommerce.
So how do you know where you fall?
Take a look at these features. If your business uses them, you’ve probably invested significantly in your ERP to define them.
That means you’ll need deep ERP integration your B2B eCommerce platform if your customers need any of these features.
- Dynamic, customer-specific pricing
- Real-time, customer-specific inventory availability
- Real-time credit status (so customers know if their order will go on credit block)
- Real-time error messaging (so customers can create well-formed orders based on the current configuration of the relevant ERP business rules)
- Ability to select from multiple ship-tos, sold-tos and payers (if relevant to your business)
- Real-time order posting to the ERP (so customers can actually claim available stock when they place an order)
- Real-time order status and history from ALL channels (EDI, phone, fax, email, B2B eCommerce) straight from the ERP
- Real-time invoice status and history
- Ability to select invoices and pay them online (with real-time account clearing in the ERP)
If you don’t need any of these features, congratulations! Your integration options are wide open as you evaluate B2B eCommerce platforms. You can choose a conventional solution like Shopify, BigCommerce, SAP Commerce Cloud, or Magento (depending on your company size), and you can use a third-party integration platform to pass data back and forth between B2B eCommerce and the ERP.
However, if your customers or internal users need any of the above capabilities in B2B eCommerce, conventional platforms will struggle to deliver—even with third party integration software. You’ll need to think carefully about ERP integration to make sure you give customers the abilities they need in B2B eCommerce.
This is why we recommend using “depth of ERP integration required” as a criterion for comparing B2B platforms.
So what does it take to achieve comprehensive ERP integration?
Let’s get real about ERP integration for B2B eCommerce platforms
If you need comprehensive ERP integration, you’ll have to evaluate your appetite for owning that complexity.
At a high level, there are only two ways to launch a B2B eCommerce platform with real-time ERP integration:
- Conventional, unmanaged B2B eCommerce platform with 3rd party middleware system passing data back and forth (whether batch, real-time, or a combination) between the ERP and B2B eCommerce. (May not cover the entire customer journey in a B2B scenario).
- Managed B2B eCommerce platform that’s built on real-time ERP integration. A solution like this acts as an extension of ERP data and processes as they relate to customer self-service. It allows you to maintain this data in one place (your ERP) rather than 3 places (ERP, middleware, and B2B eCommerce). A solution like this covers the entire customer journey in a B2B scenario.
This is where many organizations reach a fork in the road. Let’s examine how each model works in detail (and what that means for B2B eCommerce platform comparison).
Conventional unmanaged B2B eCommerce platform + middleware integration
In this scenario, you own the complexity of 3 systems (ERP, B2B eCommerce, middleware).
You can choose a conventional B2B eCommerce platform like Magento or BigCommerce, then select a middleware solution to pass data back and forth between B2B eCommerce and your ERP. You’ll have to maintain your ERP business rules and 3 places (ERP, middleware, and B2B eCommerce).
In a B2B scenario with numerous complex business rules, this architecture creates a considerable workload distributed across 3 teams (B2B eCommerce, middleware, and ERP). You’ll have to hire these resources internally or outsource the responsibility to 3rd parties.
That’s why this architecture is ideally suited to a B2C scenario, in which customer-specific business rules don’t come into play.
In a B2B scenario, where customer-specific business rules do govern transactions, we don’t recommend this architecture if your company does less than $5 billion in total annual revenue. (See our B2B eCommerce Platform Comparison chart for an in-depth explanation.)
NOTE: Watch out for cost overrun from multiple vendors billing time/materials
Simply put, this architecture distributes responsibility across many vendors. You’ll need:
- B2B eCommerce platform licensing
- B2B eCommerce SI to build your solution and support it after GoLive
- Middleware platform licensing
- Middleware platform implementation and support after GoLive
- Ongoing ERP support
- Someone to act as the referee between all these teams
Unfortunately, most vendors bill on a time and materials basis for custom middleware integrations. However long it takes them to fulfill the scope, that’s what you’ll pay. While it’s easy to define the scope you need at the beginning of the project, it’s almost impossible for vendors to quote those hours accurately—especially if they’re building a custom integration solution for you.
There’s a better way—choosing a managed solution that’s built on ERP integration.
Managed B2B eCommerce + customer portal solution that’s built on real-time ERP integration
In this scenario, you own the complexity of only one system (your ERP).
In this scenario, you choose a B2B eCommerce platform that includes prebuilt, configurable integration to your ERP. You maintain your business rules in one place only—the ERP, where they’ve always lived.
This architecture saves you from making duplicate investments. Without separate databases for B2B eCommerce and middleware, you don’t have to rebuild and maintain your existing ERP business rules in two places (which is a costly proposition, both during the implementation phase, and in the ongoing support phase). Instead, you leverage all of your relevant ERP investments in B2B eCommerce without a third party sitting between the ERP and the web store.
This architecture is ideally suited to a manufacturing scenario, in which customer-specific business rules determine every aspect of the transaction. This is the architecture which we recommend for manufacturers in the $300M – $5B annual revenue range.
Want details? Download our B2B eCommerce Platform Comparison Chart.
NOTE: Look for fixed-bid providers
For manufacturers, ERP integration will make or break your B2B eCommerce initiative. Cost overrun and unsolvable integration problems can ruin a project. It’s best to choose a provider who will launch your B2B eCommerce solution, ERP integration included, for a fixed bid (rather than billing time and materials).
This ensures that you get mission-critical functionality in your B2B eCommerce solution, and it’s the model we use here at Corevist. Our solution is compatible with SAP ECC, R/3, All-in-One, and S/4HANA. Check out Corevist Commerce for more information.
4. Let your ERP integration requirements guide your choice of platform
In a recent B2B wave report (Q2 2020), Forrester suggests that organizations comparing B2B eCommerce platforms should look for deep, prebuilt integrations in addition to features/functionality:
“More providers today offer proprietary app stores. However, the actual implementation of these add-ons can require everything from a few plug-and-play configuration clicks to a major developer-dependent implementation project. Look for ease of integration, meaning that: 1) the integrated solution is administrable within common tooling, and 2) changes are applied in real time and do not require batch processing or manual refreshes to take effect.” [emphasis ours]
For manufacturers running B2B eCommerce, integration to the ERP is essential for real-time inventory availability, enforcement of complex pricing rules, omnichannel order tracking, and more.
Manufacturers should choose a B2B platform with depth of integration, overall cost, and staffing requirements that fit their business (and their budget). That’s why our B2B eCommerce platform comparison chart looks at two key dimensions:
- Company revenue, which generally correlates with the size of the digital channel (and, thus, correlates with the resources which you can spend on the solution)
- Depth of integration required, which generally correlates with the technical burden that you (or a partner) will take on to maintain the entire B2B eCommerce stack
For more details, download the chart now.