Top 5 Questions for B2B Ecommerce Requirements
B2B ecommerce is a hot trend. Buyers prefer to shop online and spec products before engaging a sales person. Buyers also prefer the convenience of self service. Distributors were early adopters of ecommerce; however many are unhappy with their current platform. Many manufacturers were late to the ecommerce game and are now just investing in ecommerce. COVID-19 certainly accelerated the need to invest in ecommerce on all fronts.
Another hot trend in ecommerce is replatforming. Published numbers from a variety of research groups suggest that over 70% of companies with an existing ecommerce platform are unhappy and will replatform in the coming years. The drive to replatform may have been driven by changes in the business, or simply not taking the time to understand the full set of B2B ecommerce requirements and choosing the right platform.
If a company is serious about B2B ecommerce, the consideration and foresight that is needed in B2B ecommerce requirements development is complex. Following are five questions that are often overlooked when performing B2B ecommerce requirements.
1. How are various business models (B2B, D2C, B2B2X) supported in the ecommerce platform?
It is very common to find mid-sized manufacturers and distributors (particularly manufacturers) heavily invested in ecommerce and heavily invested in multiple ecommerce platforms. One platform is for D2C ecommerce, the other is for B2B ecommerce, or a platform for each brand or market segment.
The story is real, and the complications are even more real. Over invested in technology, and likely overinvested in customer service reps (CSRs) and inside sales teams that are either dedicated to one platform or one brand, or logging into multiple administration consoles while assisting customers on the phone. An expensive hot mess.
This scenario likely started with a miss during requirements and understanding multi-store ecommerce. With only a handful of ecommerce platforms offering multi-store (multi-brand, multi-channel) ecommerce in the market today, the key word in the question is “how.” This forementioned hot mess can be solved with one platform that allows for the management of multiple ecommerce stores from a single administration console including a single administration console for CSRs to filter by store and user (Hint: Znode).
Not all ecommerce platforms execute the management of multi-store ecommerce the same way. A challenge with both Salesforce Cloud Commerce and Adobe Commerce (Magento) is the syncing of customer and order data through a single login in a multiple domain, multi-store environment. The issue impacts ecommerce operations as customer service teams will be toggling between many different websites to access needed information. Additionally, developing ecommerce reports requires another layer of complexity to address.
The devil is in the details, and the details must include the “how.”
2. How can multiple product catalogs be managed within the ecommerce platform?
The key word here is catalogs, not catalog. This question will eliminate numerous B2B ecommerce platforms during the RFP process. The requirement of multiple product catalogs aligns to most B2B sales processes as contracts are written for a unique set of products, not a manufacturer’s or distributor's entire product mix. Having the ability to create and assign account specific catalogs to a specific user, account or profile/segment is a necessity.
The sniff test is easy. Ask how many catalogs may be applied to a web store at one time. Better yet, do a little digging. BigCommerce uses “catalog”, not catalogs, in its free ecommerce RFP template. Salesforce can run multiple catalogs and multiple stores; however, only one catalog per store and the pricing escalates as more web-stores are added to the ecosystem, requiring more Salesforce “realms”.
3. How is account-based-pricing managed within the ecommerce platform?
A common requirement for B2B ecommerce is account based pricing. Many traditional B2C platforms that have suddenly become B2B platforms insist that account based pricing must only come from API calls to the ERP. This is because these platforms do not support the data structure to allow for price lists to be stored within the ecommerce platform.
Some additional questions to explore:
- What if the ERP is offline or has latency issues? This is why serious B2B ecommerce platforms allow for real-time AND batch pricing files as well as retry-mechanisms for failed calls.
- Why is a B2B platform developed in PHP (or any non-compiled language) if API calls and performance matter?
Final sniff test. Compliment the sales crew of the ecommerce platform on how many great retailers and consumer brands are running their platform. If egos are aroused, run!
4. How is data pulled in and out of an ERP and other existing business systems?
While no buyer cares which ERP platform a manufacturer or distributor is running, the data in the ERP is crucial for B2B ecommerce. The goal of asking this question is to uncover the “how”, i.e. the level of extensibility offered by the ecommerce platform. Can the platform easily integrate with an ERP, third party PIM system or CRM? Feeding the ecommerce platform with product and customer information is the stepping stone for customer experience. The accessibility of data across business systems also solves business process challenges.
“We have a long list of integration partners” should sound an alarm. A sharp, loud, painful alarm.
5. How does the sales team access the ecommerce platform to support customers and gather data?
“[Sales] people are still the [No. 1] most effective way to drive demand to an ecommerce channel,” according to a recent Distribution Strategy Group report. This demonstrates that sales teams need access to the ecommerce platform. Providing sales people access to sales data - both online and offline - is true sales enablement. The Challenger Sale is the new role of sales people. Customer data combined with enabling sales people and CSRs to manage orders, order on-behalf-of, and impersonate customers while shopping, saves time and adds value to the relationship.
Data gets better sales results than a 4-hour drive across the state to a non-qualified prospect. Just ask how.