B2B customers of today expect the same seamless experience and convenience as consumers. If they want to be successful, business sellers need to anticipate their needs and offer tailored solutions. Ultimately, that results in complex B2B eCommerce project requirements.
Why is B2B eCommerce Different?
B2B eCommerce is more than just an online transaction. It involves selling complex products and services stretching over a longer time frame. Customer journeys are equally complex, involving numerous decision-makers and approvals. A single purchase can also require extensive product information (e.g. technical data sheets), more behind-the-scenes planning or product configuration, allowing customers to order and re-order, track and trace, or find replacement parts. With digital commerce, you can also hyper-personalize upsells or offer additional service levels.
If It’s So Complex, Where Do You Start?
Even though you can reuse many eCommerce strategies and best practices from B2C, every B2B business is unique depending on the industry, type of products and services, regulations, etc. By far the most challenging task for organizations is keeping up with accelerating customer expectations.
What customers expect will depend on the market, the offerings in the market, and what they look for in a digital experience. Then there’s their level of digital literacy, geographic location, and many other things. Hence, scoping based on a one-size-fits-all approach might miss the mark on important customer expectations and specifics of your business.
To meet your business requirements, it’s important to direct resources and effort into the preparation phase of an eCommerce project. The wrong strategy can lead to wasted time and ballooned costs – particularly if the right course is not set from the beginning.
Take this example: One B2B company did an ABC analysis and identified a large longtail. Each single customer would be too expensive to be managed by an account manager or salesperson, but overall, the longtail generated sustainable revenue. Thus, they tailored their B2B eCommerce to this customer group. For another B2B company this would spell disaster. Their most strategic and important customers demanded more attention and support for successful digital transformation. Both companies implemented a B2B eCommerce system; both reused many of the same features; both customized a few special features relevant for their customer base. Despite minor customizations, these solutions looked totally different. An identical B2B eCommerce solution would have been a failure for both.
Starting with eCommerce is a complex task involving many stakeholders of your organization. They all have to work together across traditional functional units. As a first step, they must align on clear goals, to define how eCommerce contributes to the strategy and the overall customer experience.
This is called the Discovery phase.
On the one hand, it is essential to understand the customer & market perspective, and on the other, to adequately address internal stakeholder requirements (sales, product, etc.)
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What do customers expect based on their experience with your competition, the market, from their B2C experience (e.g. Amazon, WhatsApp, …)?
- What challenges do they face when doing business with you or in your industry in general?
- What would excite them based on global trends, behavior they aren’t aware of, etc.?
- What are your internal requirements, restrictions, and dependencies?
- What are the key drivers, partners, and channels of your business?
This phase will give you an overall understanding of the needs from an internal and external perspective, which will help generate a long-term vision of the eCommerce experience. To achieve this vision, you need to develop a strategy that allows you to apply your specific requirements and best practices to enable a short time-to-market.
To avoid getting lost in the competition, a central differentiation feature specific to your company’s business should be deliberately identified and emphasized, e.g. in a press release.
Now the Prototyping and Validation of the collected ideas can start.
Equipped with a deep understanding of the business, market, and customers, you’re ready to design your solution. The solution should be first released as a prototype to determine how to best meet business goals and customer expectations. Here, it’s critical to focus on not necessarily the biggest – but the most unique feature or component. Select something that’s specific to your business and customers – it will help you determine the complexity and feasibility of this solution. That’s because scoping best practices is much easier for a development team than focussing on one particular requirement.
Another benefit of prototyping – it lets you test your assumptions and concepts with customers before writing any code. Based on feedback from customer interviews and various experiments, you can alter your prototype with little effort. When you can iterate and adjust, you maximize the chances that your strategy will be successful in the long term and the right eCommerce experience is delivered. Once you have a clear understanding of individual requirements and customer feedback, detailed concepts, designs, and a technical architecture can be developed.
This is the basis for the last phase of the preparation, the Itemization phase. This phase is crucial for ramping up a development team. You create a backlog of tasks derived from the detailed requirements. Based on that, you can first create the first essential templates and then document your basic design elements in a design system. With this at hand, an implementation partner will give detailed estimations about the time and cost for the final scoping of the project. Here, potential challenges and complexities can be ironed out before implementation planning starts (we call this inception with the development team).
The implementation itself usually happens in agile sprints, starting with the technical foundation and addressing basic customer expectations. For one company this might be the possibility to login, view order history, and download invoices, for others it might be the possibility to review product information. The goal is the same – to deliver value to your customers as quickly as possible. Therefore, starting small beats being stuck with a year-long development project.
Conclusion: Preparation is Key to Success
B2B eCommerce is more individual and specific to your business, product, and customer base. Instead of starting with a one size fits all approach, put in the effort to find out the baseline you have to deliver. Determine what exactly will resonate with your customers – which at the end of the day, will make your eCommerce project a success.
DieProduktMacher GmbH is a digital solutions service provider with a mission to create digital experiences that drive growth and generate added value for businesses. Since its founding in 2012, the company has developed digital product experiences that strengthen supplier and customer relationships – from idea through development to implementation.
ProduktMacher, just like Oro, understands how important it is for B2B businesses to deliver the right eCommerce experience to their customers. We also share the same passion for innovation, driving growth, and digital transformation for B2B businesses.