How to Find the Best eCommerce Platform for B2B Sales

By
Sarah Leung
November 5, 2015

B2B eCommerce is becoming mainstream. According to a recent report by Accenture, 86% of leading B2B companies surveyed offer their customers a way to place orders online, with just 14% offering no B2B eCommerce option. If you haven’t already invested in B2B eCommerce technology, it’s time to start thinking about it now. But how do you find the best eCommerce platform for your B2B business? Here are a few tips, considerations, and features to think about.

First of All, Here’s Why Shopify & Magento Aren’t the Best Choice

For some companies their first instinct when searching for a B2B eCommerce platform is to turn to a B2C eCommerce vendor like Shopify or Magento. While these platforms weren’t originally designed to handle B2B transactions, some companies consider retrofitting these B2C platforms with B2B eCommerce functionality. This “Frankenstein” approach is costly (both in terms of time and financial investment) and ultimately difficult to maintain. You’ll have to hire developers to build customizations, and if your team has little to no experience in software development, managing such a project can be a tall order. More importantly, however, making these software modifications will cause issues down the line as Shopify, Magento, or any other B2C eCommerce provider updates their software. You will either have to invest more resources into software development to make your B2B modifications work with each subsequent software release, or you’ll have to stick with the old version, rendering your B2B eCommerce portal static as others evolve and grow in functionality. Not a good idea.

Direct vs. Marketplace

Another critical consideration is deciding whether you’d like to invest in a Direct B2B eCommerce strategy or a Marketplace strategy. Choosing between these two models––Direct and Marketplace––will essentially decide how your business makes sales online. The Direct model involves your business or brand having its own portal that retailers can access directly. This model gives you greater control over the overall user experience, messaging, and branding. The experience can also theoretically be tailored to your particular customers (with customer-specific pricing or catalog restrictions, for example), depending on the functionality offered by your B2B eCommerce software vendor. The Marketplace model, on the other hand, is exactly what it sounds like. It would involve your brand setting up shop among other brands, allowing customers to shop in an online marketplace much like Amazon. The advantage of the Marketplace model is the ability for brands to reach the long-tail with fewer of the ramifications involved in servicing lower yield customers. However, brands will also have to deal with increased competition (as their products will be featured side by side with competitors’ offerings), as well as limited ability to cultivate a strong brand presence and customer relationships. For brands looking to focus on high-value, long-lasting relationships with their retailers or other customers––especially those who place frequent reorders––the Direct model is the better choice. Look for a B2B eCommerce platform that allows you to sell directly to your customers and provide personalized experiences.

Best eCommerce Platform: Features to Look For

1. EASE OF USE

Perhaps the most important thing to look for in a B2B eCommerce platform, usability is essential for a successful B2B eCommerce rollout. Due to the complexity of B2B transactions, B2B eCommerce solutions include a lot of advanced functionality not offered by more typical B2C eCommerce experiences. Delivering those advanced features while remaining as easy to use as a B2C site is critical, especially when you’re trying to change the status quo and get your customers to move away from traditional phone, fax, and email ordering.

2. A PERSONALIZED EXPERIENCE

As mentioned briefly above, providing your retailers with an online experience tailored to their needs is key. For instance, does your B2B eCommerce solution allow you to display customer-specific pricing? Are there catalog visibility controls that allow you to show your customers only the products relevant to them?

3. MOBILE ACCESS

We are all more dependent on our mobile devices than ever before. Giving customers the ability to not just order from their computer, but also their smartphone or tablet allows them to order online on the go or while in the aisles of their store. In short, look for an eCommerce platform that offers an integrated mobile application. You can also prioritize looking for an app that allows access to the device’s camera in order to scan barcodes.

4. INVENTORY AVAILABILITY

While inventory information is often limited to a simple “out of stock” or “in stock” message, the best eCommerce platforms for B2B should have robust inventory data accessible to customers. This not only allows customers to place their orders more strategically, it also prevents costly backorders. This kind of tracking is usually achieved through an integration with your backend ERP system.

5. ABILITY TO DUPLICATE PAST ORDERS

With your customers likely placing frequent reorders from you, it’s important to give them the ability to duplicate (and subsequently modify if needed) past orders. When your customers are finalizing their online orders, it’s also important to include a details at checkout, including payment terms (net 30, net 60, etc.), ship via information, ship dates, cancel dates, and any customer-specific promotions.

6. ORDER NOTES & SELLER REVIEW

The thing to remember about B2B orders is that they are a conversation. Giving customers the ability to make notes at an item level to ask questions about an order, and then in turn giving sales reps the ability to review and confirm an order before it is finalized can enable these buyer-seller conversations. This gives sales reps the opportunity to answer questions about products, make notes about shipping preferences on certain parts of the order, and upsell new items.

Finding the Best eCommerce Platform for Your B2B Business

When considering a B2B eCommerce platform, it’s important to understand what to look for in a solution. Prioritizing ease of use and making sure that the platform has all the features required to handle the complexities of your sales process are key. Questions about B2B eCommerce? Let us know in the comments below.