What’s Missing in B2B eCommerce – Quoting & Quote Management

A blog series covering where eCommerce platforms are failing B2B businesses.

Trying to implement a commerce platform that’s been built to serve a B2C or direct-to-consumer business for a B2B company is likely to disappoint. Why?

We look at the unique capabilities to B2B businesses need and how a commerce platform can support their sales, operations and management requirements without shortcuts and workarounds.

B2B Commerce Platform Gaps

#1: Quoting & Quote Management

Any seller loves an immediate sale, right? Businesses can easily handle the simplicity of a quick transaction – the buyer who searches, finds and purchases right then and there. In B2B, however, the process isn’t always so straightforward. For businesses in the B2B world with more complex sales processes, the act of moving these purchases online requires a bit more orchestration.

With the recent shifts in B2B buyer behavior and expectations, the sales process involves multiple touchpoints where the customer can easily connect with the seller to acquire information, create an order, ask questions, define discounts, to finally close the deal. The level of service and interaction goes beyond the typical online purchase journey and therefore requires a platform with more capabilities to connect the dots seamlessly for complex transactions.

In this first article in a series of how to identify and solve B2B eCommerce platform gaps, we discuss a very common B2B process that can fall apart during the B2B sales process if not implemented well: Quoting and Quote Management.

Why is it so hard?

Firstly, we’re talking about getting an eCommerce platform involved in something that has traditionally been an offline process. Quoting is a hybrid sale that isn’t always consistent from start to finish – that is, not linear like the traditional B2C / consumer purchase path of view, add to cart and checkout. Unpredictability causes platforms to break down and the customer experience to fall apart.

Secondly, commerce platforms don’t have reporting and metrics tools that are designed to provide insights into the steps and facets of the quote process. Trying to get your hands on conversion rates or other KPIs? Good luck.

Why do plugins and apps struggle?

If you’re looking for a quick fix or shortcut, the go-to answer is to find plugins and applications that can complement the commerce platform and deliver the capabilities that are missing. What makes that approach shaky is the number of touchpoints across the platform specific to B2B functionality.

The missing capabilities aren’t simple, you would need to be able to connect with:

  • Creating and managing quotes from the frontend and backend
  • Integrating quotes as an order status into the ERP or back-office integration
  • Automating messaging as the quotes move though the workflow process

The ability for a plugin to handle these properly isn’t very likely.

Quoting

The most overlooked requirement that a B2B company with a traditional or hybrid selling structure will need is creating and managing sales quotes. Quoting might sound old school, but there are several reasons why a company would require a quoting process for online transactions – complex pricing, product configuration, quantity / tiered discounts, account approval process and more.

The most common quoting workflow and implementation from the customer experience perspective relies on the customer to shop, fill up a shopping cart and submit a quote for approval. On the other side, the sales quote could also be created by account, a salesperson in the backend or through a custom sales rep portal and passed through to the customer via the website for approval.

Key functionality in the quote creation process:

  • Ease of access to historical account information (orders, pricing, quotes)
  • Flexibility for internal sales and account teams to create quotes for a customer and pass along for their approval
  • Quote creation capabilities through front-end or backend systems
  • Digital / online acceptance or rejection of the quote
  • Ability to accept and move immediately to payment confirmation

Customize The Workflow

As soon as a quote has been started, the quote workflow process kicks in. Each individual company will require the capabilities to manipulate, control, and adjust the exact workflow that will work for their business. Some key components within the workflow setup and configuration include:

  • The ability to create and define custom status options (i.e. “Pending Customer Response”, “Quote Rejected – Follow Up”, etc. )
  • Integration with a CRM; the quotes may have been synched and managed within the CRM from the initial step – if that status changes in the CRM, are the changes sent back to the commerce platform?
  • Leveraging events and change points (quote approval, quote rejection, etc.) for messaging opportunities

Reporting & Tracking

In order to learn and measure the effectiveness of the sales process, leadership needs to know the percentage of how many deals are closing as a result of the quote process.

  • How many sales orders are going through the eCommerce channel only versus how many are mixed?
  • Can the team go back in time and separate quote driven orders or other sales orders? Creating a report that tracks conversion from quote to order as a KPI across the storefronts.

The key to effectively measuring the quote-to-place order conversion process relies heavily on the origination of the order (a unique flag and/or quote number) being flagged against the order from the start.

Messaging

Whether separated and connected through CRM or managed through the commerce platform, the ability for a sales team to communicate with customers or generate automated messages directly in reference to a specific quote as a feature of the platform is critical. Combining messaging capabilities with an accessible reference to historical quotes, orders and account information gives more leverage to the sales team.

Here are some important considerations for quote messaging integration:

  • Designing the communication touchpoints (see workflow above)
  • Sync and data flow between CRM/ERP and commerce platform
  • Determining which system owns messaging

Approval Process

Moving beyond questions and basic communication, the seller needs an answer to the basic question: “Do we have a deal?”

Working within the workflow of the sales process, the commerce platform must enable and allow for the customization of those workflow steps. For example, even if integrated with a CRM platform for quoting, the customer will still want to be able to review and manipulate their order through the front end of the website.

  • Approval and rejection of quotes will need to be accessible to both the customer and sales team and may happen in the eCommerce platform or an external source (CRM, ERP, etc.)
  • Any approval or rejection will trigger a workflow event (email notification to customer, message to sales rep and more)
  • Expectations that the approval process will often require more individuals to be involved in the process

Wrapping Up

For any eCommerce platform to truly meet critical B2B business requirements it must have the ability to be customized and adapted to the unique processes of individual businesses as opposed to forcing the business to change the way it sells. A platform like Ultra Commerce is built to be flexible to handle the complexities of how modern B2B businesses sell without compromising. Schedule a demo with us today to learn more.

Customization over compromise.

Article #2: What’s Missing in B2B eCommerce: Discounts, Customer Segmentation & Pricing

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