B2B4B Part 2: Or B2B ECom for Beginners (Part 2)

Ready for Part 2? Our first B2B4B blogpost began with a focus on the big three: the big picture, strategy, and curating what you like. How did it go? If you got confused by the terminology, or had more questions, it's okay. Part 2 will help further explain some of the elements that drive modern digital experiences, as we now focus on data and systems. 

The "Other" Big Picture - Data and the Flow of Information

Data is integral to modern digital experiences: good flow helps buyers more quickly and effectively complete jobs. If you followed our advice in Part 1 and placed an order from your own company, you may have found some friction points. If you did, you're not alone. Frequently, ecommerce or digital commerce websites can stumble when data or internal teams are not aligned.

What data do you gather and use? During a typical Xngage strategy session, we discuss your objectives, and then we help review your data. In particular, what data sources do you have and how are you using them? We don't define all the data sources here, but here are a few that drive modern digital commerce experiences: 

  • Customer data, or accounts that buy from you (often in a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system)
  • Order data, or the transaction records (usually from your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system) 
  • Product data, or detailed information about the products (and solutions) you merchandise and sell
  • Pricing data, or the pricing assigned to accounts or specific account tiers

If these data sources are well integrated, there are less friction points, especially if they are optimized for your ecommerce activities. A review of any of these will uncover gaps. For example, if your product data don't have accurate part numbers and don't align to corresponding fields in pricing data, you may create confusion on a product detail page (PDP.) Make it seamless. Stepping back to see the quality of the data and how well they are connected is not just the role of IT, but the role of a larger, integrated ecommerce team. 

Is your ecommerce team well aligned?  Good B2B order management synchronizes departments and roles within a B2B wholesaler or distributor.  Examples of integrated teams might include:

  • Product Management, Marketing and Account Management to effectively merchandise an assortment 
  • Finance, Pricing and Sales to authorize credit or to approve purchase orders
  • Operations, Shipping and Customer Service to properly fulfill an order

If data flow properly, but teams are not well synchronized, your customers may experience friction. Your B2B website can be the tool that brings departments together. When a company website is also its go-to collaboration tool, your customer service representatives can do order lookups and your product management team can answer live chat questions. Under this scenario, everyone wins.  Data and people are well harmonized in service of customers. 

The Process and Systems that Leverage Your Data

In a previous blog we illustrated the value of good digital strategy (read here) and outlined some of the systems that should be part of a modern technology stack. We'll get to the specifics, but first we offer a recommended process that helps you to select the right technology at the right time

Objectives > Strategy > Metrics > Use Cases > Technology

By knowing the objectives of your company or channel, and employing the "how" or strategy, and what you will need to measure, your technology investment will better match your needs. No one wants to overpay for services you don't need or that don't fit your business type. Take a moment to consider what value your technology must deliver, starting with "use cases" or the jobs your technology needs to do. One example may be "creating a bill of materials." If you don't know where to start, that's okay, and integration partners like Xngage can help you through this process. 

Once you feel confident you have a handle on these process elements, THEN it's time to look at technology for your B2B ecommerce website. Keep in mind that you should consult vendors who are well-versed in the needs of B2B digital commerce, not ones with just business-to-consumer (B2C) experience who may retrofit their systems, thereby limiting the potential of B2B digital experiences. 

The elements that typically make up a modern digital technical stack for B2B digital commerce include: 

  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Platforms (with an Order Management System)
  • Commerce Platforms or Systems
  • Content Management Systems
  • Product Information Management Systems
  • Digital Asset Management (DAM) Systems
  • eProcurement and Punchout
  • Plug-ins, like chat services
  • Analytics capture, reporting and visualization

For beginners, focus on the first two: an ERP and a B2B-focused commerce system. Companies that are early in their digital maturity, e.g., ones with limited or no B2B ecommerce capabilities, need a capable two-part system that enables easy order management and reporting. Many ERP systems offer "bolt-on storefronts" to help make the job of the IT department easier, but often B2B companies outgrow this basic integration quickly. We recommend working with B2B-focused commerce platform partners that know complex ERP systems AND can advise on a commerce system that fits your unique B2B needs. Their systems also offer extendibility into (and integrations with) the other technology stack options that gain importance as your ecommerce channel grows.

What is a commerce platform? It is a digital product that supports business applications for services like transactional ecommerce. It houses online catalogs (sometimes inventoried in multiple warehouses), contains workflows and approval processes, and creates a back end for harmonizing multiple websites. You can do ecommerce without one but will have significantly less flexibility. The investment in a proper B2B commerce platform is core to the digital commerce experiences that buyers want. 

Hopefully B2B4B Part 2 has shed some insights on data flow, and the keys to your modern digital tech stack. As you continue to grow in your ecommerce experience, feel free to leave comments below letting other readers know your tips for success. As a learning community, we all benefit when we help improve the knowledge of B2B ecommerce. That's digital commerce success. 


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