I've been working with warehouse and distribution businesses for the better part of three decades, and I've seen businesses and the business landscape evolve over time. But one thing that has been slow to change is how B2B businesses utilise technology.
While B2C customers are getting the cutting edge of online shopping technology and connectivity - such as "buy now, pay later" services - it seems that many B2B businesses are struggling to catch up. And this is costing them.
As we hurtle towards a predominantly online world, how can you start improving your online and ecommerce services - and should you if you're in B2B?
Do B2B businesses really need ecommerce functionality?
It's common for B2B relationships to be formed through mutual connections and for transactions to be conducted over phone or email. But this is changing as those who grew up never knowing a world without the internet and mobile devices starts dominating the ranks of business, as well as a reliance on technology grows.
It's clear that B2B businesses without functioning websites and ecommerce capabilities are losing out on:
- New customers - in 2023, customers don't have the time, nor the inclination, to call a vendor up to discuss their needs or ask about products (plus, 44% of millennials prefer no sales rep interaction in B2B settings). Most of them are now accustomed to searching for products online as their only method of shopping, and they'll be buying from the businesses that provide a great online experience, not the ones that require them to phone up.
- Efficiency - as businesses grow and scale, manual data entry becomes a burden and impacts future growth. It can take countless hours each week to take orders over the phone, update stock information, create sales orders, and edit spreadsheets - and the potential for errors keeps growing.
- Cost-savings - customer service doesn't come cheap. Whether it's paying the salaries of multiple sales reps or business owners losing precious hours dealing with customer enquiries, solutions like robust FAQ pages or chatbots make it far more cost-effective to answer enquiries and help customers move through their sales journey.
What else will be changing for B2B businesses?
In addition to these points, our world is becoming more reliant on technology. It's no longer an option for businesses to have a completely offline system. In Australia, for example, payroll now must be done online.
The has meant that businesses are forced to move some of their functionality online - but not all of it. This results in disjointed processes and systems that increase the potential for errors and create information siloes between various departments of the business.
The way we service our customers will continue changing. The digital world provides a wealth of tools that can make the experiences for both businesses and consumers easier, better, and more efficient. So, what should you be doing to improve your ecommerce functions?
Tools to improve B2B ecommerce functionality
For many businesses, setting up a website is a great start. Much more than just one page that functions as an online business card, a website needs to tell consumers who you are, what you do, how to contact you, and showcase your products or services.
The next steps for B2B businesses that sell products is to improve their ecommerce functions. There are multiple tools that enable online and optimise selling:
Online shopping carts
These are tools like WooCommerce, Shopify, SQUARE, and Magento that provide you with an online shopfront, selling functionality, and backend tools like inventory and fulfillment management. The benefit for many of these is that they're widely used and can integrate with a wide range of websites and other business tools.
While online shopping carts are a great basic, many businesses find that they're just another system or overhead to add to the already complex mix of their online payroll and project management tools.
This is why the next step up is an ERP, which becomes the central repository of your business. An ERP can eliminate many of these disparate systems because it already comes with most of them. The ERP can also act as a front of house for your website, with no need to change anything in both the ERP and the website backend. It can be done in just the ERP.
One ERP that we recommend is SAP Business One - this is created specifically for growing B2B businesses and provides the best experience and functionality out of all competitors.
For many businesses, their website, ecommerce, and ERP will all sit separately - but they still need to be connected. Without integrations, the previous challenge of manual data entry returns.
If you choose SAP B1 as your ERP, the integrator we recommend is Alluvia, which provides an out of the box connector that can be customised. While many of these integration tools exist on the market, Alluvia gives you a choice on what you want to connect and doesn't charge for more than what you're using.
Sell more and sell better with optimised ecommerce processes
Based on my experience with warehousing and distribution businesses, I estimate that only a quarter have some sort of ecommerce functionality. This means that those that do optimise will stand out amongst competitors.
But this isn’t the only benefit to optimising your website and ecommerce capabilities brings:
- Improved reputation - with customers no longer being forgiving of poor websites, your reputation is at stake. Providing a great online experience improves retention, loyalty, and sales - and makes it far easier for customers to find you.
- Closer customer relationships - it's vital to know who's searching for your services or shopping with you. A website allows you to track your visitors, analyse their behaviours, and form relationships with them. Your ERP will also have a CRM so you can continue building relationships and personalising client interactions - all without added effort.
- Successful remarketing - marketing is difficult and time-consuming for most businesses, but websites make it much easier to do so. You can remarket to your visitors to improve your conversion rates and reduce abandoned carts - all by using tracking pixels from all major social networks (like LinkedIn) that can be integrated with your site.
- Increased efficiency - it goes without saying that having one central repository of information and data makes running a business more efficient and reduces errors. But it also makes it easier for you to work with suppliers - purchase orders and other real-time information can be shared with them so they can improve the speed of your order.
While it can be daunting to take the first step to optimising your processes, it's one that needs to be taken sooner rather than later. My team has been helping growing B2B businesses do this for two decades and can provide you with the right advice and tools to make the process easier and quicker.
If you'd like to discuss your needs, you can contact us here for a chat.