Manufacturers need B2B portals in the digital age. Without them, organizations risk losing customers to the competition — even if they have long standing relationships with those customers.
But what’s the path forward for manufacturers who don’t have a B2B portal — or for those with a broken portal? What should you prioritize as you’re defining your portal project?
In this article, we’ll help you consider the needs of your portal from two perspectives.
- Essential B2B portal functionality
- Challenges of launching and maintaining B2B portals
Let’s dive in!
Essential B2B portal functionality for manufacturers
The first question manufacturers should ask is, “What functional areas should we cover in our B2B portal?”
In other words, what capabilities will you give customers in the portal? It’s important to hash out a detailed answer here before you go looking for a solution — because not every B2B portal platform will support the needs of manufacturers’ customers.
Here are the functional areas that manufacturers typically need to cover in a B2B portal.
A B2B portal can drive organizational efficiency in the OTC (order-to-cash) cycle — but only if the portal empowers customers to perform business tasks through self-service. While that typically includes the ability to place online orders (see below), it’s equally important to give customers tracking capabilities within the portal.
For manufacturers, that typically means customers need access to full order history, real-time status and tracking numbers. They also need visibility into invoice status and history — plus real-time credit status.
Since all of this data lives in SAP ERP, manufacturers typically need some form of integration between SAP and their B2B portal. Without that integration, customers won’t be able to track orders and invoices through self-service — which will lead to an increased inquiry burden for the customer service team.
Pricing and inventory check
Sometimes, customers just need to get a quick, real-time check on price and availability for a given product. In this scenario, they don’t want to go through the motions of adding a product to the cart and viewing the cart to get that information.
This is why B2B portal solutions should offer quick price and availability checks in addition to online ordering. This feature empowers your customers to get 100% accurate contract pricing and real-time inventory data in the portal — without picking up the phone.
Here’s what this feature looks like in Corevist Commerce.
Personalized product catalog
For manufacturers that have customer-specific catalogs or picklists, a challenge arises when it comes to B2B portals. How do you ensure that each customer sees only the products they’re allowed to buy?
There are many ways to solve this problem — and most are incredibly complicated and difficult to support.
The most efficient way to provide a personalized catalog experience is to leverage your existing SAP ERP business rules. Whatever product permissions or picklists you’ve defined in SAP, that’s the logic that you want working in your B2B portal. You should look for a solution that leverages that SAP logic in real time to deliver a personalized catalog. (Hint: This is what Corevist Commerce provides.)
Checkout process that honors your business rules
When it comes to the cart and checkout process, you need your SAP ERP business rules enforced here, too. If customers can place orders online for the wrong SKUs at the wrong prices with the wrong RDDs (requested delivery dates), then your B2B portal isn’t going to make you more efficient or easier to do business with. In fact, it’s going to create a bad customer experience and drive up your cost to serve.
Here, again, the key is a comprehensive SAP ERP integration that enforces the relevant SAP logic in every transaction.
Watch how this works in Corevist Commerce.
Online payments supported
Not every manufacturer wants to accept digital payments in the portal. But for those that are ready to transition away from paper-based A/R processes, this is an essential feature.
If customers can view invoices, open items and credit status, they may expect payment capabilities, too. Here, you should look for a solution that can integrate with a payment gateway provider — and one that can post the transaction instantly to SAP.
If you’re primarily transitioning existing business to a B2B portal, analytics may not be a high priority. It’s clear that analytics are essential if you’re using your portal as a growth engine, but are they really that important when it comes to existing customers?
Whatever your business goals are with the B2B portal, analytics are essential for analyzing user behavior and identifying areas for improvement. A good B2B portal should integrate with a leading third-party analytics platform to provide business intelligence.
Want to learn more about Google Analytics and Corevist Commerce? Check out this post: Run Smarter With B2B eCommerce Analytics.
Challenges of launching (and maintaining) B2B portals for manufacturers
It’s essential to find a portal solution that provides the right customer-facing functionality. But there’s a larger question that many manufacturers don’t consider.
What will this solution require of us?
Are we equipped to keep this thing running for three, five, ten years?
Here are the primary challenges that manufacturers face in launching and supporting B2B portals.
Implementing SAP ERP integration
Manufacturers shouldn’t overlook this challenge. Much of the user experience in the portal depends on SAP ERP integration — yet this integration is incredibly difficult to build from scratch. Some vendors offer “connectors” for SAP, but these don’t offer the same value as true integration.
A connector requires duplicating and synchronizing data and logic across SAP, an integration platform, and the B2B portal.
Building that integration is challenging enough. But under this architecture, the real challenge begins after GoLive — in keeping all three systems working smoothly together. (See below for more on that.)
The alternative here is a B2B portal solution that includes managed, real-time SAP integration. That’s the Corevist Commerce model.
Supporting the integration (and the entire technology stack)
Unfortunately, SAP integration isn’t a “set it and forget it” scenario. If you choose the duplicate-and-synchronize model, you’ll have to update business rules in three places (SAP, integration platform and the B2B portal) whenever you need to change a configuration.
This gets more complicated when you consider updates to the integration platform and the B2B portal. That’s a lot of moving pieces that you need to keep in alignment.
When it comes to B2B portals with SAP integration, many manufacturers find value in a managed provider. In this scenario, you engage a single vendor who owns the technology stack for your portal — including SAP integration. This allows you to focus on your business rather than becoming a software development organization.
Updating the portal software for security and bug fixes
Like SAP integration, the portal software isn’t a “set it and forget it” technology. Whether you choose an on-premise solution for the B2B portal or a cloud-hosted solution, you’ll need to ensure you’re always on the latest version of the software.
Here’s where a managed SaaS (software as a service) solution really shines. With a team of experts maintaining and updating your B2B portal, you don’t have to worry about compatibility, security or upgrades. You’re always on the latest version, and your portal is always secure and integrated to SAP. (Hint: This is the Corevist Commerce model. We support our cloud-hosted solution, including our proprietary SAP integration architecture.)
Expanding globally without reinventing the wheel
Smaller manufacturers may only need a single B2B portal. But what about global organizations — or those with more than one brand or product line? Are there any economies of scale that manufacturers can leverage here?
The key is to choose a solution that’s built on a templatized architecture (like Corevist Commerce). With this technology managed by a partner, it’s easy to reuse your initial investment in SAP integration for multiple B2B portals. In the context of Corevist Commerce, that means one SAP integration backend that can run multiple spinoff sites. These sites empower you to provide unique B2B portal experiences for different brands, geographies, languages or customer segments.