Why is B2B Commerce So Complex?

Online shopping is one click away for consumers, but what about companies that sell to other businesses? Well to put it mildly, it gets complex. On a consumer focused site, the consumer searches for their product(s), researches and compares two or more options via product descriptions and/or feature lists, adds their desired item to the cart, and begins the checkout process with a handful of payment options (credit card, PayPal, gift card, etc.). That’s all fairly routine and standard for today’s B2C buyer.
In contrast, the B2B buyer has levels of complexity that surpasses the consumer buyers journey. The B2B buyer may be dealing with multiple pre-sales engineers to configure a product, a purchasing agent, accounts payable clerk, and complex approval and shipping instructions to make one purchase. How does this translate to an online experience? What are the best practices? What should you look for in a B2B commerce platform? How do you build a solid business case? These questions and more are ones that we field on a regular basis from our B2B commerce clients.
A recent Forrester report forecasts that by 2020, B2B commerce will be a $1.13 trillion market – indicating that a company who is not assessing how to provide a robust B2C-like experience for their B2B customers may be sitting on the sidelines becoming “digital prey,” as we discussed in our digital transformation webinar last summer.
This research report pointed to three areas they believe successful B2B companies need to be competitive in today’s world of online commerce: 1) companies need to deliver a B2C-like experiences, 2) resolve the direct sales vs. online commerce channel conflict 3) secure the right commerce talent.   I would like to add a 4th to their list:  choose the right commerce platform.
Knowing that the evaluation, the buyers journey and ultimate conversion point for a B2B buyer is completely different than the consumer journey, we compiled a list of tips for what to look for in a B2B commerce platform.
Top 12 Unique Requirements for B2B Commerce that your platform needs to manage and mange well:

  1. Ability to handle large multi-national customers with customized processes
  2. Accept many payment options such as: credit card, wire transfer, account billing, purchase orders etc.
  3. Host and manage complex product catalogs with hundreds of attributes per product
  4. Create complex decision engines to ensure the right product is built and/or the right part(s) are ordered
  5. Ensure products are compatible with other products and/or industry regulations
  6. Include detailed diagrams, specifications and user guides or manuals
  7. Capacity to manage multi-step approvals and corresponding workflows
  8. Support complex pricing engines
  9. Manage negotiated contracts and/or pricing & frequent reorders
  10. Identify and manage multiple shipping locations and instructions per order
  11. Create quotes that can directly convert to orders
  12. Reduce workflow and costs associated with serving your existing customers

For more information on how to build the business case for commerce, please take a look at our latest guide/whitepaper on the topic.

About the Author

I work with our emerging solutions practices to ensure we have a powerful marketing strategy, value proposition and lead the go-to-market streams for the emerging partnerships within Perficient. With over 20 years in B2B marketing focusing on software & consulting , I help businesses optimize go-to-market activities including but not limited to strategic planning, messaging, advertising, collateral, events and content.

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Thoughts on “Why is B2B Commerce So Complex?”

  1. The three keys highlighted in the report are spot on.
    1) Companies need to deliver a B2C-like experiences. I read a quote a while back that indicated B2B experiences on average are roughly seven years behind their B2C counterparts. Things like poor imagery, cryptic part numbers & descriptions, and overly complex checkout processes still seem to be the norm for some B2B eCommerce websites. “Our website is for customers that already know our product” is a common refrain. That’s pretty myopic and completely ignores the better majority of people on the internet looking for your products and services.
    2) Resolve the direct sales vs. online commerce channel conflict. This one can be very challenging especially when dealing with sales reps that fear their job will be replaced by a computer. Direct sales reps need to acknowledge the eCommerce platform for what it really can be: a tool to help educate their customers and give them basic information that you shouldn’t be wasting your time with anyways. What benefit does quoting a customer list price for a standard product provide to the company? How about reciting a tracking number for their deliveries. As an educated sales rep your job is to answer the tough questions that a computer can’t.
    3) Secure the right commerce talent. Always a huge challenge. The ever expanding market of online commerce demands highly qualified individuals with a myriad of unique skill sets. eCommerce has yet to be established as a fundamental business unit like Finance, Accounting, Marketing or IT. Until companies recognize this need the market will be slim pickings on qualified talent.

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