Valued at $6.64 trillion in 2020, the global B2B eCommerce market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 18.7% from 2021 to 2028. Several factors like increasing internet usage and mobile penetration, cloud advancements, social media’s rising popularity, and improved payment options have contributed to this growth.
Although the pandemic-induced shifts in consumer behavior caused a surge in B2B eCommerce, it exposed several weaknesses in supply chain management and B2B workflows. These challenges, coupled with a lack of clarity on how digital commerce supports business goals, have led to organizational resistance towards B2B eCommerce adoption.
However, the trend is far from ebbing, and studies show that B2B eCommerce is expected to cross $1.8 trillion by 2023. Furthermore, with the increasing influence of millennial buyers on B2B purchase decisions, many organizations are exploring B2B eCommerce to cater to the radical shift in the B2B customers’ shopping journey.
Here are a few factors that such B2B organizations must consider while making the first move towards eCommerce:
Analyze what’s possible and how you can improve with B2B eCommerce:
- Identify the current complexity in the purchase process – The first step in the B2B eCommerce journey should ideally be inward. Unfortunately, most B2B buyers follow a non-linear and complex path with multiple stakeholders taking care of different actions like identifying problems, exploring solutions, building requirements, and selecting suppliers. Therefore, B2B organizations must introspect to identify and redesign legacy structures and break down functional silos that add to the complexity of the existing purchase process. This is important, says Gartner, as the customers’ ability to effectively navigate organizational processes determines the success of B2B purchase decisions.
- Know the internal and external customer demand – Today, B2B buyers gather and consume information independently. Recent studies have shown that buyers spend 45% of their time independent of online and offline research. So, influencing B2B buyers is quite a challenge. Sellers need to accurately understand customer pain points and help them make need-specific decisions. When it comes to internal customers – manufacturing managers, supervisors, and all stakeholders involved – educating them at each stage of the buying process helps them understand the value that eCommerce brings to the table.
- Identify integration points and gaps in existing systems – Successful B2B eCommerce with smooth data transfer requires seamless integration of shop systems into legacy IT systems – enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), product information management (PIM), inventory management, and accounting systems. Investing in systematic testing helps reveal gaps in integrations and existing systems that can result in serious issues in the future. With successful integrations and shop-ready data, B2B eCommerce players can design customized storefronts and tailored customer experiences across devices and channels.
Align B2B digital commerce with your business vision:
- Create a well-defined roadmap for digital commerce – Before embarking on the eCommerce journey, B2B business leaders need a well-articulated digital commerce roadmap. This should include organizational goals, business strategy, capital investments and must cater to the ever-evolving customer demands. Begin with the immediate success requirements and map them to your ultimate eCommerce goals. This will help you address pressing concerns and execute a business strategy that not only meets your current demands but also reacts to and evolves with your future needs. In addition, a roadmap helps B2B eCommerce leaders prioritize action items and makes sure that they are on track.
- Set the proper business context to eliminate negative business impact – One critical factor often underestimated is considering the ‘big picture.’ Leaders must set the context by discussing key concerns upfront. Having clear conversations around the impact of eCommerce on established organizational structures and the salespeople involved can eliminate any negative business impact. Communicating a positive message about the benefits of eCommerce for your sales reps, their customers, and the business is essential for gaining the confidence of your sales force.
- Establish KPIs/metrics and milestones – Measuring the success of B2B eCommerce is easy once you have your milestones, metrics, and key performance indicators (KPIs) in place. An excellent place to begin is by understanding stakeholder expectations, customer demands, technology and service delivery gaps, and identifying areas of improvement. It is essential to establish KPIs for each phase of your eCommerce journey and align them with the overall business objectives of increasing revenues, enhancing customer experience, improving efficiency, and reducing costs. In addition, tracking the essential metrics helps you improve your sales performance and return on investment.
Estimate the roll-out cost of B2B eCommerce implementation:
- Consider the UI design and functionality, system integration, and infrastructure – The prime consideration here is enabling convenience for the customer. The B2B eCommerce UI design should facilitate the ease of use of a B2C shopping experience. Meeting the increasing demands of the customers who are used to instant gratification offered by B2C websites calls for scalable infrastructure and updated plug-ins and modules. While B2C eCommerce usually relies on fixed design patterns and similar functionalities, the UI design of B2B eCommerce must accommodate easy-to-navigate, intuitive features that merge sales processes with the complex needs of the B2B buyer.
- Compare capabilities of platforms to prioritize features and functionality – When comparing B2B eCommerce platforms, business leaders must evaluate features and hosting options and the integration architecture that determines the success of your business. From a functionality perspective, most eCommerce platforms are essentially the same for delivering various user-specific experiences. While prioritizing features and functionalities, you must also look for flexibility, scalability, and reliability. B2B eCommerce pioneers command the market with highly configurable platforms that boast essential functionalities like access control, advanced search, product information management, and payment options.
- Calculate total implementation cost, time, and material to execute the strategy – Executing a B2B eCommerce project requires significant investment in implementation and maintenance, including the cost of software’s license, server hosting and maintenance, third-party integrations, application development, and other IT resource costs. In addition, B2B eCommerce platforms must necessarily be robust enough to facilitate services like bulk purchases and tiered pricing. Also, customer-specific business needs often require highly complex rules, for which cost-intensive custom features have to be designed. In such cases, underestimating the needs or selecting inappropriate technology solutions can deplete your resources, both in terms of time and money.
Anticipate further pursuit of digital business opportunities –
- Scalability and performance – With rapidly changing customer behavior and increasing online purchases, B2B eCommerce platforms must list scalability and performance as top priorities to keep up with demand surges. Adopting scalable and high-performing digital commerce platforms empowers B2B businesses to manage inventories better, fulfill orders faster, and reduce downtime due to slow functionality and connectivity issues. This helps in customer retention and maximizes customer lifetime value (CLV). In addition, scalability and performance are critical success factors to deliver customized innovative experiences across multiple customer touchpoints.
- Keep in mind the future capability incorporation – Riding on the wave of surging customer demands, B2B eCommerce is in for significant gains in the future. McKinsey reports that B2B digital commerce will no longer be restricted to small-ticket items, as 70% of B2B decision-makers wish to make remote procurements of more than $50,000. In comparison, 27% are open to spending more than $500,000 in the future. As a result, B2B eCommerce must evolve to help manufacturers tap into new markets with innovative go-to-market strategies, leveraging augmented reality (AR) and video capabilities.
According to recent studies, most B2B sellers and buyers prefer self-service digital channels and remote engagement over physical interactions. From being forced to go digital, B2B leaders across the globe are now convinced that digital is the way forward. Success in the post-pandemic economy will depend on the organizations’ ability to experiment with innovation and automation as key elements of their go-to-market strategies. B2B eCommerce players that can differentiate themselves as user-friendly, technology-driven companies providing customers cost-effective, self-service options are sure to emerge as winners.
Vandana Singal is Director, Solution Consulting at Pimcore Global Services (A Happiest Minds Company). Pimcore is an open-source platform for product information management (PIM/MDM), digital asset management (DAM), content management system (CMS), and eCommerce. She has extensive experience managing presales, product development, and multifunctional teams.