eCommerce: B2B business and the B2C approach
In the consumer world, eCommerce is all around us; it’s immersed in our culture, embedded in our behaviours and pushing our expectations of service to unprecedented levels. But when it comes to B2B, a surprising number of companies are yet to adopt an online sales platform, shutting their doors to customers poised to make a purchase outside their usual hours of operation. As a result, it stands to reason that eventually those customers will seek out somewhere else to take their business.
So, if you’re a B2B company that hasn’t already considered eCommerce, it’s probably time you did – before your competitors inevitably steal a march.
Thanks to online shopping, we can buy what we want, when we want. Our purchasing decisions are influenced as much by availability and speed of delivery as they are by price. Traditional channels are still open to us if we need some help deciding, but the most successful brands deliver consistent, joined-up customer experiences across all their channels and, in the process, sustain customer loyalty. This ‘omnichannel’ approach is not just for B2C. It’s a world to which B2B companies should also aspire. Afterall, our customers may wear professional uniforms, but we’re all consumers underneath – and we’re beginning to wonder why our B2B experiences don’t replicate those we enjoy elsewhere.
Of course, the nature of your business is a key determinant of whether an eCommerce platform is right for it; if you’re an agency that sells a service, your clients are unlikely to close a deal via an online transaction; but if you’re a distributor of ‘goods’, customers will base their purchasing decision on price, availability and delivery – meaning eCommerce will certainly meet their needs. For businesses that sell a hybrid of ‘goods’, combined with ‘explicit’ and ‘implicit services’ a consultative sales and after-sales service is typically required – but this shouldn’t close the door on the eCommerce opportunity.
Even if a purchasing decision requires consultation via traditional ‘people’ channels (field representatives or telesales), eCommerce can actually strengthen these aspects. The visibility of previous online engagement can be held within the system, and once a purchase is made, it forms the basis for future orders (such as repeat orders, spare parts and consumables) that can be quickly actioned via eCommerce mechanisms until a new consultation is required. This provides a better customer experience without sacrificing the personal service.
Business and customer benefits
B2B customers are busy people and time is a precious commodity. And yet many SMEs force customers to go through an inefficient sales process that robs them of that valuable time. Whether it’s from the telesales call that’s lost in translation and results in an incorrect order, or the mispriced invoice that occurs when face-to-face agreements don’t correlate with the details in the CRM or ERP, customers can often be better served – and have greater certainty in their purchase – by more familiar online tools.
Likewise, for the business, integrated eCommerce can fuel productivity and efficiency gains. For example, with the online channel taking care of product purchases, sales resources can be more effectively deployed; telesales executives can be trained to provide more consultative sales support, and field-based personnel can focus on business development rather than technical consultancy. eCommerce also reduces the administrative burden of order processing, helping to further optimise resources and reduce the cost of service.
The strategic addition of eCommerce functionality can transform B2B operations. The most effective solutions fully integrate with your CRM and ERP/accounting systems. This is essential to ensure that client records – detailing engagement across all channels – integrate with stock control, accounting and supply chain operations to guarantee seamless service.
Typically, CRM and accounting systems operate in silos. This often leads to gaps in information that can disrupt order processes, blight communications and compromise the customer journey. Accounts-integrated CRM and eCommerce solutions can fix these gaps to assure continuity and consistency of customer service – and deliver a unified omnichannel experience. Moreover, by connecting CRM, ERP and eCommerce systems, companies can go beyond a standard ‘web shop’ that presents fixed prices, to an offering that provides differential pricing based on customer history, value or preference, as well as credit terms and other account services.
So the questions for B2B organisations are simple: do your customers operate online? And, if they do, could you improve their lives by giving them the kind of service that mirrors their consumer experiences? In an era where customer expectations are being redefined across the board, if your answers are yes the likelihood is that if you don’t adopt an effective eCommerce platform, your competitors soon will.
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Andrew Ardron is founder and managing director of ProspectSoft, a specialist developer and provider of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and eCommerce Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Integrated into all major accounting software packages, such as Exchequer, Sage, Pegasus, Access, SAP and Greentree, ProspectSoft currently enables more than 5,...