Selecting the Right B2B eCommerce Platform Based on Customizable Options

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"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."

Choosing a development partner for building a B2B eCommerce platform isn't the same as buying a car or even a home when comparing features, design, efficiencies and prices can guide the process. The process of choosing a new B2B platform more closely resembles building a custom home that's easy to expand in the future as a family and financial strength grow. However, the problem of building a B2B platform is that there are so many software options and features -- some of which apply and some that don't -- that complicate the decision. When buying products like cars, it's easy to compare features because they all do essentially the same things, but comparing eCommerce platforms is like comparing apples to watermelons.

However, the primary force in determining which platform to use is really quite simple: How customizable is it? Customizable platforms are scalable, flexible, responsive to design changes, display well on multiple devices and allow planners to integrate vast capabilities based on their industry- or company-specific needs. Such a platform allows B2B companies to build a solution for now and the future, address evolving digital trends and customize Web abilities based on the device that each person uses to visit a website or Web page. The obligation to provide better user experiences, more features, better tracking and personalization will continue to grow in importance as competitors adopt these processes and B2B platforms increasingly become multichannel resources for their customers.

Google reported in 2015 that more searches now come from tablets and smartphones than stationary computers.[1] The United States and Japan lead this trend, but other countries are quickly gaining ground. Managing mobile marketing, developing customized profiles for customers, simplifying B2B ordering, enabling mobile payments and integrating with back-office software from anywhere are just a few of the long-term benefits of customizing a sales platform.

 

Simplifying B2B eCommerce Platform Selection Criteria

Decision-makers grow increasingly frustrated by the speed of evolving marketing best practices and want to build long-term solutions that adapt, integrate and expand as business increases. Previous experience shows that new developments can generate as many problems as they solve, but customizations simplify the process, provide a better path to training staff and handling problems and often generate error-free integrations. Although the solutions to the operational and marketing dilemma of building a new platform involve many areas that must change over time, one predominant advantage is choosing a highly customizable eCommerce platform. Selecting the right platform makes evolving a routine process, and the best developers involve B2B teams in the planning process of building the business case user interface and user experience, automating and integrating back-office integrations and providing user-friendly fulfillment processes such as custom tax calculators, shipping integrations and processes that haven't yet been conceived.

The right platform should have a robust API layer that allows new customizations and features to be added. This integration layer can add more features than any software currently offers out-of-the-box. Building a strong brand requires strong solutions, and if a company's software isn't up to the job, it's time to consider a major overhaul that begins with platform choice. Customizations can generate sales leads, shorten sales cycles, offer mobile price quotes, move backlogged or out-of-date inventory, connect with customers to build long-term business associations and eliminate ordering errors.

Making a Business Case for Change

Making an organized business case for changing platforms might not be popular among staff members and executive decision-makers who worry about the economy, development costs, planning problems and temporary upheavals that could argue for keeping the current system, but time after time, companies have failed or limited their growth by not embracing new technologies and business trends before younger, technologically savvy customers migrate to competitors who better understand what they want. Think with Google offers some persuasive and compelling statistical insights:[2]

  • Almost half of B2B researchers are now Millennials.
  • C-suite senior executives approve 64 percent of deals, but 24 percent of junior staff make buying decisions.
  • Millennials are rapidly moving into influential positions due to their computing skills and understanding of technology and social influences.
  • About 57 percent of buyers have already researched a company before visiting a B2B website so monitoring online reputations and connecting through other channels are increasingly important for B2B companies.

Many B2B stakeholders recognize these new realities, however. About 97 percent of marketers admit that more skills are needed in the B2B sector, and 97 percent also reveal that they are doing new things to bolster sales. 62 percent of hiring managers in marketing are focusing on hiring younger staff who better understand new technologies.[3]

Although securing a mandate for change and initiating a business case analysis for changing an eCommerce platforms are difficult, there are plenty of compelling reasons to do so. Best strategies for making a business case for platform changes that enable greater customization include:

Proactively Focusing on Solutions Instead of Responding to Problems

It's really a simple matter of finding a solutions provider instead of a service provider. Thousands of vendors offer service, but these always come with built-in obsolescence. In building a business case for change, it's important to follow a logical process that includes:

  • Outlining the company's short- and long-term goals and building a brand that can fulfill the company's vision, mission statement, targeting strategy and internal narrative
  • Defining immediate operational requirements and desired upgrades
  • Estimating development costs versus ROI
  • Assessing current and future integration needs
  • Choosing the best platform to resolve the quandary of needing rapid customizations
  • Planning and implementing an eCommerce makeover

Justifying the need for strategic change is crucial to the strategy, but the best business decisions always fulfill company needs. The first step of building a case for a new B2B platform begins by finding a better solution that offers the following benefits:

  • A product that will create a long-term development solution instead of one that provides just a few customizations that are currently popular
  • A platform that integrates complex and custom features throughout the organization and its connection channels
  • Cost transparency because many providers not only charge licensing fees but also maintenance and transactional fees
  • An API layer that allows easy cross-channel integrations
  • Solutions that are modular, flexible and scalable

The second step involves delving more deeply into the platform vendor's business psyche or soul. Ask and answer these questions before choosing a platform that will guide a company for decades:

  • Does the vendor understand the company's business model and marketing imperatives and have the data to back up those claims?
  • How strongly does it appear that the vendor is just trying to sell software instead of finding a solution?
  • Does the vendor's team work well with others and allow stakeholder input from internal IT teams, marketing departments, design and development staff and outside consultants?
  • Does the vendor insist on doing all the building work despite allowing some degree of design input?
  • Does the vendor allow internal teams into the nuts-and-bolts processes of building the platform where they can jointly design and build the platform, learn how to operate it and troubleshoot any problems that develop after implementation?
  • How comprehensively do the lifecycle and billing processes manage project risks?

Red flags arise when the answers to these questions show reticence for collaborations, reveal proprietary attitudes about the vendor’s software development processes or indicate hidden agendas. Any of these inclinations might mean that the vendor is playing what essentially amounts to the long business con where the vendor makes its services indispensable and puts companies in digital jeopardy. Without a clear collaborative development process, B2B companies can easily be extorted through increased maintenance costs, burdensome transaction fees and expensive training services. The platform might not be fully customizable and have a built-in expiration date in today's rapidly evolving markets.

Promoting the Value of Customizations

Not all people who are involved in B2B operations are completely convinced of the value of customizations in today's marketing because many companies still operate with purchase orders, proposals, bids and negotiations. However, building the value of a scalable, customizable B2B platform -- regardless of the business model -- can persuade even the most conservative stakeholder when the benefits involve his or her particular area of company operations. Customizable and scalable platforms deliver benefits that cross multiple business channels, internal processes, customer profiles and third-party associates. The benefits of implementing a customizable B2B platform include:

  • Segmentation
    Strong custom analytics and easy-to-configure reports and metrics allow companies to section their customers by actions, browsing habits, buying behaviors, product preferences and browsing behaviors after they leave the website.
  • Multiple-Channel Connections
    Connect with customers throughout their Internet journeys to social media, competitors. vendors, distributors and other touch points.
  • Determine Industry Behavior
    Like individual buying behavior, companies within an industry or B2B classification exhibit shared buying habits, jargon, language use and preferences for product-presentation strategies. Mining this valuable business intelligence provides information to use in marketing, targeting and customizing inbound content.
  • Identify and Convert Sales Leads
    Even B2B websites that don't offer catalogs of products can use customizations to generate and qualify leads to strengthen sales efforts.
  • Grouping Products into Subcatalogs or Stores-Within-Stores
    Subcatalogs can accelerate navigation for the most valuable customers by including only items that have been approved, manufacturer-specific products, products grouped by price, products for specific applications and other criteria.
  • Customizing the Ordering Process
    Providing customized order forms and invoices and recalling financial and ordering information provide customers with better user experiences.
  • Access to Research and Detailed Product Specifications
    Many B2B buyers enjoy being able to get product information easily from their mobile devices 24/7.
  • Flexible Payment Options
    B2B customers want to use their preferred methods of payment, which could include proposals, purchase orders and 30-day NET billing, credit cards, PayPal and other payment options.
  • Qualifying Customers for Accounts
    Customizations allow B2B companies to qualify their customers for accounts, monitor their credit worthiness throughout the business relationship, get information on company officers, find out who are a company's key decision-makers and vet business associates.
  • Strengthen CMS
    Customer service has progressed beyond dealing with complaints to ensuring a better website experience, interacting with the customer, implementing proactive marketing strategies and making it easier for customers to request special deals, products, business arrangements and other indulgences.
  • Integrations of New Software and Features
    B2B customers routinely want to change or upgrade CRM and ERP software and add open source resources to their platform.
  • Third-Party Applications
    Third-party applications that can benefit B2B customers include carrier-specific shipping integrations, connections to vendors and distributors, industry information, resource libraries, social media, authoritative business websites, third-party finance companies and many others.
  • CPQ Software for Custom Product Pricing
    Adding CPQ software can provide many benefits that ignite sales opportunities.

Customizations offer something for everyone within a B2B organization, so just as if profiling a customer, advocates for changing the company's platform can tailor their arguments based on each decision-maker's vested interests.

Tips on Choosing the Right Platform from B2B eCommerce & Integrations

B2B eCommerce & Integrations involves your company's stakeholders at every level and routinely offers transparency, collaborative development, case studies and development work through our trusted business associates like Clarity's popular eCommerce platform for business. Our team can make building a platform from inception or integrating a new feature into an existing platform a great development experience that provides great user experiences to each customer and stakeholder. Call or contact us today for a consultation, RFI or RFQ to address your concerns about building trust and cultivating a long-term eCommerce development partner.


 

References:

[1] Adweek.com: Now It's Official: More Google Searches Are Coming From Mobile Than Desktop www.adweek.com/news/technology/mobile-overtakes-desktop-google-rethinks-search-ad-164514

[2] ThinkwithGoogle.com: The Changing Face of B2B Marketing www.thinkwithgoogle.com/articles/the-changing-face-b2b-marketing.html

[3] Digitalistmag.com: 31 Scary B2B Marketing Statistics www.digitalistmag.com/lob/sales-marketing/2014/10/31/31-scary-b2b-marketing-statistics-01683493