15 ‘Must Have’ features of a winning B2B e-commerce platform
B2B e-commerce sales are predicted to reach an unprecedented $6.6 trillion worldwide by 2020 (Frost & Sulliva). As a manufacturer, wholesaler or distributor, your primary concern should be growing your online sales to win a larger slice of this pie. To achieve this, your B2B business needs to deliver not just a multi-channel offering, but a fully functional e-commerce experience.
15 Features a B2B e-commerce platform must have
There was a time when a basic B2B platform that did the job was all you needed. Today, many B2B buyers are regular B2C customers in their personal lives and they expect a customer-friendly experience wherever they shop. To meet these B2C expectations, whilst providing a professional business buying experience, your B2B platform, at a minimum, needs to be simple, fast, convenient and reliable. It should have at least the features below to succeed in the industry today.
1. Mobile readiness
It’s an indisputable fact that mobile purchases are the future (and the present too). Many of your current and future customers will want to place their orders online and if you want them to buy from you, you need to meet their needs. That means a website that is responsive, automatically adjusting to any device, and optimised to take into account the needs of mobile users. Google’s search engine algorithms also reflect this. If your site isn’t mobile-ready, you’ll be invisible to potential new customers.
Required: A B2B e-commerce site that provides an excellent experience for buyers, regardless of the device they’re using to access it.
Show your customers that you know who they are and exactly what they need, and you build trust and engagement. Once they’ve registered on your site with their personal and company details, a good B2B e-commerce platform allows you to tailor their experience. You can address them by name and show them specific products and prices available only to them, including volume discounts according to your agreements. It’s easy and convenient for them to see their account history, request quotes and place new or repeats of large orders. You can also make recommendations based on their previous purchases or search history, and facilitate purchasing decisions and approval based on their role in the company, easing the process all round.
Required: A B2B e-commerce platform that offers the latest technology to help you personalise customer experience.
3. Excellent site security
B2B customers are far more educated and discerning these days and they know what to look for when shopping online. One make-or-break factor is whether their personal and financial data is secure. If they don’t feel safe, they won’t buy from you. Many will go directly to your URL to make sure it says “https://” rather than just “http://”. This tells them your site is secured by Secure Socket Layer (SSL) and their data can’t be intercepted.
Google also checks for SSL when indexing your site. When you submit your sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools, you’ll need to provide both an “https://” and an “http://” version.
Required: An SSL certificate for your full e-commerce site, not just the shopping cart – speak to your service provider about this.
4. Integration options
Integration of your B2B e-commerce platform with your ERP and Product Information Manager (PIM) gives both customers and your team access to real-time data. This includes current prices, stock availability, the latest product information and expected delivery times. It also ensures that changes that are made anywhere in your connected system are automatically reflected across the board. This means that all your data is always up to date, eliminating confusion and extra admin. Information can also be shared with any of your B2B customers, helping them to sell more of your products.
Required: A B2B e-commerce platform that can accurately, and within a very short time frame, be integrated with any of your other systems.
At Comalytics we integrate to these ERP systems and more…
5. Customer-specific pricing
Depending on your relationship and the amount of business they do with you, you may have special terms in place with some of your B2B customers. As a result, product prices on your system could vary from customer to customer, or change based on the volume of goods they buy. Depending on variations in your own supplier prices, they may also need to be updated regularly. Any new prices should then show consistently and in real time to customers across all your channels, as well as to your support staff.
Required: A B2B platform that supports customer-specific pricing down to individual SKU level, and quickly reflects any changes across the system.
6. Transparent inventory
B2B e-commerce customers need to be able to closely manage their stock levels so they can fulfil their own customers’ needs down the line. So if your stock levels are low, you’re out of stock or their purchase will go onto back-order and only be processed once you receive more stock, they want to know about it before they place their order, not afterwards. When your platform helps you manage their expectations, customers feel safe to buy from you, rather than going to your competitor.
Required: A B2B platform that gives customers full sight of product stock levels before they place an order.
7. Product bundling
B2B customers sometimes buy low-cost items in bulk from wholesalers. It therefore often makes more sense to sell products in bundles or packs than individually. These could be large packs of the same product or bundles of complementary items which you are marketing at a discount. Your system should provide functionality that makes it easy to set this up, or to offer tiered pricing as part of your business strategy.
Required: A B2B e-commerce platform that allows you to group products in a way that makes sense and to price them accordingly.
8. Quick ordering and re-ordering
Time is at a premium for B2B buyers, so the quicker they can transact on your site, the more satisfied they will be. It should be very easy for them to find products they haven’t purchased before, for example, by entering product numbers or searching on any product criteria, then to quickly input the quantities they need and either request a quote or check out.
They also often re-order the same items, so your site needs to provide quick access to products previously ordered. Then allow them to simply click to add those to their basket again.
Required: A B2B e-commerce platform that offers customers multiple ways to find products, and facilitates quick ordering and reordering.
9. Ordering by email
You save your B2B customers more time and effort when you can embed a call to action button in an email. Then when they select that button, for example “Buy Now”, their order is automatically added to their shopping cart in your B2B e-commerce system. They skip the process of searching for a product online and can go straight to checkout.
Required: A B2B platform with email ordering functionality.
10. Back ordering
Even when you can’t immediately fulfil an order, you may want to allow your customers to order anyway, if they choose to do so. Your e-commerce system should support this, making it easy to set up rules around it, such as when to process payment and whether to offer partial shipment.
Required: A B2B platform that supports back ordering and allows you to implement your own rules around it.
11. Quote functionality
Your business might require your customers to request quotes instead of displaying pricing on your e-commerce site. This may be needed when orders are unusual or products are custom made, or even if your material costs fluctuate regularly. Your e-commerce platform should ease this process by allowing your customers to request a quote that is then saved for a certain length of time. Bear in mind that if that time frame expires, they will need to request a new quote. Then when it’s approved, they should be able to quickly convert it into an order.
Required: A B2B e-commerce system that provides quote functionality and allows for easy conversion into an order.
12. Internal administration capability
Sometimes, especially for large accounts, a quote may need to go through multiple procurement checks and balances at your customer’s company before it’s approved. An effective B2B platform will simplify this by letting them set up their own internal approval hierarchy. The quote can then easily be assessed against buying limits and approved at various levels. This greatly increases the chances that the quote will be converted to an order, and thus into money in the bank for you. Providing for the needs of large companies in this way will also put you ahead of your competitors.
Required: A B2B platform that allows customers to configure their own approval hierarchy.
13. Automated invoices and returns reporting
Compliance within companies often requires strict reporting on all transactions, including invoices and returns, along with any associated credits. Doing this manually would be prohibitive, wasting time and money better spent elsewhere. Your B2B e-commerce platform should automate all these processes for you. When your customers have direct access on the system to any related information they require, it ensures transparency and trust, and saves admin on both sides.
Required: A B2B system that facilitates automated invoice and return reporting.
14. Full support capability
A key aspect of B2B customer service is ensuring support is available at any point in the purchasing process. Also bear in mind that B2B buyers have support needs that range from online and self-service all the way through to off-line and full-service, or any point in between.
Your system should allow you to provide support anywhere along this continuum. This could include an integration like live chat, which has a proven positive impact on sales and customer loyalty, and/or a remote app that customers or travelling reps can use off-line.
To maximise this support, your support staff should be able to log in and see exactly what any given customer is seeing at that moment. This reduces confusion, enables them to recommend products and answer questions, and allows for quick and effective resolution of any issues.
Required: A B2B platform that offers customers multiple ways to request support, and gives support staff access to a real-time view of the customer’s account.
15. Cloud-based infrastructure
Managing infrastructure is a technical process best handled by experts. A cloud-based B2B platform provides great flexibility and value for money, and allows your system to be managed remotely by your service provider. This leaves you free to focus your efforts on building your company, with peace of mind that the nuts and bolts are taken care of.
Required: A B2B platform that is hosted in the cloud and can therefore be remotely managed.
The bottom line…
To take full advantage of the rapidly growing e-commerce industry, it’s critical to choose the right platform for your B2B online store. The correct blend of B2B functionality and B2C features delivers an experience that fulfills the needs of all your customers. It also streamlines your processes and gives you room to grow your business so it thrives well into the future.