Any B2B company -- whether operating a simple eCommerce store, client portal or combination of the two -- needs to captivate and compel its audience with personalized features, easy, mobile-optimized ordering and user-friendly architecture. In short, supplying a better customer experience is what's required to land new customers and foster loyalty among established B2B buyers. The business-to-business buying process is more complicated than selling to consumers, but B2B customers want B2C-type shipping integrations, personalized displays, drop shipping and split shipping, detailed specs and information on products and up-to-date inventory figures in a seamless ordering process. That's why ERP integrations are so critical to deliver real-time information, speed ordering fulfillment, connect customers with third-party resources and automate many B2B processes such as getting custom price quotations, configuring special products and orders and managing complex shipping requirements. ERP or back-office core features and customizations are the engines that can make an eCommerce platform effective and customer-friendly or limit a business to customers who don't mind waiting for updates or occasionally not getting their orders placed within budget or time constraints. That sounds funny when expressed in this way, but it's exactly what happens when online ordering isn't backed up with integrated business processes, automatic updates and ERP customizations.
Benefits of strong ERP integrations
Strong ERP integrations automate most business processes to eliminate mistakes, reduce the need for duplicate entries, update inventory figures across multiple sales channels in real-time and provide complete product information based on each customer's needs, stakeholders, decision-makers and B2B ordering process. Without strong ERP integrations to back-office operating software, customers could face ordering delays, incorrect inventory figures, inaccurate delivery dates and incorrect or missing product specifications. The benefits of strong ERP integrations include:
- Streamlining synchronization and providing accurate, real-time inventory information directly to customers
- Notifying customers when products are shipped and allowing them to track their deliveries
- Managing complex pricing tiers, special order pricing and custom quotes
- Ensuring that each client gets a personalized display that's consistent across multiple channels and devices
- Meeting tax requirements automatically
- Calculating sales taxes, customs and duties accurately for each jurisdiction where products are shipped
- Personalizing UIs and UXs based on customer segmentation and the devices customers use to access the website
It's important to integrate back-office data and mobile-optimize websites so that customers can browse catalogs, read reviews, access white papers and consult their company records no matter which device they use to access the Internet. A Forrester study found that 52 percent of business buyers research products on phones, so it's important to supply them with intuitive features that connect to back-office software. Customer experiences suffer when decision-makers fail to integrate their ERP systems. The cost-value benefits of increased conversions and more retained customers and new customers easily justify the development costs without even considering the increased internal efficiencies that can save on business processes, prevent inventory losses and reduce staffing expenses.
Delivering better customer experiences
ERP integrations allow companies to reduce the time they spend on manual processes such as entering orders, updating inventory, processing new customers and managing complex shipping data. Customers can easily access their own ordering histories, add multiple delivery addresses for split shipping to associated retail stores, track their shipments and liaise with third-party shipping companies to arrange complex global shipments. Customers are happier because they can manage their orders from customized displays on their smartphones, receive regular updates on the progress of their orders and manage their tax requirements and customs and duties for international shipping without a hitch, which ensure faster order fulfillment, fewer errors and an all-round better customer experience. ERP software adoption is growing globally and not just in the United States and other key financial markets. About 36 percent of European Union enterprises were using ERP software in 2015, which represents a 15 percent increase since 2010. Better ERP integrations globally put increased pressure on B2B organizations to match or exceed what global customers can get from their local suppliers.
Building sales leads and developing customer profiles
ERP integrations allow enterprise-level eCommerce companies to find, qualify and nurture sales leads and segment customers based on various criteria. Increased personalization is the hallmark of forward-thinking companies, and custom ERP integrations can automatically collect, collate and assign values to customer behavior benchmarks that allow for greater personalization of content, customized Web displays and landing page options that answer questions and solve customer problems proactively. ERP integrations can also unite disparate or fragmented business processes such as qualifying customers for in-house accounts or credit terms and personalizing displays for customers based on data from multiple channels of business intelligence. For example, companies often use different criteria than a bank or loan company when qualifying customers, and documentation about credit history, business experience, risk analyses and potential business benefits of increased ordering power could involve getting information from multiple channels and processes. All this fragmented data needs to be integrated properly to make an informed decision. The same is true about collecting BI for customer segmentation. ERP integrations can automate these tasks, integrate information according to preset criteria and bring in staff involvement when needed.
Automating internal processes
Optimizing internal processes can generate astonishing revenue by eliminating repetitive tasks, enabling more customer self-service options, reducing back-office support services and virtually eliminating errors. In fact, a Forrester Research study found that 48 percent of companies ranked their eCommerce platform as their most important business investment primarily based on the potential for internal savings, increased customer revenue and greater user satisfaction. Architecture is critical to automating processes securely, and integrations often need to update old architecture configurations to take advantage of third-party integrations while ensuring security. The previous reference also described a study that found that up to 30 percent of ERP data originates from external sources such as manufacturers, third-party shippers, freight forwarders, supply chain logistics and informational resources. One of the keys to successful ERP integrations is knowing the underlying architecture and updating any configuration that's outdated. A custom service-oriented architecture or SOA is the gold standard of B2B eCommerce platforms, and the best providers and developers offer trained engineers who'll make appropriate suggestions and work with a company's IT staff to deploy a custom SOA solution.
Difficulties of managing a multichannel eCommerce platform
B2B companies are often set in their ways based on traditional purchase order systems, personal negotiations and incentivized salespeople who develop their own accounts and customer relationships. ERP integrations can complement these processes while enabling greater degrees of self-service, which frees staff to pursue other leads. The right customizations can cut communications expenses and automate many customer processes such as delivering buyer-specific catalogs, contract-based pricing, custom searches and automatic approvals for authorized buyers from within each client company. B2B customers increasingly expect high-quality user experiences that match what the buyers receive when they buy products on B2C websites. The difficulties of managing an eCommerce platform without ERP integrations include:
- Customers expect up-to-date product inventories and easy access to their records and ordering histories, but this information often updates slowly across company channels.
- Managing data from different systems, third-party resources, customers and distributors often requires manual processing without ERP integrations.
- Data and BI can come in many forms, but online sales channels usually have their own formats that require manual data redeployment before the data becomes useful.
- A robust, multichannel platform with custom ERP integrations can provide complete control and automation.
- Developers could build their own integrations with custom APIs and the right internal coders, but the process can be expensive, time-consuming and fraught with practical testing and troubleshooting problems.
- The best solution is a robust platform that adjusts to the business and works as an operational hub between customers, staff and B2B stakeholders and the company's ERP, CRM and eCommerce systems.
The robust platform solution
Custom integration delivers so many benefits that it's worth the effort and expense for organizations that really want to develop a modern, world-class eCommerce platform. If you choose a robust operating platform, you'll have less difficulty integrating custom ERP and CRM applications. The best platforms for B2B eCommerce have robust middleware layers that make it easy to connect, integrate and add or remove channels as needed for a truly scalable, modular solution. Choosing a vendor that offers a collaborative development team ensures that your staff gets the right input and training to manage the ERP integrations when they're ready to go live. You can invest in many kinds of software, business applications, mobile marketing initiatives and social media promotions, but your investment in a customizable B2B eCommerce operating platform with a synergistic team of engineers that can make things happen is the wisest long-term speculation that any B2B eCommerce company can make.
-  Handshake.com: 5 eCommerce Trends for B2B Companies to Watch in 2016 handshake.com blog ecommerce-trends-b2b-201
-  EC.Europa.EU: Enterprises making slow progress in adopting ICT for e-business integration ec.europa.eu's E-business_integration
-  GXSInsights.eu:Protecting Mission-Critical Manufacturing Data with an ERP Firewall gxsinsights.eu's firewall_gxs_091009.pdf