When a company decides to implement a B2B e-commerce solution, every level of the business organization must be prepared for significant change in its day-to-day activities. Usually, we are talking about traditional companies that have years of experience doing business the classic way, at stores and warehouses. Introducing a new sales channel - in this case, B2B e-commerce - presents challenges for the whole company.
Each element of the company has to adjust to that part of the business, since online sales requires changes and reorganization in every organizational unit in the chain. These changes affect procurement, warehousing, inter-warehouse internal operations, sales, accounting (merchandise and materials), finances, management, marketing, etc. For an online marketplace to be successful in the B2B environment, every organizational unit will have to make adjustments to its own part of the business.
If you implement a B2B e-commerce solution without the understanding and support of every organizational unit in your company, your chances of insufficient success, considerable problems, and even complete failure will be high. The implementation team of such an endeavor must include people from all organizational units of the company. Opening up a B2B marketplace is usually considered to be an IT project, but it's actually much more than that.
Measure thrice, cut once - all in 10 steps
Therefore, careful planning is a prerequisite for the implementation of a successful B2B system. This is what you need to do:
1. Determine the ways in which you currently sell to your business customers. Make a detailed list of all the problems you currently encounter, and honestly answer the question of how you expect to solve them, as well as where you see the possibility of improving your operations.
2. Define the types of merchandise and services that you want to offer via online sales. It has been shown that, initially, due to the problems in organization and logistics that almost always come up, it is easier to start off with only a subset of everything that you normally sell. However, that depends on the type of goods or services that you have to offer.
3. Redefine the selling process, because online sales are quite different from traditional sales. This is often referred in academic circles as the "re-engineering” of business processes. A more down-to-earth way of putting it would be that this just means drawing a diagram of the process that includes all of the above-mentioned elements and organizational units in the company. This will be your foundation in planning the implementation of a B2B solution.
4. Define the means of technical integration with the existing ERP or accounting software, and decide which part of the data will be used in the B2B web shop and which in the ERP. It is especially important to define how orders will be processed and how that information will be forwarded (to the warehouse, to accounting, etc.) Depending on which ERP application you use, it is necessary to let the author/supplier of the application know what operations will be needed in the integration with the B2B application.
5. Choose the external services that will be used. These include, first of all, a payment gateway provider for credit card authorization (that is, if you need and want to offer that option to your customers) and a delivery service provider. You will need to draw up and sign the appropriate contracts with them as well as agree upon the technical means of integration with your B2B application.
6. Define how you will manage merchandise in your warehouse (or warehouses) and decide whether you will have a separate warehouse just for online orders. Each of these approaches has its own challenges and advantages, which you should think over carefully before implementation. This, of course, depends on your type of business, the size of your business entity, and how territorially dispersed it is. If you have only one location and one warehouse, then the process is relatively uncomplicated, but if, for example, you have a store and a warehouse in every major city, then you will need to thoroughly plan how you are going to distribute your goods and deliver them to your customers, and that data has to be tracked by your B2B application.
7. Just as in B2C commerce, it is very important to have well-described products with correct and precise information, quality photographs, and accompanying materials such as directions, brochures, technical documentation, and the like. All of this must be ready and prepared before the actual realization of the B2B system.
8. One of the obstacles to the implementation of such systems can also be pushback you’re your sales department, because those employees usually fear losing their jobs. But if all the preparations are done well, then you can present the change in the right way, by explaining to them that, instead of calling, faxing, and sending countless emails to customers, etc., they will be able to dedicate much more time to nurturing good relations with customers and finding ways to sell more. A considerable part of the work connected with ordering goods and services is thus passed on to the customer, who, with the help of the B2B application, find what they need and order it all on their own, and in general have very little need for telephone calls and dealing with the vendor's salespeople. This in turn makes life easier for people in sales and frees up their time, enabling them to dedicate themselves to increasing sales and finding new customers. You might also have to change your rewarding structure for sales personnel.
9. If you offer customers the possibility of picking up their merchandise on their own, you will need to determine all the pickup locations/warehouses/stores, as well as how this will be organized as compared to a traditional store. But just as important is how the managers of those warehouses or stores will be remunerated if the customer buys the merchandise via the B2B system but picks it at the store or warehouse. This is another point of potential pushback within the company, so it will have to be clearly defined and prepared ahead of time.
10. Ensure that the channels of communication with customers are simple, via prepared forms for requesting information, filing complaints, requesting repairs, etc., as well as by more-or-less traditional communication channels such as telephone, fax, email, and possibly live chat. This also requires the preparation and organization of work and the delegation of individuals who will be in charge of getting it done.
According to all of the above, the introduction of a B2B online marketplace is a process that requires thorough organizational preparation and thorough planning, which we well know from our experience on big e-commerce projects such as was the web shop for Greenseeker, for example.
Just as with B2C commerce, the implementation of a B2B IT solution is only a part of the overall expense that you should expect. The biggest expense will go towards the planning and preparations and the reorganization of work, as well as the adjustment of all elements of the business system for supporting this type of sales and customer relations.
A special challenge will be communications with customers, both current ones and new ones whom you are still planning to win over. Not only do you have to find them, but you will have keep them, and - over time - attempt to increase traffic and profitability. Not only are sales important for this segment of the business, but also marketing, as well as operations management. But these are topics which fall outside the framework of this text.
Oh man . . . should we do it?
The answer is simple. Yes. Where have you been till now? All indicators and trends show that not only is online commerce growing, but the expectations of business customers are such that, without this way of doing business, it will be difficult to compete in the long run and survive on the market.
If all of the things mentioned above seem complicated to you at first sight and you don’t know where to start, then contact us. We can help you to plan and implement a successful B2B online marketplace. We have years of experience in this field.