With B2B online retailing revenues projected to reach $6.7 trillion by 2020, according to research from Frost & Sullivan, it’s clear that B2B businesses no longer have the option of doing without an e-commerce platform. However, selecting the right one can be a challenge, particularly for B2B businesses that are still in the early stages of digital transformation. If your B2B business is struggling with the question of how to choose an e-commerce platform, the following tips and strategies can help:
Understand your drivers.
The first big step in choosing a B2B e-commerce platform is understanding why your business needs one. At present, it’s not difficult to find information on the broad drivers of B2B e-commerce, including the fact that the high quality of consumer experience now available in the B2C marketplace is strongly influencing buyers’ expectations of B2B transactions. Buyers are looking to replicate the same ease and personalization of their B2C experiences in their B2B decisions, as well as to achieve targeted goals like shifting their procurement process online, placing business orders from mobile devices for greater convenience, and making their sales force more strategic by decreasing manual tasks and enabling off-hours ordering. Helping customers meet these and similar goals is therefore a strong motivator for most B2B businesses.
In addition, it’s important to clearly define your business’ individual objectives and expectations for implementing an e-commerce platform. Broad market drivers work well as initial motivators, but in order for your e-commerce platform to fit your business well, you must be clear about what specific challenges you want the platform to address and solve. For example, do you primarily want to make transactions easier for repeat buyers in order to boost customer loyalty, or is your main objective to drive new traffic and leads to your site? Being precise about your goals will greatly improve your chances of making a smart platform investment.
Perform a realistic self-assessment.
After you’ve identified why your business needs an e-commerce solution, the next step is to assess your organizational readiness; understanding the reasons for implementing e-commerce and having the capacity to execute it are two very different things. To make this self-evaluation stage worthwhile, it’s important to be both thorough and realistic.
First, look closely at your business’ current capabilities, particularly at the personnel who are most likely to assume the responsibility for setting up the e-commerce platform and maintaining it once it goes live. You also need to clearly identify how automated e-commerce solutions will impact current processes like sales, service, and inventory. Next, assess whether your organization has or can put measures in place to effectively analyze and leverage the new volumes of customer data that an e-commerce platform will deliver. Then, you should evaluate the current technical environment of your organization, including how your e-commerce platform would integrate with pre-existing software like ERP, CRM, or accounting tools.
Ask the right questions.
Once you’ve conducted a thorough assessment of your company’s organizational readiness, it’s time for a comprehensive evaluation of possible platform solutions. Having a list of key questions to ask of each platform will help you match your business’ needs with platform functionality. Some of the most important features to analyze include whether the platform offers responsive design that optimizes content across multiple devices; whether the platform offers self-service capabilities and to what degree; how the platform handles customer-specific pricing options; what payment options are available through the platform and how customizable those options are; and whether the platform is hosted on-premise or is cloud-based.
Know the risks.
B2B e-commerce platforms represent a significant investment of time and money. On average, a mid-market B2B company can spend anywhere between $250,000 and several million on an e-commerce solution and can take between nine months and two years to launch it. Given these figures, it’s not surprising that many B2B companies making their first foray into the world of e-commerce are tempted to scale down and look for less costly “starter” options. But while this might make sense in some cases, it’s vital that you understand the risks associated with focusing more on up-front savings than on effective solutions. These risks include the following:
Poor integration—Choosing less expensive software options and attempting to piece together an e-commerce site may appeal to businesses that are interested in a DIY approach, but this often leads to poor integration. As a result, it can become harder to fulfill orders because the various systems required for the job don’t play well together.
Lack of customization—It’s true that a higher degree of customization will be more costly in an e-commerce platform, but businesses should remember that customization is exactly what their buyers are looking for. Generic e-commerce solutions may be cheaper, but they frequently lack the personalized experience that is essential for today’s B2B customers.
Too many sacrifices—It may be difficult to find an e-commerce solution that fits your budget and meets all of your business’ needs, but if you find yourself having to sacrifice too many of your initial requirements, it could be a sign that you need to increase your investment. You’re not actually saving money if you’re spending a smaller amount on an e-commerce platform that doesn’t effectively help your business.