How to Ensure B2B eCommerce Success
For B2B merchants, it's no secret that B2B (business-to-business) has slowly surpassed its B2C (business-to-consumer) counterpart in revenue, first in the United States and now also on a global scale. When eCommerce industry rivals, China's Alibaba and Amazon, both launched a B2B marketplace, they effectively expedited this growing trend (source: Practical Ecommerce). While B2C still receives most of the media attention, B2B is catching up, in both news and in marketing techniques. As a result of this progress, over 93% of B2B retailers are prepared to launch an eCommerce site, and by the year 2020, B2B is expected to be worth more than twice the value of B2C online revenue – almost 7 trillion US dollars (source: Anders Innovations). Most B2B companies have realised that success in B2B eCommerce stems from creating a customer purchase model that closely simulates the B2C trade environment. B2B retailers face a number of challenges in the modern eCommerce market, which we will touch base on below.
B2B Customer Expectations
Because most B2B buyers regularly shop online in the world of B2C, they expect the same user experience in both online shops. At the same time, B2B merchants need to be able to offer the simplicity of efficient self-service to B2B buyers on a platform that supports the daily complexities of their developing B2B business. A B2B buyer often requires special functions such as discounts, personalised catalogs, carriage terms and a unique pricing structure along with a customised portal that fits their individual needs. Repeat ordering is another important facet of B2B purchasing behaviour, and buyers often require several saved shopping lists from where they can easily re-order.
In addition, a B2B buyer expects a consistent, seamless shopping experience across multiple touch-points with the company, from the desktop, to their mobile and tablet, and also in-store. It’s also vital to consider how newer generations use technology, in both physical and mental terms. While switching devices at lightening speeds, buyers are also shopping differently, and demanding proactive selling from the merchant’s side. In contrast to a B2C buyer, a B2B customer expects higher quality products and comprehensive industry knowledge from the site and from the sales people because they are purchasing on behalf of a business.
The Best Way to Approach the RFQ Process
While the usual B2C checkout involves payment via credit card, a B2B purchase frequently begins with a request for quote (RFQ) because the prices of products are not fixed. A good B2B eCommerce solution will allow the buyer to make the request directly from the same site. Unlike the typical credit card checkout process, the RFQ process enables the buyer to define their needs proactively and requests a response. The RFQ process usually involves a form for the buyer where the necessary details are compiled and a confirmation is then sent back to the buyer that specifies when and how the buyer will receive contact. It’s important that the form adapts to each buyer’s needs, so the sales team can shoot back an accurate and efficient response.
Personalised Payment and Tax Choices
An efficient B2B site should support several payment options, from credit card transactions to purchasing account payments. For the latter method, the buyer should receive a monthly invoice with options to review purchases using various filters, such as by user or department. For larger customers, an EDI (electronic data exchange) may be needed, which is an electronic communication method that sends the purchase details directly to the buyer’s ERP system (enterprise resource planning). Another important aspect of flexible payment options is providing the buyer with the choices for tax exempt purchases, and requesting tax identification numbers and certifications from them so the purchase can be complete accurately.
All About Shipping Options
B2B purchases are trickier to ship than their B2C counterparts as the products often weigh more and the orders need to be divided into several packages or require special shipping methods altogether, such as FTL (full truck load) and LTL (less than a load). When orders need to be delivered with special services, than information about loading docks and warehouse conditions must be included in the shipping quote. In such cases, the B2B transaction will finish with the confirmation of a shipping quote instead of the usual simple delivery notices that accompany B2C payments.
B2B Merchant Needs
A B2B merchant needs one site that will cater to several customer groups and offer them complete control to customise each customer journey thoroughly, from personalised pricing and shopping lists to group setups. The site, ideally, needs to showcase both the brand and the products to both B2C and B2B clients alike, but with different portals. It’s also important to include real time data so that the merchant is completely up-to-date on the stock levels, orders, products, and new clients, which requires custom integrations to ERP systems, PIM solutions, CRM systems etc. And most importantly, the site should minimise the workload and manual data entry of the business’ employees.
Improving Your Existing B2B Site
The challenge for B2B merchants who have adopted eCommerce early on, is to upgrade an existing B2B shop to adjust to the changes in the industry and to buyer needs. Vaimo’s B2B client, AVS Fencing, entered the B2B eCommerce market already several years ago with a custom-built CMS system which was managed at the time by just one external developer. While the site was very successful, the platform and developer soon fell short of the fast-developing market. In cases like these, B2B merchants often need more control over their site and the possibility to implement modules and site-specific features. Some B2B merchants start out with separate sites for different customer groups and then want to migrate them to one site. Such was the case with AVS Fencing as well; Vaimo created one site that merged the previous three sites together and catered to the different customer groups with features such as the B2B VAT switch, B2B quick order, and the ability to display individual prices. The fully responsive site also offers features such as advanced store locator and advanced shipping rates.
B2B Businesses Entering eCommerce for the First Time
For other B2B merchants, their current site serves as a purely informative read, with no products available for purchase. Many B2B merchants like this sell products mostly to resellers because the items are difficult to sell directly to B2C buyers. The dilemma for them is to bring their products to the site and to expand the awareness of their brand. It is also challenging to cater for B2C clients for the first time. They need to formulate easy ways for customers to choose the right products and arrange the best way to access the products, whether by visiting the closest retailer or via delivery. In such cases, the user experience needs be designed with multi-option filters, and customised cross-sell and up-sell on different product pages and on the shopping cart page. With a website like Mont Blanc’s (another Vaimo client) it was also important to include a B2B specific portal for the B2B buyer group. In this case, Vaimo included a shopping basket as a quotation to the reseller and made sure to add an application guide that matched specific car parts.
Savvy B2B buyers also want to be able to make their orders and purchases on the go, which means that omni-channel is the next level in the B2B eCommerce game. However, for B2B retailers, creating an efficient multi-channel experience in today's world of rapidly-changing technology is not easy. Still, for the B2B companies that manage to build an effective multi-channel solution, it provides a strong competitive edge. It means effectively supporting a virtual experience across many channels, such as various mobile devices, formats, call centres, and customer service teams; but it also means future-proofing the business. A B2B retailer may not dive in head-first into creating an elaborate omni-channel experience, but it's absolutely essential to make sure the customer can buy faster by creating a customised and personalised trade environment for them. Challenges in this area include integration, difficulties with sharing data across countries, restrictions set by distribution partners, and implementation. However, by breaking down business process obstacles, anticipating customer needs and using customer behaviour to lead the change, it's possible to turn over a new leaf on outdated business practices.
The Reluctance of B2B Merchants to Enter eCommerce
Currently, a great deal of B2B business is still conducted offline and follows old-school practices. A common trend that keeps B2B companies from pushing their brand online is their current older business model, and the worry that their resellers will view this step as direct competition. It's essential to bring their websites to the forefront where they can sell to B2C and B2B customers directly on the same infrastructure, using the same catalog and website, without compromise. The trade environment still exists for B2B customers, because when they log in, the pricing structure is different. As long as the manufacturer understands the strategy that brand rotating is still driving sales to potential resellers, then it’s a win-win situation for everyone. With Vaimo’s client, Mont Blanc, their resellers started to get double the amount of queries per day after Mont Blanc launched its site on the Magento platform. Customers that are looking to buy roof boxes, roof bars, and bike carriers can go on the Mont Blanc site, specify the vehicle they need to buy the product for and once product is selected, search for the closest dealer to complete the purchase and get the product installed on their vehicle. The strategy of putting manufacturers out on the forefront but not in competition with their resellers is a compelling aspect of B2B. B2B companies can move forward by coming up with approaches that work for both the manufacturer, distributor, and reseller and bring profits for all.
Magento and B2B
While the modern B2B online consumer experience should mirror that of a private customer, it is crucial to consider the existing differences that require streamlining. The B2B experience requires an eCommerce platform that allows flexibility around integration, and while there are a considerable number of platforms on the market today, none can match Magento's reach when it comes to seamless integration with third party apps. Magento enables B2B merchants to enter the eCommerce market in the best suitable way for their business and ensures that the merchant is in charge of their B2B buyer’s experience. Customers require personalised, efficient self-service, and Magento allows the B2B business to create just that.
B2B companies that are starting out may be simply focused on presenting a list of products to their customers and allowing them to make orders. The core strength of Magento works by utilising cross-selling, up-selling and personalisation features, which is a huge untapped resource for B2B companies entering eCommerce. Magento also offers features tailored for B2B, such as negotiated pricing, customer catalogues, and B2C functionality utilisation. The tried-and-true platform also boasts an open source global ecosystem, with systems integrators, application developers, and special features built on top of the Magento Enterprise platform.
"While Vaimo has focused on B2C over the last 7 years and learned about best practice, we are now merging our understanding of B2C and B2B and that is very visible in our B2B projects."
Markus Åberg, CSO at Vaimo
Vaimo’s Expertise and Experience with B2B eCommerce Solutions
Vaimo's core team has a vast know-how of business processes due to our background in the ERP industry. We have broad international knowledge of areas like warehouse & stock systems, manufacturing, finance, solutions delivery etc. This is why Vaimo has naturally gravitated towards B2B businesses and over the years become one of the leaders in providing B2B eCommerce solutions on the Magento platform.
"Because of our ERP background, Vaimo is great at understanding integrations with complex ERP systems. We have spent over 150,000 hours building integrations – for B2B, that's a key part of their solution, because a vast amount of their business logic lies in their ERP system."
David Holender, CEO at Vaimo
B2B transactions generally demand more complex systems, ones that are able to accept orders in various formats, such as electronic orders. The checkout system used must incorporate order capture with other systems like customer records and invoicing. Vaimo offers specific checkout features especially for its B2B clients, such as the B2B Quick Order, and the B2B VAT switch. Vaimo is also able to create specific pricing structures, carriage terms, and a completely customised, intuitive purchasing process. The Vaimo team works hard to ensure that the checkout process for B2B customers meets every need, from the largest technical queries to the smallest details.
In addition, the actual infrastructure of a B2B online shop should be optimised for conversion. Services and products should be grouped for different clients, and these should be displayed for the appropriate customers upon login. This step makes it simpler for business customers to find the products or services they wish to purchase, without having to peruse the entire web shop.
B2B suppliers may also find it beneficial to integrate administrative systems with that of suppliers to more productively manage stockholding, distribution and purchasing. Vaimo provides B2B shopping lists, custom integrations that display real-time accurate data, and integrations of stock management systems that allow orders and products to be up-to-date in different systems.Vaimo can also develop custom modules for its B2B clients that further help to meet their business needs. Read more about Vaimo’s B2B expertise and view Vaimo’s existing B2B clients.
When selecting an eCommerce solution provider for your B2B project, it’s important to look for a supplier who has not only delivered B2C solutions, but also has experience with B2B solutions and integrations, has an extensive background in ERP, and knows about business processes and how to streamline them. Vaimo offers all of this and also boasts international expertise and know-how to provide advice on how to cross international borders. Contact us if you want to know more or want to take your B2B eCommerce to the next level.