Picking the right B2B eCommerce platform for your company requires an understanding of the products available, careful and diligent research.
Sales value and volume for B2B eCommerce continues to eclipse B2C eCommerce. Amazon Business is expected to top $52 billion in sales by 2023, and global B2B sales are expected to exceed $6.5 trillion this year.
There’s money to be made in online sales. But to make eCommerce work for your business, the platform you choose must conform to how you do business and not the other way around.
With the growing number of B2B eCommerce sales comes a flood of new platform products to the market. Deciding which solution is best for your business isn’t easy, and comparing products can be difficult.
To make a complicated process more manageable, here’s a primer on what to look for in a B2B eCommerce platform and some suggestions to help you choose the right solution to fit your company.
Start with the Type of Deployment
The first decision you’ll need to make is what type of deployment will work best for your company. Like deploying soldiers to the battlefield, you’ve got to use your software to interact with customers via the internet. There are two ways to approach this: on-premise and in the cloud.
This has been the traditional way to handle eCommerce platforms. The solution is installed on a server that is literally located in your facilities, and your company’s firewall protects it. Like a secure fortress, the code is under complete control of your company or contractors to whom you allow access. When you use an on-premise method of deployment, you generally pay for a license to use it or purchase the software outright.
The method is only as secure as your facilities and the internal security measures developed by your IT staff. With an on-premise deployment, you need to purchase the computing capacity and storage to handle today’s environment and adequate room for expansion.
- The greater level of customization possible
- More control over the security
- Doesn’t require internet to access your data (the internet still needed to make sales)
- Can be more expensive, depending on the hardware and software you must purchase
- Maintenance responsibility is entirely yours
- May take longer to implement
Cloud-based applications get their name because they appear to reside ethereally in the atmosphere like a cloud. In reality, these solutions are installed remotely on a server and can even be managed by a third party. You access the software using internet connections. One significant advantage of this approach is you only purchase the computing capacity and storage that you need at any given time. Cloud-based solutions scale up and down with your needs, so it’s always “right-sized”.
- Scales up and down with your needs
- Deploys quickly
- May provide better security
- Maintenance is outsourced
- Relies on the internet for access
- May not be as easily customizable
- Over the long-term, monthly costs may exceed the cost of purchasing on-premise solution
Next Look at Type of Code
Whether your B2B eCommerce solution is deployed on-premise or in the cloud, the source code will fall into one of two categories: open-source or proprietary. The nature of these code types is very different and should be carefully considered as you evaluate your options.
With open-source code, there are no trade secrets. The code used to create the application is freely available. You can customize the code yourself or take advantage of code that others have developed. The standards are open as well, so integrating with other solutions is typically straightforward.
- Usually more secure as bugs are fixed faster
- Community support
- Open APIs for easier integration
- Generally lower cost
- Higher risk if the vendor is not well-established
- Less vendor support
- Generally requires skilled users to implement
Proprietary Source Code
Think of proprietary code like a closely held trade secret. The inner workings of the code are not known to the public. These solutions are typically developed with a narrow target market in mind. Your ability to customize the code will be limited unless you employ the vendor to do so.
- Highly stable
- More vendor training available
- User interfaces tend to be more intuitive
- Dependent on vendor
- Limited transparency
- A small community for support
Purpose Built or Repurposed?
This is another primary consideration for B2B eCommerce. Let’s face it, B2B buyers aren’t like B2C buyers even though they want the same easy-to-use experience.
B2B transactions may start as a request for a proposal, generally involve multiple decision-makers, and the same product can be sold to different customers at different prices. You may even sell the same product differently, depending on the market.
B2C transactions are generally a straightforward purchase. Select a product, put it in the cart, checkout, and pay with a credit card. There are no negotiations, no contracts, and no expectation of a continuing relationship. If only B2B transactions were that simple!
If your B2B transactions do not mirror the simplicity of B2C transactions, you will need an eCommerce platform built for B2B eCommerce. For example, OroCommerce allows users to define different roles and responsibilities in purchasing and lets sellers create custom catalogs and price lists for each customer. That’s because it was purpose-built for B2B eCommerce, even though it can support B2C models. Other solutions, such as Shopify, are purpose-built for B2C eCommerce but can be modified for B2B transactions. They are perfect if your B2B transactions are similar to retail sales.
No matter your B2B business model, there are a few functions that are must-haves in a B2B eCommerce platform. Think of these as fundamental building blocks on which to add additional functionality:
PCI DSS Compliance
This one should be easy. Any eCommerce platform that enables you to handle credit card payments must be PCI DSS compliant. All branded cards mandate the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. If you are going to take payment, you must be compliant.
The European Union and the State of California have enacted regulations to safeguard the privacy of digital information. If there’s a chance that someone in the EU or California might look at the content of your webpages, your site must be compliant. Since you can’t control who sees your home page, it’s best to select a platform that complies with these requirements even if you aren’t actively marketing in those markets.
Robust Pricing Engine
Pricing B2B contracts and sales can be complicated. Often different customers pay different negotiated prices for the same item. A robust pricing engine can handle complex pricing rules and automate the pricing process. Never face the embarrassment or loss of revenue from a contract that wasn’t appropriately priced.
User-Defined Roles and Permissions
Adding to the complexity of B2B transactions is the number of people involved in the decision-making and approval process. Buyers may need the approval of managers, and teams may be included in the negotiation process. A platform that allows users (i.e., your customers) to define various roles and permissions makes the purchasing process smoother and conforms to the customer’s internal workflow.
Digitized Order Negotiation
Look for the ability to provide customers a self-serve option even in the negotiation process. The ability to handle a request for quote and quote to cash transactions is key to converting visitors to customers. When you combine digitized order negotiation with a robust pricing engine, you’ll decrease response time while increasing accuracy and customer experience.
Data drives business decisions and informs actions. An eCommerce platform that integrates with your ERP, WMS, PIM, CRM, and other applications prevents data silos. Everyone in the organization has access to a complete picture because data flows freely in an integrated environment. Integration is an essential function.
Of course, you’ll want to consider the total cost of ownership and maintenance costs. Because these vary from vendor to vendor and can even vary within a vendor’s offering, making apples to apple comparisons can be tricky. For example, the license fees for a SaaS offering and an on-premise license will most likely be different.
The total cost of ownership and maintenance includes:
- Costs to acquire and implement the eCommerce platform
- Future upgrades
- Prices for paid customer support
- Per transaction or SKU fees
Using a standard RFQ Template simplifies this process of making these comparisons.
Scalability is essential, so your solution can scale up as your company grows. Will the eCommerce platform handle multiple brands, stores, and verticals on the front-end with one back-end admin panel? Is there a limit to the SKUs, price lists, and custom catalogs you can create? Choose a solution that enables your growth ambitions, not inhibits them.
Finally, you’ll want to consider the availability of solution partners familiar with your choice. This is even more important if implementing an eCommerce strategy is part of a more significant digital transformation.
In a Nutshell
A few years ago, early adopters of B2B eCommerce had few options for selecting their eCommerce platform. These days most major enterprise-level software companies are using the popularity of B2B eCommerce as a springboard for offering some eCommerce solutions.
Picking the right B2B eCommerce platform for your company requires an understanding of the products available, careful and diligent research, a deep understanding of your customer’s needs, and awareness of your company’s future needs.