It’s no secret that, increasingly, B2B buyers are expecting an eCommerce experience that is similar to the one they have when purchasing on a B2C site. However, it’s important to understand that B2B and B2C eCommerce best practices have key differences and each requires its own strategies for addressing market needs.
In our experience, there are a few B2B challenges that are more pervasive than others. As your business changes and new technologies emerge, your eCommerce site will begin to show its age. We’ve mapped out some common pain points that most B2B businesses will experience at some point in their development, as well as ways to solve them.
1. Flexible shopping cart options
The need for a flexible shopping cart isn’t unique to B2B, but B2B companies do have to put more care into its integration. You may have hundreds, or even thousands of different products in your catalog, along with other services, content, or merchandise. As your operation grows and product offering adapts to customer demands, one of your biggest priorities should be addressing this need.
- Shopping cart flexibility means working towards an eCommerce experience that lets you configure your shopping options any way you want.
- Create a long-term plan for your eCommerce strategy that accounts for your increasing number of product and content offerings.
- Be aware of how your current shopping cart extensions affect site performance, and start thinking about how different approaches could help you achieve your goals.
2. Unique inventory and service displays
B2B eCommerce providers need to personalize their buyer experiences more than the typical B2C business. This applies to your marketing relationships as well as how you present your eCommerce experience. B2B sales tend to be higher touch processes with plenty of customer contact. As such, you should have plenty of data to create these experiences—provided your eCommerce platform is up to the task.
- Look for an eCommerce platform that supports customization options, such as filtering product catalogs by specific customer or vendor.
- Apply these filters to each customer across your UI, products, and experience to directly address your market.
- Consider ancillary shopping features that may be of particular interest to B2B buyers, such as bulk purchasing options, easy reordering or volume discounts.
3. Multichannel optimization
While connecting with buyers on their own terms is important in both B2C and B2B eCommerce, the latter relies heavily on a streamlined process for managing the many touchpoints present in a longer, more complex sales cycle.
B2B buyers’ unique preferences and demands combined with highly customized business processes and purchasing scenarios mean that most transactions will require some level of direct contact with a sales or customer support representative. This does not mean that an order won’t be placed online, however, that the sales team will need tools for:
- Providing consistent, timely and accurate pricing and product information.
- Creating and posting customer orders through the sales portal which is managed alongside orders from other sales channels.
- Post-order processes remaining consistent from the confirmation email and shipment notification to data sync with backend systems and CRM.
- Accessible account information to allow the customer service representative to make relevant recommendations and provide the level of support necessary.
While these items may seem obvious, especially from the standpoint of any marketing team in the B2C market, most B2B companies aren’t able to get that done. With the web presence and separate sales channels each producing orders, generating leads and creating accounts, it’s paramount that the channels “talk” to each other and create a single customer profile to avoid missing opportunities.
- Review any gaps or differences in the ordering process between the various channels. Am I, the customer, treated the same way regardless of how I placed my order?
- Investigate what happens when a customer migrates from one channel to the next (e.g. placing an order via the phone to ordering via the website? Is it seamless?)
- Does the customer have a 360 view of their own account? How easy is it to do things like schedule reorders or look up past purchases?
4. In-depth client relationship management
More so than in B2C markets, relationships drive B2B purchasing. Customers typically go through numerous touchpoints with a brand before committing to a sale, and for large-scale B2B purchases, the entire relationship may be managed through a high-touch sales process. B2B companies need efficient ways to organize and manage these customer details throughout the sales cycle.
- Recognize that B2B buyers will still rely on your sales teams and customer service representatives to place their orders.
- Look for an eCommerce solution that supports this relationship building through simple integration of sales, analytics, inventory, and warehousing systems. It should also be able to support a complete set of customer data (order history, contact information, etc.) or can fully integrate with a CRM system.
- Work towards an eCommerce experience that connects everything together as a “single source of truth.” This is the easiest way to manage client relationships.
5. Supply chain, vendor relationships, and fulfillment
As your company grows, so too will your supply chain needs and the interconnected relationship you have with suppliers. This applies to both B2C and B2B, but the stakes are higher in the latter. Purchases are bigger, there’s more value tied up in transactions, and performance metrics (like on-time fulfillment) play a larger role in whether or not the customer will continue to buy from your company. In short, you’ll need a way to maintain visibility in your supply chain operations, no matter how many vendor ERPs or touchpoints there are.
And fortunately, with modern, flexible eCommerce solutions that decouple the frontend from the backend, it’s easy to work in the inventory management tools that add visibility into SKU tracking.
- Examine your current supply chain end-to-end and look for knowledge gaps across vendor touchpoints, transfers, and transportation. Review what type of growth you can expect here – is that growth supportable within the platform?
- Review your eCommerce features and see whether your platform enables you to accurately track supply chain performance—not just for vendors, but down to the SKU level.
- If these tools are lacking, consider decoupled eCommerce integration solutions that make this granular inventory management possible.
6. The need for platform growth
As many B2B eCommerce providers discover, eCommerce platforms can sometimes become obstacles in and of themselves. Your current solution may have worked fine for a while, but technology moves fast, and the functions that seemed great last year are looking a little more sluggish today.
Be prepared for this inevitability before it happens. Though it may not seem like it, having a lagging eCommerce platform can actually be a positive thing. Your business is growing faster than your infrastructure can handle. And once you get a grip on a new eCommerce solution, there will be nowhere to go but up.
This is the idea underpinning more sophisticated eCommerce solutions, such as the headless approach. Under headless eCommerce, your platform’s front- and back-ends are decoupled and separated—giving you more flexibility in how you set them up and total control over the customer experience.
- Acknowledge that your platform is growing—and though your capabilities are struggling, this growth means you’re on the right track.
- As you consider new solutions, think outside the traditional, full-stack box and explore the benefits of headless architecture.
- Decouple eCommerce frameworks offer the simplest and most efficient path to growth.
Overcoming the challenges of B2B eCommerce
Although these six problems are by no means a comprehensive list of B2B eCommerce challenges you’ll experience, they’re all vital issues to overcome. Keep these needs in mind as you plan out your eCommerce experience. You might find that a new approach can solve more issues than you think.
A new blog series about the critical eCommerce capabilities missing in most eCommerce platforms for B2B companies. #1: Quoting & Sales Support
A closer look from the Ultra perspective on what we really mean when we talk about headless commerce and why it may not be right for every company.