eCommerce and Back-Office Integration
It's astonishing how many companies are still working with separate systems for the front and back offices. Front-office features refer to the design, content, images and features that customers routinely see on a company's website and Web pages while back-office processes include ERP and CRM software, inventory management, fulfillment processes, accounting and staff management. Back-office integration--along with front-office integration and automation--delivers improved management efficiencies and better customer experiences by giving each website visitor expanded options for researching products, ordering products and services, customizing orders, viewing account history, searching through past invoices and connecting to third-party resources. Some B2B decision-makers feel that the fast-growing eCommerce market has already maxed out and begun to grow more slowly because incumbent players dominate the landscape, but Gartner Research finds that the B2B market remains dynamic and subject to sustained growth due to innovations that are driven by eCommerce integration.
Forward-thinking businesses have long used digital technology for B2B applications such as Electronic Data Interchanges or EDI, which dates from the 1970s. Early websites might have worked like the bulky car phones that their owners proudly carried to and from their vehicles in the 1980s--cumbersome but functional. Modern B2B solutions allow customers to research products and supply chains, view custom displays on mobile phones, view custom content based on their buying histories and demographic profiles and order complex products in large quantities through self-service automation. Integrating back-office software is critical to all these customer-centric features, but research shows that 36 percent of companies cite conflict between channels and 40 percent complain of difficulties with distribution partners, wholesale customers and franchises that prevent full eCommerce integration.
Optimizing Office Operations and Fostering Greater Staff Productivity
Integrated operating software automates many internal processes, increases customer self-service options and reduces work for the staff so that workers can concentrate on other duties. Custom dashboards simplify monitoring the platform, analyzing customer behavior and managing a broad range of company processes from a single interface. Integrated websites can trigger alerts for various scenarios such as engaging personally with a client, troubleshooting problems and reordering inventory and supplies. Examples of the benefits of integration for internal operations include:
- Producing packing slips, shipping labels and backorder lists
- Maintaining minimum inventory counts with automated reordering or staff alerts
- Managing partial shipments if customers want them
- Generating invoices, marking them paid and emailing them to clients
- Adding sales taxes, customs and duties and other surcharges
- Applying the correct pricing tier for each customer and honoring custom price quotes
- Handling multiple payment options and in-house account billing
- Automating recurring orders and integrating these requirements in maintaining inventory
- Decreasing administrative costs by increasing the speed of order fulfillment, reducing the need for staff involvement and ensuring that information only needs to be entered once
- Bringing together data from multiple sources to speed custom price quotes and manage custom product configurations
- Calculating, printing and mailing statements automatically each month
- Empowering customers to change, amend, cancel and return their orders
- Integrating online and brick-and-mortar sales
- Updating inventory counts from multiple distribution points such as retail sales, outside salespeople, trade shows, distributors and multiple warehouses
Breaking Down Silos
Except in cases of high security, compartmentalization can frustrate staff and customers. Each department tends to develop its own rules and infrastructure, which increases costs, slows communications and generates inefficiencies when additional training becomes necessary for departments to work together or someone from one department pinch hits in a different area. Creating a companywide operating system and culture speeds dealing with customer service issues, using staff for multiple assignments and making the most efficient use of human resources. Software and B2B features can easily be modified to accommodate the company instead of forcing major changes in the way a company operates.
Overcoming Integration Obstacles
Customizations can deal with many barriers to integration such as managing HIPAA compliance, meeting franchise regulations, providing secure third-party access, and protecting financial data while allowing customers full access to key back-office records.
Generating Fully Automated User Experiences
Fully automated platform experiences enable customers to view their records, look for products in past invoices, connect with shippers on the website, calculate customs, find alternative substitutes for out-of-stock items and find more detailed information on any product from existing content or integrated vendor resources. Many customers can manage their accounts without human intervention, and although many older people consider this appalling, younger generations feel empowered by the ability to manage their accounts 24/7. Even though direct engagement might only occur when there's a problem, that doesn't mean that company staff don’t communicate with customers. Emails, text messages, marketing incentives and two-way communications are enhanced by an automated platform. People still communicate in B2B sales; it's just done differently and more efficiently instead of playing phone tag or leaving messages with harried staff members.
Growing B2B Companies with eCommerce Integration
Choosing a development partner that's familiar with all aspects of business-to-business sales and marketing fuels growth and makes reaching new customers and developing new markets easier. Integrating back-office software offers better ways to manage internal and outside business intelligence so that companies can increase customer satisfaction, identify expansion opportunities, manage global sales and shipping and grow business operations organically. Company growth often demands new internal resources and skill sets, but building out a new platform every few years limits growth potential. An integrated platform scales up easily to meet new challenges and opportunities without interrupting regular business operations.
Integrations can handle retail and B2B sales seamlessly and even manage complex operations where salespeople, business associates, affiliate marketers and marketplace venues generate sales and affect inventory levels and how each group of customers is treated. According to Handshake.com, many B2B companies, distributors, wholesalers and manufacturers also sell products on marketplace websites like Amazon, and integrated platform customizations can handle these arrangements seamlessly.
Building a Long-Lasting Platform with Integral Features
If you look at the costs of integration strictly as an investment, the return would outperform any stock. The only comparable scenario with similar cost-value ROIs would be investing in a sure-thing through arcane knowledge of the future such as buying shares of TWA in 1940, McDonald's in 1961, Berkshire Hathaway in 1965 or Microsoft in 1975. However, crystal balls aren't real, but integrating your B2B platform offers this kind of return on your investment. B2B eCommerce is poised for explosive growth over the next decade, so it's critical to position your business to take advantage of this incredible opportunity. Only companies with full back-office integration that provides productive, across-the-board user experiences will make the cut in an increasingly competitive and customer-centric business-to-business sales environment. That's why it's critical to find a collaborative development partner to optimize back-office integration and automate and customize customer, staff and third-party platform features.
 : Solutionsreview.com: Gartner Magic Quadrant for Integration Brokerage: Key Takeaways
 The-future-of-commerce.com: B2B: Facing the omnichannel challenge
 Handshake.com: 5 eCommerce Trends for B2B Companies to Watch in 2016