COVID placed a moratorium on in-person selling. Manufacturers scrambled to launch self-service B2B portals that allowed customers to place orders, track orders, and get real-time pricing and availability.
In some industries, in-person selling was due for retirement anyway. Customers preferred self-service, and there was no particular need for human interaction to purchase those products. In other industries, customers still need some form of human interaction as they build and place orders. Perhaps they need to request quotes or consult with a rep on how to configure a product through self-service.
Use cases like these fall under the broad banner of hybrid B2B selling. As McKinsey notes in a recent in-depth article, hybrid B2B selling is the new way forward for many organizations in the wake of the pandemic. Hybrid processes occur when customers need some form of remote interaction (email, chat, or video call) on their journey to complete a transaction. A self-service portal, and the availability of human help, are both essential in these scenarios.
So how do you provide a seamless customer experience across remote interaction and self-service?
Here are 3 keys.
1. Determine your ordering policies and stick to them across channels
If you’re a manufacturer selling to dealers, distributors, and other channel partners, you have a lot of decisions to make about your ordering processes.
Do you provide real-time availability to customers? If so, do customers get personalized available-to-promise (ATP) data?
How about RDD (requested delivery dates) and EDD (estimated delivery dates)? Do you allow customers to specify an RDD? If not, do you provide an EDD?
Most manufacturers offer personalized pricing to each customer, often specified by contract. Perhaps you have personalized pricing for each SKU, plus bundled pricing when certain products are bought together. Perhaps you share pricing with certain roles in the customer organization while hiding it from others.
If your ordering processes are especially complex, your customers may need access to dynamic reports within SAP ERP so they can check personalized stock allocations, release their own stock, and more.
Clearly, manufacturers’ transactions get pretty complex. The challenge here is to define your policies, configure them in SAP ERP, and stick to them across all channels.
That means customers need to interact with SAP data, whether they’re working with a rep or through your self-service portal.
2. Make sure reps and customers have access to the same data
Both reps and customers need access to the same SAP ERP data before an order gets placed. That includes everything we covered above (and more).
But customers and reps also need the same post-order data. That means:
- Full SAP order history from all channels (phone, fax, email, EDI, B2B eCommerce)
- Real-time status for orders, line items, and shipments, straight from SAP
- Full integration with major carriers for real-time tracking number updates
- Real-time invoice status and history
- Real-time credit status
As you can see, hybrid selling covers more than just order placement. You also need to provide “one source of truth” for real-time, historical customer account data across all channels.
For both reps and customers, that requires access to real-time SAP data.
For customers, it means a self-service B2B portal that allows them to interact safely with the right data from SAP.
For reps, you have options. They can use SAP GUI, or they can use your B2B portal with rep-specific permissions and functionality. A good B2B portal solution should support mapping assigned sold-to’s (customers) to each rep, so the rep can view orders and invoices—and even place orders—with the same view and capabilities as the customer.
Bonus points for giving reps access to your B2B portal. Why? Because it’s easy to use on any device with an internet connection.
3. Consider your IT capabilities for delivering a self-service B2B portal
Clearly, real-time SAP data is essential to the self-service portion of any hybrid B2B selling model.
Now the question arises: From an infrastructure perspective, how will you deliver that data to customers?
If customers are going to get the same real-time information that your reps have in SAP, that’s going to require a fairly complex integration. At a high level, you can choose between two types of architecture to deliver this.
- Standalone B2B eCommerce platform with 3rd-party connector between eCommerce and SAP. Data must be duplicated and synchronized across 3 systems total. All business rules must be maintained in 3 systems.
- Managed B2B platform with built-in, direct, real-time SAP integration. Data is never duplicated or synchronized. Rather, the platform reads and writes SAP data in real time, automatically honoring SAP business rules. Those business rules are maintained in 1 system—SAP.
As you can see, Option 1 is fairly complex and expensive. With 3 systems that must be kept harmonious and synchronized, this option invites technical debt. It will require a dedicated team for support—possibly more than one dedicated team, depending on the complexity of the solution. You’ll have to acquire those expert resources, either in-house or through outsourcing.
Option 2 works better for organizations with limited IT resources. Because the B2B portal platform reads and writes SAP data in real time, there’s no risk of systems getting out of sync. Since the portal is managed (and includes prebuilt SAP integration), it doesn’t require any additional IT resources.
Hint: This is the thinking behind the Corevist Platform.
The takeaway: Don’t reinvent the wheel to support hybrid B2B selling
If you need to engage a hybrid selling model in B2B, don’t get bogged down in the IT details. The technology exists to give customers the same data and experience that your reps get. If you choose a solution that delivers these experiences automatically, you can launch (or improve) your hybrid selling model without taking on a significant IT burden. That’s what the Corevist Platform is all about.