Core Business Features Define eCommerce Capabilities

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Functionality in B2B eCommerce websites depends on subsets of core and custom features, back-office tools, user interfaces, and even design considerations that affect what viewers see when they visit a website. Regardless of software platform, certain core business features are essential for highly functional B2B eCommerce websites, but how companies handle the various duties these features perform can determine success in competitive markets and impact every area of business operations. That's why it's critical to choose an operating platform where core business functions can be customized to specific industries and B2B models to foster greater functionality, appealing and intuitive interfaces for stakeholders, better communications and greater abilities to manage and monitor eCommerce operations throughout the buying and shipping cycles.

 

Addressing the B2B User Experience

Most people have shopped at Amazon or eBay and understand how convenient the buying process is at B2C eCommerce websites where the user experience or UX trumps every aspect of the business process. Although the B2B process differs in many ways, smart decision-makers in business-to-business marketing understand that the user experience is critical and not just for customers but for business collaborations, distributor efficiency, lead generation and important internal processes. The user experience provides astonishing insights into customer behavior and facilitates an amazing array of automatic processes and collaborative business efforts. A great user experience includes providing equivalent functions no matter which devices customers use to access the sites.

Google reports that 75 percent of Internet users prefer mobile-friendly sites -- including B2B customers -- and 96 percent have found sites that didn't function well on mobile devices. About 74 percent of people who visit mobile-friendly websites indicate that they're more likely to return, and 63 percent are more inclined to buy.[1]

Many B2B companies underestimate the value of the user experience because of the ways that B2B marketing differs from retail promotion. Some wholesale sites hide their best merchandise and deals as incentives for their biggest and most loyal customers, and others depend on their sales forces, distributors and affiliates to negotiate prices and land deals through tough negotiations. B2B customers seldom buy products through shopping carts, but that's often because the companies want to segment their customers by tracking their journeys through multiple areas of their websites and not because customers won’t order directly from online catalogs.

Those strategies, however, are exactly why UX customizations are so important. The Nielsen Norman Group reports that most B2B websites have less functional and usable websites that tested at a 58-percent success rate versus a 66-percent rate for the average B2C website.[2] Customizing the user experience offers clear cost-value benefits for each B2B company precisely because each business has its own goals and marketing strategy and needs customized features to promote those goals.


Custom Access

Custom access not only allows companies to hide the good stuff but also facilitates offering those same items to preferred customers as soon as they visit the website even on a small-screen mobile device. UX custo-access features and high-level functionality empower customers and stakeholders at different levels by facilitating product research, follow-up support and getting quick answers to questions. Distributors, affiliates and vendors can check key facts, collaborate internally, automate routine processes and manage their work from customized dashboards.


Design Features

Design features work for B2B companies just as powerfully as they do for B2C companies. Most buyers don't place large orders through shopping carts, but some customers might buy at asking price without haggling, so catalog design should include an "Add" button and offer easy ways for new customers to register and customize and process an order instantly. The DMI Design Value Index discovered that the superior design features of B2B companies that spend money on things like creating better UX interfaces caused those companies to outperform the S&P Index by 228 percent over a 10-year period.[3]


Back-Office Integrations

Customizing UX experiences also streamlines internal processes by ensuring that each user's experience automatically updates in real-time based on inventory, pricing, areas visited and availability. Automatic alerts can trigger staff involvement, contact vendors for supplies, initiate product customizations and supply a steady stream of behavioral information that can be used for sales leads, content generation, messaging and other custom tasks.

Analyzing Back-Office Needs

It's important to analyze back-office needs before customizing any software because there are many B2B business models with special needs such as Internet-only sales organizations that only need one-way integration and companies with brick-and-mortar and online sales, which require two-way integration. An example of the special needs of a company that offers brick-and-mortar sales might be the imperative of keeping the store stocked for local customers. Customization can establish the parameters of what's available online and what's not in real-time or when to override the formula to satisfy a valued customer. Regardless of business model, B2B back-office core features fall into four necessary functions: account management, purchase history, sales reporting and invoicing. The incredible array of business applications that these basic functions support include marketing, CRM, vendor management, Human Resources departments, reputation management, risk management, reward and incentive strategies, physical operations, payroll operations and many others.

Fostering Ordering Convenience

One of the greatest benefits of customizing core business features for B2B operations is optimizing fulfillment and ordering. Nothing hurts a business as much as customers having a frustrating experience when placing a big order. Most regular clients reorder often, so it's important to make the process as automatic and painless as possible. Highly functional websites allow customers to look up prices, repeat orders exactly, reorder items from past invoices and check real-time inventory and price quotes. Quotes for custom prices should automatically register for these customers if all the quote’s conditions are met, but it takes a fully integrated system to generate sales staff price commitments without involving human intervention. Customized ordering offers conveniences that make it easy for busy purchasing managers to order from their smartphones. Customers can enjoy the following ordering conveniences:

  • Customized order forms based on each customer’s ordering history
  • Complete access to account information to research products, check inventories, get new estimates or review active price quotations
  • Ability to choose from multiple shipping and split-shipping options
  • Options to get products from a distributor, affiliate or drop-shipping arrangement
  • Support for bulk, repeat and regularly scheduled orders


Generating Multitiered Pricing

An old joke that has so many forms that it's become a meme essentially goes, "What"s the price?" The tagline is, "Where you from?" Different prices for different constituencies is SOP for B2B companies that have resellers, affiliates and distributors that receive one set of tiered prices and their own customers with price histories, which might need to be honored in special cases when customers order directly from company headquarters. Other challenges of multitiered pricing include offering tiered pricing for volume buys, fulfilling price commitments from staff, offering and applying discounts and incentives and even handling complex pricing formulas through proprietary apps and manufacturer and associate links.

The B2B business model is moving away from one supplier selling to many stakeholders toward website platforms where many stakeholders sell products and provide links for customer convenience, and each of these can generate its own complex pricing structure, product catalogs and SKUs. Customization is the only practical way to synchronize all these pricing options and still provide automatic ordering convenience. Customized pricing offers the following conveniences for customers and B2B eCommerce companies:

  • Ability to assign membership levels for customers, distributors and resellers
  • Segmenting audiences for different pricing tiers
  • Applying discounts and incentives
  • Updating prices in real-time quickly and universally
  • Honoring commitments made by staff, affiliates and distributors
  • Offering special prices for linked associates
  • Rewarding loyalty with price incentives
  • Managing store-within-store pricing
  • Pricing products in global marketplaces where supply and demand forces vary

Fair pricing remains a fluid and malleable concept in the B2B industry, and decision-makers who want to build strong websites capable of managing complex multitered pricing models need to customize their software accordingly.

Warehousing Products and Managing the Supply Chain

No two B2B companies -- or even branches of the same company -- move, buy, store and ship products exactly the same way. Out-of-the-box software without customizations simply can't handle all the variables of modern B2B logistics and supply chains. In fact, entire industries and software applications have developed to handle supply chain management, project management and dealing with changes -- both opportunities and setbacks -- caused by rapidly changing conditions in real-time. B2B eCommerce companies need to track inventory closely for availability, check on supplies, estimate fulfillment dates, price custom orders and collaborate with stakeholders and vendors in the supply chain efficiently and quickly.


Tracking Inventory

Keeping track of inventory in critical because it affects many stakeholders including customers who are ready to buy based on availability and those who are considering placing large or regularly scheduled orders. Inventory data can also trigger automatic reorders from suppliers and update information in resellers' and distributors databases' or collaborative dashboards. Dates for resupply depend on vendor supplies, lead times for production, shipping times and other factors like natural disasters that reroute traffic or affect availability of materials.


Choosing the Best Internal Resources

Each large order also generates internal decisions about which warehouses to choose for order fulfillment based on real-time information about their inventories, restocking times, shipping conditions, seasonal demands and other complex logistics considerations. Companies might need to split-ship orders, estimate best-case and worst-case delivery times and provide shipping dates for custom products and fabrications.


Procurement and Sourcing

Each company also needs to manage the links in the supply chain that it owns and to connect with outsourced vendor fulfillment partners and materials suppliers. Managing the process involves ensuring production for internal inventories of products in one or more catalogs, generating and updating sourcing agreements, integrating shipping notices into the operating system, facilitating delivery notifications and managing inspection certificates.


Customer Notifications

Customers today also want to know about company supply chains before placing orders because their own customers have many concerns about the environment, ethical sourcing, manufacturing transparency and sustainability. A fully customized supply chain management feature can provide information to customers directly through the websites and generate notifications when suppliers, vendors or supply chain details change. Customers can look for parts based on serial numbers, study materials and request special fabrications based on supply chain information.

Managing the supply chain requires custom capabilities from eCommerce software. The more advanced and customized the software's capabilities are, the better the customer's experience will be. Few areas of business offer more ways for companies to build customer loyalty than fostering greater product visibility through intuitive software solutions that manage B2B warehousing and product supply chains.


Facilitating Seamless Vendor Fulfillment

Vendor fulfillment generates many challenges for B2B websites. Many eCommerce companies expand their inventories by selling products that they don't actually manufacture or stock and rely on vendor associates, manufacturers, distributors and fulfillment companies to ship these products when orders are received. It's entirely possible to operate a B2B company without stocking any products, but most organizations just supplement their product lines with outside products or additional sources for their regular product lines. These outside vendors ship products directly from their warehouses, so these external supply chains generate website issues that mirror in-house supply chain management.

Orders might require drop-shipping for all or part of an order, and the rest would ship when available based on the outside vendor's inventory and shipping policies. The essential back-and-forth communications necessary to generate seamless experiences for customers benefit directly in proportion to how customized one or both parties' eCommerce software operates. Customers still want to monitor the delivery process and supply chain, and eCommerce companies want fast alerts when problems develop. Limited eCommerce software could aggravate any fulfillment and shipping problems by complicating returns and refunds and generating branding and trust issues when packaging is mislabeled, packing slips are inaccurate and back orders are involved. Customized eCommerce software can mitigate these risks by offering:

  • Better coordination between vendors and eCommerce companies
  • Custom dashboards to manage the process
  • Electronic information-sharing on supply chain information
  • Clearly defined responsibilities for each party that are carefully monitored
  • Ability to leverage each partner's on-boarding processes
  • Automated file integrations
  • Providing a variety of shipping options and ways to monitor them

Customizing software for drop-shipping applications could return strong cost-value benefits to eCommerce companies by allowing them to expand their product lines without the associated costs of manufacturing, warehousing and storing inventory.


Managing Invoices, Billing and Credit

Managing invoices, billing, payments and credit is no longer a standardized process due to proliferating payment options such as digital wallets, direct fund transfers, global payments, in-house credit, purchase orders, currency conversions and credit card transactions. Business customers want quick access to past invoices online to review prices, products ordered, payment histories and account balances. Split-shipping and drop-shipping options further complicate getting a picture of where clients stand.

Large wholesale buyers might receive lines of credit or require EDI access where purchase details are electronically exchanged between ERP systems. Most B2B companies offer more ways to pay for orders than just credit cards, PayPal or checks. Large orders almost always require a purchase order, and some products are tax-exempt while others are taxable when businesses use the supplies and products in their business operations instead of reselling them.

Flexible payment options are increasingly in big demand and managing all these transactions becomes almost impossible without software customizations. Even the best off-the-shelf software won't have built-in functionality for payment options that didn't exist when the software was developed.


Managing House Accounts

Most companies offer their best customers credit terms or flexible payment options, and customized software can handle tasks like registering new customers, generating secure forms for credit applications, running credit checks and authorizing lines of credit.


Quoting Custom Prices

Most B2B companies find that their customers today want greater influence in designing products to satisfy more demanding customers. People don't just buy products based on price but research functionality, materials, safety, environmental concerns and other benchmarks before buying. A robust eCommerce company might have hundreds of customers wanting thousands of custom products and prices. The old way of doing business made pricing these complex orders extremely challenging and often involved consulting executives highly placed on the chain-of-command. Customized software can simplify pricing by automatically drawing data from manufacturing, inventory and the supply chain to facilitate pricing orders for special circumstances.

The right customizations for software applications to facilitate price quotes can increase sales, drive customer satisfaction and simplify the administrative tasks of approving and processing these orders. Custom-pricing software features or back-end integrations of QPC software offer the following B2B benefits:

  • Promote a step-by-step custom-pricing process where every variable is addressed.
  • Guide customers through the quoting process.
  • Provide a range of recommended product customizations or fulfillment options.
  • Connect customers with 2-D and 3-D CAD-imaging tools.
  • Document the process to prevent misunderstandings.
  • Get the latest prices of materials, labor and shipping costs.

Depending on their product lines, niche markets and other variables, decision-makers can customize the standard quoting functions in their eCommerce software or integrate with more complex QPC software to generate a vibrant alternative source of income that promises substantial growth as more business customers demand special products tailored to their needs.


B2B eCommerce & Integrations Offers Tips on Fortifying Core Business Features

Core business features are often taken for granted by B2B decision-makers who still support the older model of building relationships through personal contact, negotiating deals on a case-by-case basis and keeping business strategy confidential. B2B eCommerce & Integrations can help you achieve all your business goals in the way that you like to do business but with modern tools for an evolving B2B customer who demands greater functionality and B2C-type design features. You don't need to sacrifice security or proprietary information by upgrading your core business functions online; you just move your business to a higher level of sales and influence in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Our team of experienced, professional and collaborative engineers can work with your programmers to create a platform that increases conversions, promotes your brand, empowers your stakeholders and delivers an astonishing user experience to each customer and associate. Call or contact us today to see how we can fortify your core business functions with intuitive customizations and integrations that raise your game to a higher playing field.


 

References:

[1] ThinkwithGoogle.com: What Users Want Most From Mobile Sites Today www.thinkwithgoogle.com

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

[3] DMI.org: Design-Driven Companies Outperform S&P by 228% Over Ten Years - The ‘DMI Design Value Index' www.dmi.org