6 B2B eCommerce Best Practices to Implement in 2016

By
Allen Malapit
January 12, 2016

Research and advisory firm Frost & Sullivan projected in a recent survey that B2B and retail e-commerce would hit $12 trillion worldwide by 2020, up from $5.5 trillion in 2012, for a compound annual growth rate of 8.11%. According to the survey, customers are placing increasing pressure on retail and wholesale businesses to move buying and selling processes online. B2B eCommerce is indeed growing rapidly and offers a huge area of growth potential for manufacturers and distributors. However, simply deciding to implement B2B eCommerce does not guarantee that a company will meet its goals. Following best practices specific to the B2B space, however, will help to ensure that your eCommerce efforts pay off. Although the need to respond to B2B eCommerce demand is clear, there are some unique B2B challenges (when compared to B2C) that can impact the success of your B2B eCommerce efforts.

According to Forrester Research, some of the critical differences include:

More Complexity: B2C eCommerce is more complex across the board, from buyer-seller relationships and workflows to complicated pricing models and contractual obligations. A single customer may have multiple users or customers within one overall “customer” or client, and products themselves may be sold in several configurations. All of these areas of complexity will impact your B2B eCommerce efforts.

More Channels: B2B buyers may use multiple channels to place orders, and the list of options available continues to grow. These channels might include an online B2B eCommerce portal, telephone, email, fax, or mobile, as well as in-person sales. In today’s omnichannel environment, it’s likely that each customer will use several different channels for different types of transactions. They may even switch channels midstream. Ideally, a B2B commerce platform should allow customers to start an order on desktop and pick up where they left off on a mobile device, or allow a sales rep to start an order that the buyer can then complete online, and vice versa.

Consistency is Key: It’s important to make sure that the content available on B2B eCommerce sites is not only as up-to-date as possible, but also consistent across platforms. This provides a seamless experience to customers across all channels. Attaining this is not a simple task; it requires integration across back-end systems, field sales systems, and eCommerce platforms. With these factors in mind, here are our top B2B eCommerce best practices to implement in 2016.

6 B2B E-Commerce Best Practices to Implement in 2016

1. INTEGRATE, INTEGRATE, INTEGRATE

A successful B2B eCommerce implementation requires access to current inventory levels and stock, and a strong understanding of buying history and behavior. To accomplish this, your eCommerce platform needs to be tied to your back-end systems such as ERP and Inventory Management systems, so that buyers can access real-time insight into inventory levels to avoid backordering and delays in shipment. They should also be able to see their past purchases and payment history, review shipping rates, and see purchasing contracts. Your B2B eCommerce system must not just function well on its own. It must be connected to the orders your sales reps are placing in the field as well.

2. BE SMART WITH OFFERS

With integrated systems, you’ll be able to segment your customers and target your offers more carefully at the right buyers at the right times. Perhaps you have a customer that only purchases certain items in the Spring or Fall, or perhaps buyers in a certain geographical area have seasonal purchases that you can predict by studying past patterns. Take advantage of this kind of information when crafting offers for your buyers, and leverage email marketing to drive more traffic to your B2B online store.

3. PROVIDE MOBILE TOOLS

eCommerce is growing fast, and mobile eCommerce is growing even faster. According to a recent survey by Usablenet, 78% of B2B companies believe mobile is the future of online commerce, half of B2B companies already had the capability to support mobile commerce, and 75% planned to offer it in the near future. Giving your customers the ability to place orders not just from a laptop or desktop computer, but also a smartphone and tablet, is critical.

4. KEEP CONTENT CONSISTENT

As mentioned, honoring the contractual relationships that govern B2B must always be considered as one of the most important best practices of your B2B eCommerce efforts. Not only must your eCommerce content be tailored directly to each customer’s pricing and discounting rules and relevant product lines, it should also be consistent across platforms to minimize confusion.

5. MAKE BUYING EASY

Bulk, repeat, and scheduled ordering are all very common in B2B, and should be supported by your B2B eCommerce sites. In addition, single step / same page checkout is also a best practice your eCommerce site should offer, but be aware that in the B2B space this means more than having credit card and shipping information available on the checkout screen. It also means providing access to payment terms, shipping methods and ship dates, cancel dates and more.

6. LET YOUR CUSTOMERS DIY

DIY means Do-It-Yourself, and in an age where so many customers have grown accustomed using B2C eCommerce sites where they can update their own customer information anytime, anywhere, allowing B2B customers the same convenience is a B2B eCommerce best practice that can not only help to increase the accuracy of your customer data, but also helps to increase customer satisfaction. However, this convenience must also be weighed against relationship management requirements; it may be necessary to limit this only to certain users and fields. This is a short list of the B2B eCommerce best practices that manufacturers and distributors should include in their B2B eCommerce efforts in 2016. eCommerce is a highly complex and dynamic field, so there are many best practices that companies can adopt from B2C, as well as others that are specific to B2B. What best practices is your company planning to add in 2016? Let us know in the comments.