Sam Bayer


All roads lead to Rome…

and some even lead to B2B ecommerce. But the journey makes all the difference.

In twenty years in this industry, I’ve seen every possible path to B2B ecommerce. I’ve seen people start with their ERP system and build up. (Hint: that’s what we recommend—more on that in a moment.) I’ve seen people start with ecommerce and “build down” to the ERP. Now I’m seeing people build out from their CRM system to add ecommerce (witness the recent acquisition of CloudCraze by Salesforce).

Every vendor on the planet is telling you how to do this. How do you sort through the noise?  

At the end of the day, your customer most likely won’t know (or care) which system is the boss—ERP, ecommerce, or CRM. All they know is their user experience—whether they can log on, get accurate inventory and pricing, and place orders.

Hint: For the organizations that we cater to (sizable manufacturers that have SAP at the core of their universe), you can create that kind of user experience most efficiently when you put your ERP first as the system of record.

Your customer may not realize just how much goes into providing that accurate data in ecommerce. And while they may not care which software you’ve placed as the system of record, you should care. Because that decision will impact the rest of your company’s ecommerce journey, day in and day out.

So who’s the boss—ERP, ecommerce, or CRM?

Choose carefully. Here’s what each software offers you as a system of record for B2B ecommerce.

1. ERP as the system of record

The two biggest justifications for people using ERP as the center of the universe are, 1) the volatility of their inventory, and 2) for the complexity of their pricing rules.

In the first case, you want to access inventory in real time so you don’t disappoint your users. You want to empower them to make the best business decisions on what to buy, how much, and from whom, based on what will be available to them. (More on that in a moment when we get to ATP calculations in ERP-integrated ecommerce.)

As far as pricing rules, the expense of replicating and maintaining complicated business rules in 2 separate platforms could be prohibitive. Why rebuild what you already have in SAP?

This is the approach we take at Corevist. You’ve already invested in SAP as your ERP. If you don’t have ecommerce yet, your customers are dealing with CSRs, who are dealing with SAP. Business data lives and changes in SAP, which is the boss among business systems at your company.

Why not simply extend SAP to go beyond CSRs and reach your customer directly? Why not allow them to interact with your SAP system (seeing inventory availability, accurate pricing, placing and managing orders) through a real-time ecommerce integration to SAP?

I know what you’re thinking. “But we can’t let our customers interact with every portion of our SAP system!”

That’s why a properly-architected SAP ecommerce solution (like the Corevist Platform) limits your customer interaction with SAP to data that’s relevant to the buying experience.

You can get as sophisticated as you want in limiting (or expanding) customer interaction with your SAP data. For example, say you want to provide an ATP (available to promise) calculation from SAP, to the ecommerce store, in real time. That way, you display an inventory number that’s tailored for that customer—showing them exactly how much product is available to them, rather than the total amount of available product (which you hope to allocate evenly among your big customers).

If inventory data lives in SAP, you can’t show a real-time ATP calculation if your ecommerce store isn’t integrated to SAP. That’s just one example of why you should place your ERP as the system of record and build up from there.

That’s a fairly complex example. Let’s zoom out for a moment and look at it from the perspective of your customer.

Why should you place your ERP as the system of record and build up from there? Because you don’t want your customer to leave your ecommerce website with the impression that they successfully placed an order, expecting to receive it in a certain timeframe, if indeed that isn’t true. You don’t want to end up giving them false information on the success of their order placement. You don’t want to back up and say, “Whoops” in a phone call.

It’s really that simple. In an ecommerce store that accesses ERP in real time, that problem can’t happen.

2. Ecommerce as the system of record

A large portion of the B2B ecommerce industry is offering this type of solution. If you’re a B2B manufacturer or distributor running SAP, it’s an expensive proposition.

Why? Because whenever ERP integration is an afterthought, you’ll end up duplicating complex business rules from your ERP in your ecommerce store.

This leads to massive complexity.

Vendors aren’t striving for complexity intentionally–they’re just doing their best. They’ve had no choice but to do it this way. They’re building a platform that’s supposed to integrate with an infinite number of ERP systems, meaning they can’t take advantage of any one ERP system’s strengths. That becomes complicated for companies that need to put their ERP system first.

Now, some solution providers have specialized with certain ERP platforms. But others only focus on attractive design, UI/UX, marketing, and so on. In the B2B world, those things aren’t critical in every market. Solution providers that focus on the front end alone may be overly dismissive of the integration, complexity, and cost of building an effective B2B ecommerce solution.

Now yes, in many markets, you need rich content, recommended products, and all the best-of-breed user experience we’ve come to expect from Amazon. But if you start with customer self-service for orders and invoices, then add B2B eCommerce and rich content on the same platform, you get the best of both worlds.

3. CRM as the system of record

In the industrial world, depending upon the manufacturer’s product and distribution channel, Sales may play a variety of different roles. Those roles may range from recruiting new customers almost exclusively, to servicing existing customers with purchasing of complex products and placing large orders, to soliciting and approving quotations on behalf of customers, to taking orders from customers.

That’s a wide variety of roles.

As the size of the Sales organization grows, Sales management needs to take the next step in growing the business. Often, that next step is to provide ecommerce–and since Sales is driving the project, the CRM seems like the ideal system of record for ecommerce.

From the perspective of Sales, that makes sense. But think about this: customers are still sending manual orders via phone/fax/email. Is a CRM-based ecommerce solution prepared to deal with that legacy process? CRM-focused companies need to examine that question carefully.  

When Sales/CRM don’t drive the entire organization, it doesn’t make sense to implement ecommerce on top of the CRM. It isn’t the system of record for the entire business. CRM platforms were designed to manage a salesforce, not to manage communities of customers. The CRM community, looking for new ways to license their platform, is now extending themselves.

If product and order data ultimately live in (and flow from) SAP, then putting Salesforce or another CRM as the system of record isn’t the best move.

Why? Because that adds another stage for product and order data to pass through before it reaches ecommerce. That’s another stage where hiccups can occur, which translates into order errors, delays, and the need for a CSR to reach out manually to a customer. That’s fine as a one-off or occasional process, but at scale in multinational organizations, it’s a huge and unnecessary cost.

Organizations with SAP for ERP and Salesforce for CRM should think carefully about this decision. Will a CloudCraze or Demandware implementation interface with your SAP system in real time? Integrating ecommerce with Salesforce offers excellent account management insight for a sales-oriented company. But where are you going to get accurate ecommerce data for pricing, inventory availability, product availability by sales area, and so on?

Hint: The Corevist Platform integrates with SAP in real time, and we can integrate with Salesforce as well. That gives you the best of both worlds.

Everybody wants to be the system of record

The landscape looks like this. ERP systems have been around for decades, and they rule the roost at big organizations. With CRM and ecommerce platforms rising to prominence, everyone wants to be the system of record. Each one wants to manage your business data as much as possible—because the more you depend on the platform to function, the more money they can get from you.

That’s why the ERP-first insight is crucial. If you’ve already invested in SAP as your ERP system, a great deal of the value offered by other approaches simply isn’t relevant. In fact, with your business data living in a healthy, vibrant SAP system, you don’t need to duplicate those business rules in auxiliary systems.

Corevist clients know this. Jane Mascia, Sr. Bus. Systems Analyst at LORD Corporation, put it this way. “Our motto is, if you can do it in SAP, that’s where it should stay. We wanted our [ecommerce] website to be a reflection of our SAP system, not a recreation of it.” That’s why LORD Corporation chose the Corevist Platform—because we build up from SAP rather than rebuilding SAP. 

Read Jane’s story here: How Jane M. Thrilled Distributors With A New B2B Portal.

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