Seemingly endless attention is given to how marketers can optimize retail customer experience (CX) through digital commerce innovations. Social commerce and mobile commerce are two trending advancements that were largely born out of the retail space. While retail has made the headlines, B2B ecommerce has quietly grown into a behemoth, reaching $1.6 trillion in sales in 2022 according to Insider IntelligenceOpens a new window . The rise of B2B commerce will only continue over the coming years. Forrester predictsOpens a new window that the value of B2B ecommerce sales will reach $3 trillion and will represent 24 percent of total B2B sales in the United States by 2027. As a reference point, US retail online sales is expected to only reach $1.6 trillion during the same year. The growing B2B ecommerce landscape has left many brands wondering which vendor they should use to optimize customer experience and drive revenue.Â
As B2B ecommerce sales have soared, the vendor marketplace has in turn grown increasingly complex to navigate. Countless commerce players have taken note of the opportunity that B2B represents and have developed offeringsÂ with B2B clients in mind. On one hand, organizations can choose from a host of suite vendors, such as Salesforce, Adobe, and Oracle, who offer a wide array of products spanning across sales, service, commerce, marketing, and analytics platforms.
This article will clarify how organizations should objectively evaluate vendors. We’ll walk through what makes B2B commerce unique from a customer experience perspective, then define which capabilities organizations should look for in a prospective vendor.Â
Unique Characteristics of B2B Commerce
There are widely discussed characteristics of B2B marketing that are clearly distinguishable from B2C, including longer sales cycles; cross-functional alignment between sales and marketing; niche target audiences, such as purchasing departments, as opposed to the general public; and long-term, often interpersonal customer relationships.Â
The discernable attributes of B2B ecommerce are not as broadly understood, but there are important distinctions that generally set B2B apart from B2C:
- Products can be complex and customizable.
- Prices can be negotiated.
- Product information is technical.
- Several purchasing stakeholders are involved, and the targeted customer is often a buyer group.
- Elaborate support teams are required to handle complex business relationships.
- Order volumes are larger, but with fewer total customers.
Given these unique business requirements, the main challenge for B2B organizations is to choose the right ecommerce vendor that can best meet their needs.
Criteria to Evaluate B2B Ecommerce Vendors
There are several capabilities to consider when evaluating the B2B buyer experiences that commerce platforms can enable:Â
- Account Management: Customers can establish permissions for their buyer teams based on the buyer’s role, with the option to define an account hierarchy.
- Product Pricing: Pricing can be customized efficiently for all products, bulk discounts can be automated, and promotions can be applied to specific buyer groups.
- Product Catalogs: Images of items in the product catalog can be personalized for the customer based on certain attributes like location. For companies that have B2B and B2C business units, it should be possible to combine ecommerce into one platform with distinct product catalogs for each customer segment.
- Product Customization: The vendor should enable configure, price, quote (CPQ) functionalities if there is a business requirement to customize products. Note that CPQ capabilities are often sold separately from commerce cloud products.
- Product Quantity: The minimum order quantity per product should be fully configurable if there is a requirement to sell certain items in bulk.
- Punchout: Product catalogs are managed by the seller; however, buyers can access an instance of the catalog on their procurement site. This capability relies on integrations between buyer and seller platforms, and product data imports should not be necessary.
- Payment Methods: Checkout experiences should be optimized for B2B customers. For instance, approved customers should be able to utilize purchase orders as a form of payment. Common B2B payment methods also include bank-to-bank ACH transfers and cash on delivery.
Beyond unique B2B requirements, customer support, searchability, and mobile experience are as critical to seamless buyer journeys as they are with any other commerce platform.
- Customer support: The commerce platform should enable customers to quickly contact customer support and request quotes. Mature commerce platforms often establish integration partnerships with conversational commerce (chatbot) vendors.
- Search: Advanced search capabilities go beyond basic keyword searches and encompass advanced functionalities like auto-complete and support for long-tail keywords. Mature commerce platforms often leverage integration partnerships with vendors, such as Searchspring and Searchandise, to interpret phrases in addition to individual keywords.
- Mobile: The complete buyer journey from product search to checkout should be frictionless and optimized for mobile.Â
While this general list of capabilities to consider will guide vendor conversations, it is equally important to consider existing technology investments. A particular vendor may offer all the capabilities mentioned above, but it may not be the best fit to integrate with an organization’s technology ecosystem. As the B2B ecommerce market continues to grow and become increasingly complex, it’s critical for organizations to carefully evaluate ecommerce vendors and select the right one to meet their unique business requirements.
By understanding the distinct characteristics of B2B commerce and the capabilities that commerce platforms can enable, organizations can make informed decisions and select vendors that will help them optimize their customer experience and drive revenue. From account management to mobile optimization, there are various factors to consider when evaluating B2B ecommerce vendors. By prioritizing these criteria, organizations can select a vendor that can deliver the desired results.
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