Top 10 Things that are Easier in B2B Manufacturer eCommerce Today vs 10 Years Ago
B2B eCommerce for Manufacturers
If you’re a manufacturer thinking about adding B2B commerce, there has never been a better time to take the plunge. We’ve been building B2B commerce sites on Magento for well over a decade, and it’s gotten easier by the year.
Have you heard of “leapfrogging” in technology? It’s typically used in the context of developing countries, for example, like when they skip the whole 100-year history of the landline telephone experience and go straight to 5G WiFi.
If your company has been on the sidelines of the eCommerce revolution over the last 20 years, then you are in luck. Millions of businesses before you have been hard at work pushing B2B commerce forward so you get to stand on their shoulders and enjoy the big improvements made in the platforms.
It has gotten significantly easier to build commerce platforms that are tightly integrated, easy to maintain, and focused on your customer.
B2B manufacturers have a number of great reasons to add an integrated commerce website for their customers. A few of the top reasons we hear include:
- While your sales team may realize that 10 big clients are easier to manage than 100 small ones, you don’t want to lose those small-but-great clients. Instead, you can use an eCommerce site to consolidate a fragmented market of small suppliers.
- You’re ready to move on from order sheets. They are easily replicated and much easier for your customer if they’re available in an eCommerce site.
- You want to help inform buyers. Sales teams close business faster if they are curating and positioning your products for customers — not explaining product line basics.
There are many additional reasons to launch the commerce side of your business if you’re a manufacturer. Probably the most important reason is that your customers expect to be able to place orders online.
What’s gotten easier for manufacturers entering eCommerce in the last decade?
- The depth of experience and understanding (of commerce platforms mainly) of the B2B customer and their buying process. You don’t have to use a B2C commerce platform and bend it to work for B2B.
- The centering around “accounts” instead of individual customers. The tools make it easy to assign an account owner or lead customer, who then organize the pool of folks at their company who need to make purchases.
- A standard feature allowing accounts to add products to their cart then submit that as a quote to sales for followup.
- The ability to buy on terms, PO, and other payment methods as a standard feature.
- Having B2B and B2C on the same commerce platform, but with the B2B tools you need to address those customer differences.
- The addition of dynamic account-level, or even customer-level, pricing and delivery methods. It is standard feature to have a unique catalog per account rather than one company-wide catalog.
- APIs have gotten SO much better, allowing integrations to be faster to build and much more stable.
- The availability of pre-built connectors has made integrations much simpler — these used to be 100% custom (integrations went from being 40% of our business to 20% (and we couldn’t be happier). There are also businesses who specialize in specific Enterprise Resource Planning Systems (ERPs) that help make integrations faster.
- The introduction of recurring orders — like requisition lists — as a stock feature, as well as support for subscriptions. These are great for replenishment.
- Marketplace support is here, meaning you don’t need to hold all inventory or set up dropshipping from key manufacturers.
What’s become more difficult?
- The expectation for brands —yes, even manufacturers— to have a professional-looking website. People do not trust ugly websites. You’ll need to keep your website looking fresh and will also have to invest a bit in design / user experience (UX).
- The pressure to do eCommerce. Some sales are so complex, high touch, and driven by relationships, that trying to replicate that experience online isn’t the right choice. It’s important to recognize that not all aspects of your business will translate online and become self-service.
- We used to hear concerns about eCommerce cannibalizing a sales team channel, or stepping on a dealer or distributor’s toes. We rarely hear that anymore, as eCommerce direct from the manufacturer became commonplace and those concerns didn’t pan out.
What’s still the same?
- Sales teams still prefer enterprise sales (A single $1 million sale is easier to focus on, instead of 100 individual sales of $10,000 each).
- Many wholesale customers still want to speak with you, so you’re going to have to pick up the phone.
- When it comes to cost, it’s basically the same price to build a good B2B site today as it was a decade ago, but the tools have improved and customer experience is significantly better.
- It’s a representation of your brand — your B2B manufacturing store shouldn’t be an embarrassment to the company. Spend a little more to get clear messaging and a clean, but simple, user experience.
Words of advice for the future
- Don’t get sucked into fads such as automation, AI, 3-D printing, machine learning, blockchain, and so on. While these are all cool technologies, you should keep in mind that what’s next for B2B is going to be much more pragmatic (such as basic, well-done UX and integrations).
- Watch for continued improvements to dynamic, customer-level pricing. This is here now, but it will get better and better.
- Do your homework before diving into “build on demand” and “print on demand” to make sure your web operations (WebOps) can support it (it’s still somewhat difficult to do).
- Look for opportunities to streamline hybrid sales processes, such as when a customer starts online but then engages with a representative to complete the order. So it transitions from the web to sales in a single process.
- Know that buyers — especially as you are talking about millennials and Generation Z customers — expect solid online experiences. They are not just “very comfortable” online, but increasingly “strongly prefer” purchasing online.
Ultimately, whether you get into eCommerce or not should come down to whether or not it’s the right fit for your company and customers. If you manufacture something like airplane parts and have four customers, you’d probably be better off with a nicely curated online catalog and your sales team.
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