Back-Office Custom Features Drive Versatile Business Goals

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Benefits of Custom Back-Office B2B Features

B2B customers increasingly demand user experiences that mirror B2C website designs and technologies, and the eCommerce landscape evolves constantly with new products, company mergers that introduce separate ERP systems and increased demand for the latest functionality features such as optimized internal searches, greater product-researching capabilities, in-house tools to reduce costs and procurement integrations. Customers demand greater leeway to customize and configure products, connect with third-party suppliers, vendors and company stakeholders, access their records from mobile devices and use intuitive features to place orders. Back-office customizations handle these and many other business initiatives and help to build an enterprise-level eCommerce platform that satisfies multiple business stakeholders.

In-depth studies of targeted B2B focus groups found that customized user functions in B2B websites were the most desired feature of B2B customers and that users from all age groups cited usability as the leading influence in visiting websites and placing B2B orders.[1] Customers felt that B2B sites were substantially less user-friendly than their B2C counterparts, but most respondents were influenced by B2C usability in assessing B2B sites. One comprehensive study on B2B usability found that functionality trumps other considerations and that B2B customers visit websites with specific plans in mind such as finding prices 43 percent of the time, accessing technical details in 38 percent of visits and consulting case studies and white papers in 38 percent of website trips.[2] Anything that distracts visitors from their purposes can cause them to quit the site according to 93 percent of visitors. That's why customizations and buyer segmentation are so important in B2B eCommerce. Key areas for back-office integrations include the following sectors:

1. Superior Inventory Management Through Custom Integrations

B2B Vendors often manage their inventories through Inventory Management, Product Information Management and other back-office applications that include simple spreadsheets and ERP software. A flexible, dynamic eCommerce platform needs to handle inventory from multiple product feeds, purchase orders, brick-and-mortar sales, showroom display needs, sales staff demonstrations and retail sales, if applicable, to update inventory figures, trigger automatic reorders and integrate with customer features to inform them of inventory counts and anticipated restocking and shipping dates.

Centralized control and synchronized updates in real-time are critical and among the most useful of B2B customizations. Customized inventory management consolidates sales orders across an organization, improves productivity, speeds restocking and reduces order-to-cash cycles to improve cash flow and customer service. The benefits that customized inventory management can generate for business include the following advantages:

  • Sharing information through Electronic Data Interchange or EDI protocols
  • Synchronizing data from multiple channels
  • Empowering outside sales staffs with access to real-time inventory figures from their mobile devices
  • Generating custom reports for any combination of products to drive sales efforts
  • Selling products with confidence in meetings, trade shows, sales calls and demonstrations anywhere in the world
  • Recommending personalized product suggestions based on immediate availability

2. B2B Integrations with Third-Party Associates

Developing and implementing associations with third-party service providers and open source applications can help any B2B company build a 360-degree eCommerce platform that's completely scalable, responsive to trends and convenient for collaborations. That's one of the key characteristics that distinguishes a robust platform from out-of-the-box software and B2C applications. These custom integrations can include sales tax formulas for multiple states and countries, shipping integrations with UPS and FedEx and custom features for verifying LTL carriers that ship large equipment and products. Custom integrations can also connect with financial companies like JD Edwards Implementations or HP Financials for B2B companies that have complex back-office accounting needs where intuitive management solutions could foster better efficiency and control of manufacturing processes, industry-specific best practices in accounting and asset-intensive multiple projects.

Back-office customizations facilitate hundreds of B2B customer and associate relationships because everything a business does draws information from company records or is reflected in accounting. However, regular software -- no matter how advanced -- requires businesses to make adjustments. Customizations perform these adjustments automatically within the back-office software’s middleware layer so that B2B operations aren't continually disrupted.


Connecting with Vendors, Suppliers and Distributors

Best practices for B2B platforms involve connecting with as many suppliers, vendors, niche manufacturers and information resources as possible to provide better customer engagement and a greater range of service and product options. Customers can interface directly with these associates when companies routinely and securely exchange information through electronic data exchanges (EDI), API integrations, FTP or REST/SOAP-based Web services and other protocols. Working with a skilled eCommerce platform developer, companies can customize applications using the most beneficial method of directly exchanging information. That enables customers and staff to research products and supplies, supply chains, MSDS information, company backgrounds and other key intelligence for informed decision-making. The benefits of establishing direct, custom connections include:

  • Assigning attributes for internal and external product searches
  • Supporting real-time payment authorizations
  • Configuring product descriptions for catalogs with details like measurements, specifications, features, etc.
  • Enabling customers to conduct their own research
  • Confirming shipping options with one-click efficiency
  • Handling and supporting administrative decisions on bulk pricing, sales discounts and coupon processing
  • Tracking shipping through multiple carriers
  • Getting confirmed information directly for advertising and promotional campaigns
  • Associating multiple shipping addresses to a B2B customer for split-shipping among multiple carriers
  • Managing supply chain visibility, third-party logistics and fluctuating inventory levels at warehouses and distributor locations
  • Estimating inventory and assets more accurately and integrating them into charts of accounts and financial reports to provide a more complete picture of company resources

These examples cover just a few of the options and benefits of connecting with third-party suppliers. No matter how extensive B2B online sales may be, adding automatic third-party connections increases sales and customer satisfaction and generates cost-value benefits. Companies can add customizations like these gradually to suit their business plans and evolving customer buying behaviors.


Installing and/or Integrating with CRMs

B2B customers can easily install or integrate customer relationship management systems into their front- and back-office eCommerce platforms. Many of these systems are open source, but it takes a team of skilled IT developers to integrate CRM software seamlessly with back-office systems. In B2B operations, CRM can be an invaluable tool for hooking into financial systems to track earnings and costs associated with a customer and providing details on leads and sales prospects to predict a prospect's future needs and the appropriate sales strategy to use. B2B companies can install open source CRMs with just a few technical requirements, but what they make of the software depends on their IT teams' skills in integrating and customizing their eCommerce platforms to provide company-specific tools for creating, curating and nurturing customer relationships.


Speeding Payroll Processing and HR Management

Direct connections with third-party payroll services simplify managing staff in multiple jurisdictions and allow workers to on consult employment records, onboard information directly and request employment histories and pay verifications with these payroll processors. Companies can also use this type of custom connection to enable hiring temporary workers and outsource HR functions, which is especially attractive for companies that maintain staff in multiple jurisdictions.


Vetting and Hiring Staff and Investigating Business Associates

Custom back-office integrations accelerate many routine investigations involved with hiring and vetting staff, checking references and conducting business investigations. B2B companies can establish secure connections through dozens of vendors in the cloud for customized and encrypted access to confidential information.


Qualifying Customers for Lines of Credit

Most B2B companies establish complex paying arrangements with their best customers, but any kind of delayed payment could generate substantial losses when companies can’t meet their payment obligations. Custom back-office features could include various ways to run credit checks, monitor customer creditworthiness and bill-paying history and allow new customers to apply for credit and supply vital company information that includes company officers, bank and trade references, bankruptcy history and personal guarantees from the business owners. Decisions to grant credit can be based on standard business credit ratings or credit scores and other considerations like public information, the company's willingness to earn credit and accept late fees and penalties and other factors that B2B companies can establish.

B2B customizations and integrations of third-party resources can empower any organization to generate real-time updates, reconcile and scale business solutions to complex challenges and foster greater visibility of related services to staff and customers. The digital ecosphere offers many open source applications, big data resources, SaaS third-party integrations and other connection opportunities through the API layer of eCommerce platforms, but custom development ensures that everything runs smoothly and aligns with company goals and B2B best practices.

3. Store-Within-a-Store Applications

Emerging thought leaders across all B2B business models understand how important it is to react to market demand, satisfy busy customers who search for products on their mobile devices and take advantage of segmentation to offer special catalog lists and pricing tiers to various sub-groups. Store-within-a-store applications can benefit a range of B2B marketing strategies that include offering more compact catalogs to special segments, promoting branded merchandise separately from in-house or generic brands, creating B2B stores within larger retail operations and satisfying other special marketing and buying needs.

These sub-brands can be used to provide deeper product specs and descriptions, offer special pricing or discounts, trigger automatic sales help with complex orders, include highly customizable products and target distinct subsets of customer groups such as local clients or customers from defined geographic regions. For example, sub-brand stores might sell air conditioning systems in tropical regions and snow-and-ice management products in colder climates.


Enhancing Functionality

Sub-brands allow eCommerce websites to engage their customers at deeper levels, provide special research tools, curate products for increased relevancy, offer personalized services and price products with built-in discounts.


Empowering Vendors

Vendors want to help resellers market and sell their products, but many want more control of how those products are presented, branded and described. B2B websites can deliver better compliance with vendor requirements while creating a better shopping experience for buyers by creating a sub-brand store to market products under an exclusive label with customized store designs and buying features.

4. Separate Client Stores for VIP Customers

Large eCommerce stores often depend on sales to VIP customers, and many of these buyers need higher levels of support than regular customers. VIP customers might need more detailed product research and vendor support services, special lists of preapproved products, custom pricing, flexibility to customize products, products from only name-brand manufacturers or built-in ordering limits constrained by individual store deliveries, budget caps, seasonal boundaries and confidentiality or security-compliance issues.

These special product lists could challenge any B2B operation and its staff to comply with all these special requirements. Back-office customizations can craft special instructions and catalogs or stores-within-stores that only display approved products and limit orders based on customizable guidelines. The companies can still order other products if approved, which often requires approvals from multiple decision-makers. These store customizations can offer the following automatic processes:

  • Providing information on new products to all decision-makers to expedite approvals
  • Limiting catalogs for easier ordering on mobile devices
  • Generating customized screens when customers log-in to the site
  • Displaying special images, features, videos and specifications
  • Automating split-shipping features to multiple customer store locations

Back-office customizations can handle any set of store-within-store instructions and prevent errors in processing, billing, pricing, returns of merchandise and website displays. Custom apps and customer dashboards are other options for customizing VIP customer orders.

5. Choose Your Own Customization

The great thing about a customizable eCommerce platform is that decision-makers can choose from hundreds of common customizations or create something entirely original based on needs and opportunities. The best practices for eCommerce favor custom development that leverages the services of collaborative teams of engineering experts in an increasingly interconnected marketing environment. Changing business processes to accommodate software creates more problems than it solves.

Examples of customizations include offering multilingual support for global customers, customizing RMA or return-merchandise-authorization processing and supporting multicurrency conversions. Some B2B companies want automatic BI or business intelligence reports so that decision-makers never miss important trends or actions taken by their competitors. Other customizations might include social media monitoring, reputation management, service-oriented customizations or tools for monitoring software-as-a-service users and compliance issues for companies that sell SaaS to business customers. Examples of third-party B2B customizations include:

  • Segmenting and profiling customers with advanced techniques
  • Researching intellectual property
  • Configuring custom products
  • Automating price quotations
  • Offering third-party financing
  • Developing custom business apps
  • Extending fulfillment obligations and risks to third-party suppliers and distributors
  • Managing business risks
  • Ensuring regulatory compliance
  • Recruiting participants for usability studies
  • Providing custom access, features and marketing materials to partners, dealers and franchises
  • Managing staff and optimizing HR deployment
  • Reducing waste, inventory shrinkage, theft and fraud at storage and store locations
  • Generating content for blogs, industry websites and social media
  • Preparing advocacy kits to persuade multiple decision-makers involved in buying decisions

One overlooked customization that typically provides real benefits but that B2B marketers hesitate to develop is asking customers for referrals, which seems to discomfort wholesale eCommerce strategists. However, research shows that 83 percent of satisfied B2B customers would be delighted to recommend eCommerce sites if it were easy to do so, but only 29 percent actually do.[3] That's because eCommerce companies don't ask for referrals or make it easy for customers to provide them. A customization that works through financial software and CRM could easily offer customers ways to share referrals and provide incentives for giving them and help B2B companies use those referrals in marketing.

The chances are that any B2B problem, opportunity or operating efficiency can be addressed with a customization or third-party integration. In-house IT teams and development partners can always hash-out the technical coding details of integrations and customizations for any B2B eCommerce business, but a general overview of the steps can prove useful to decision-makers when determining company strategy. The best practices for developing these customizations include the following points:

  • Analyzing the back-office needs and front-office opportunities that customizations can satisfy
  • Determining which B2B document protocol to use such as EDI (Electronic Data Interchange X12), OAGIS (Open Applications Group Integration Specification), UBL (Universal Business Language), HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), HL7 (Health Level 7), EDIFACT (Electronic Data Interchange For Administration, Commerce and Transport) and others
  • Defining the documents and deploying them to metadata
  • Customizing support for partner-specific types of documents
  • Using third-party and open source modules to speed development
  • Bundling Web services to build greater functionality
  • Confirming information that originates from blogs and social media
  • Determining what information need to be loaded in real-time and information that can be loaded asynchronously
  • Testing customizations for errors and performance on multiple computing devices

Custom development -- while seeming complex and challenging for eCommerce companies -- can actually go smoothly when B2B companies partner with the right teams of engineers. The returns from customizations and third-party integrations can be enormous Best practices for customizing back-office software include collaborating with outside teams and using Web resources. As company needs and B2B trends evolve, websites might need upgrades, new iterations or new customizations, but working carefully with a trusted development partner to develop custom back-office features, front-end integrations and external connections can accelerate the process by identifying these needs and opportunities proactively. Choosing a robust and customizable B2B platform also facilitates the process of customizing back-office features, upgrading them and making any indicated changes.

Expert Back-Office Development Tips from B2B eCommerce & Integrations

Our experts at B2B eCommerce & Integrations understand eCommerce software applications from the front-end to the back of the house and are ideally positioned to work with your IT team to install, configure, integrate and troubleshoot customized back-office features that match your company's business model and operating processes. The beauty of having a customizable platform is that it's scalable so that you can add the features you want as needed or practical for budgetary reasons. Whether you need special management features for sub-brands, synchronization with shippers or other outside associates, exclusive catalogs and prices for VIP customers or differentiated management of product information or inventory, our team brings collaborative skills to the process of integrating custom back-office functions into your eCommerce platform. We can help you integrate CRM solutions, SaaS applications, local IT resources, distribution channels, retail or business store operations and supplier and vendor connections as needed. Call or contact B2B eCommerce & Integrations today to see how we can collaborate with your IT staff to code customized features to empower your business and customers.


 

References:

[1] NNGgroup.com: B2B Usability www.nngroup.com

[2] Huffindustrialmarketing.com: 2014 B2B Web Usability Report: What B2B Buyers Want from Vendor Websites www.huffindustrialmarketing.com

[3] Influitive.com: 5 Referral Program Ideas For Driving More B2B Leads influitive.com