While ecommerce is far from a new thing, with it being almost 20 years since it could really have been said to have been in its infancy, the B2B market has been in many ways a late adopter. Earlier, more generalised ecommerce solutions perhaps were not able to solve the problems faced by companies who operate within a network of businesses, selling to businesses. As a result, B2B executives refrained from plunging into B2B ecommerce, apart from in the unusual cases where their sales processes, products and services were similar enough to that of a B2C company for it to be simple.
Challenges in B2B Not Initially Addressed By Ecommerce Platforms
One of the major differences between B2B and B2C is the number of business entities usually involved in delivering a product or service. Whether you are selling wholesale to a number of vendors, or providing tailored services to a niche industry, there is rarely a simple case of shifting units. Suppliers and partners are often involved and additionally, pricing can be a lot more complex than in a B2C market where everything has a simple retail price.
Because of this, and the nature of the work of a lot of B2B companies, it remained a more efficient and effective option to use account managers to handle ongoing business from existing customers, and ‘front line’ sales staff to win new clients.
Advances in Ecommerce Platforms for B2B
Now, the technology needed to create an easy to manage, efficient and viable infrastructure for selling in a B2B environment online is certainly available, with some solutions like SAP B2B Portals from Weaveability making it possible to utilise the underlying master data, power and cohesion of existing business solutions like SAP, while providing on brand interfaces designed to provide an omni-channel solution for all of the business a B2B company needs to deal with, from clients to suppliers and vendors.
With technology like that in existence, uptake of ecommerce models by B2B enterprises has risen, and this is a trend that is likely to continue.
Better Efficiency and Customer Service
The latest generation of ecommerce solutions for B2B, especially those that can be driven by SAP already in use by a business, are able to offer far more than just a new way to sell. By giving clients, suppliers and vendors their own portals into the business, B2B companies can manage end to end sales and fulfilment far more efficiently, and can also deal with enquiries, delivery issues and other queries in a transparent and reliable way. Given B2Bs need to provide a great service not only to customers but also to partner businesses, suppliers, and everyone else in their business eco-system, being able to manage all of these relationships through one platform can offer far greater value than the benefits of ecommerce alone.
The Salesforce Is Still Key
While ecommerce is becoming a lot more B2B friendly and is certainly being more readily adopted within this business sphere, the roles of sales people in these types of businesses is still crucial.
While B2B ecommerce can handle straightforward orders for out of the box or easily tailored products and services, sales staff are still key to developing the very bespoke solutions that many B2Bs base the bulk of their business on. There are other roles that sales people can fill that an ecommerce platform currently cannot, too, like encouraging potential clients who have incumbent suppliers to switch. Even with the best online marketing, an ecommerce website is unlikely to bring in business from those who are not looking for a solution, so sales teams are still the best way to handle prospects who are using an alternative supplier at present.
Is Ecommerce in Your Plans?
While B2B ecommerce is certainly a growth area, it is not yet at the ‘everybody’s doing it’ stage. This means that if you are not currently using ecommerce, it may be a good time to evaluate whether you can gain any potential edge by doing it. Some companies are a better fit for ecommerce than others, but it is well worth reviewing your range of offerings and your clients to see if it could be beneficial to you. Companies who offer very highly tailored services to a small number of high value clients may be the least likely to adopt ecommerce, but even in this situation it can make managing ongoing or repeat orders more simple for everyone involved.
Ecommerce is certainly still evolving in the B2B world, but it is something more and more B2B executives are beginning to see real advantages to.