B2B manufacturers and service providers have embraced digital technology to streamline the supply chain and save costs. But that digital transformation hasn’t reached the sales-side of the business.
80% of manufacturers and distributors process orders manually, in spite of the obvious advantages of applying digital technologies such as B2B ecommerce to sales processes.
Sellers may be reluctant to embrace ecommerce because of concerns that it can disrupt traditional B2B sales relationships, that they’ll be unable to compete with retail giants like Amazon, or that the cost of digital transition may outweigh any benefits.
B2B ecommerce doesn’t damage the sales relationship
Traditionally, all B2B sales are channeled through a salesperson, who is responsible for guiding buyers through complex catalogs and secret discount structures. In many ways, this type of sales process is ideal for the business world. Unlike B2C retail, millions of dollars may be involved, and businesses expect one-on-one attention.
But the guidance of an expert salesperson is not incompatible with B2B ecommerce. In fact, the availability of an online catalog with a comprehensive product listing, informative copy, and rich media can be used by salespeople to enhance the sales process.
And, it isn’t necessary to have a salesperson involved in every future order. Once a seller has been vetted and approved, buyers should be able to quickly place new and repeat orders via an interface that integrates with their backend systems.
B2C shows B2B what works and vice versa
Consumers familiar with the B2C ecommerce experience bring the same expectations to procurement in their work hours.
63% percent of B2B retailers are concerned that they can’t offer an experience that matches leading B2C retailers, but that’s not true.
Full-featured ecommerce website software is available to companies of any size, whether it’s open-source applications such as Magento and WooCommerce, SaaS-based providers such as Shopify, BigCommerce or other mid-market to enterprise solutions such as Magento Enterprise, InsiteCommerce, SAP Hybris, Cloudcraze, Oracle ATG and IBM WebSphere.
Alongside ecommerce, an increasing number of B2B buyers expect ecommerce platforms to integrate with their backend management platforms.
In the past, providing punchout was an expensive proposition, but today’s punchout solutions make it straightforward to automate integrations between any number of ecommerce platforms and buyer backends.
Embracing the innovations developed in the B2C market isn’t as challenging as you might think, especially in the case of vertically integrated B2B sellers who control manufacturing, servicing, and ecommerce. In fact, B2B sellers are well-positioned to provide a superior experience by combining their existing expertise in one-on-one sales with the enhanced self-service capabilities that ecommerce and punchout catalogs offer.
Digital transformation should be incremental
Digital transformation for sales is not an all-or-nothing process. Integrated ecommerce facilities can be used in parallel to existing sales processes.
Online sales can augment current processes while providing another sales channel often demanded by an increasing number of buyers.
B2B customers should be transitioned to ecommerce slowly and introduced gradually to the benefits of an online sales platform.
There will always be a need for salespeople in B2B sales, but the introduction of ecommerce can reduce costs through automation, increase sales, and provide buyers with tools that integrate with their existing platforms.
About the Author: Brady Behrman is the CEO and founding partner of PunchOut2Go. As an entrepreneur with experience and proven track record in building technology businesses that focus on client success innovation, Brady’s firm, PunchOut2Go,helps organizations of all sizes around the globe adapt to the ever-evolving, complex B2B Commerce & eProcurement technologies.