What B2B E-Commerce Customers Want and How to Deliver It


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More and more B2B organizations are turning to e-commerce as a way of supercharging their way of doing business and adding additional revenue streams. Increasingly, this means B2B firms are launching their own commerce marketplaces. For many, this is a significant shift and requires careful thought and planning. B2B customers have markedly different requirements to those in B2C, and it’s a more complex approach to e-commerce. E-commerce expert Alexander Graf explains how B2B firms can best meet their customers’ expectations

It’s not hard to understand why B2B firms are looking to marketplaces. They create much wider ecosystems of commerce, have a tangible and long-lasting impact on the bottom line, and help an organization with its digital transformation programs.

A marketplace can potentially be transformative for any B2B firm, but it’s not just a question of replicating a B2C marketplace and hoping for success. The customer experience in a consumer transaction is much simpler than in B2B. What a consumer looks for in a marketplace is straightforward – good choice, reliable delivery, and competitive pricing. If they have that, then they are usually happy.

A B2B marketplace is very different. Customers have far more complex requirements and needs. These include:

A requirement for made-to-order

If retail transactions are straightforward – the customer buys the product, and it’s delivered to them shortly afterwards – B2B is not so simple. Sales often take place on a made-to-order basis. Sometimes this can mean the product will only start being made when an order has been placed, sometimes with major specifications. At others, it can mean at least some customization to the order.

Furthermore, different countries use different measurement models. The imperial system is still prevalent in the US, whereas it’s the metric system in Europe and other parts of the world. Any European firm selling to customers in the US (and vice versa) must be mindful of this, and those customers must be able to order in the measurement that suits them best. Without such configurability, the B2B CX is severely restricted.

The ability to order from anywhere

There isn’t just one place or system from which a B2B customer could make an order. In fact, it’s likely to come from many different places across the business. An order could be automatically generated from a company’s ERP system. It might come from HQ or a regional hub elsewhere in the organization. An order could be made directly from procurement or another department.

If B2B customers are restricted to just one place they can order from, that’s hugely prohibitive.

Non-standard pricing

Pricing is another simple issue in B2C but much less so in B2B. When a consumer buys something online, the price is the price. There is no negotiation, no discount for bulk buying, and no bespoke pricing.

B2B customers will ask for a company’s best quote based on a range of variables – quantity, quality, location, previous order frequency, and much more. This is known as a request to quote and is very common in B2B, where non-standard pricing is commonplace and expected by customers worldwide.

Addressing B2B CX

The most effective way of addressing B2B commerce CX is via Headless Commerce architecture, which separates the front-end and back-end of a commerce application. Headless Commerce relies on the use of an application programming interface (API) to connect multiple platforms on the front-end.

It’s easier for developers to then create personalized experiences without having to make alterations to the back-end system. This allows customers to purchase products on their platform of choice and even helps businesses approve orders using smart devices such as wearables or voice assistants.

Such an approach also helps B2B firms connect their different systems. Some can’t consistently deliver a finished product without bringing in other materials from other manufacturers. This supply chain complexity requires even more sophistication in the manufacturer’s commerce marketplace. It’s essential for the manufacturer’s different systems – ERP, procurement, transaction, marketing – to be interconnected so supply can keep up with demand.

Do not overlook change management

Beyond the headless approach, when addressing B2B commerce CX, B2B organizations must make sure not to overlook change management. Switching to a more direct and digital mode of commerce will be a significant shift for some B2B firms.

This is where change management programs play a pivotal role in helping address any internal concerns. Most B2B organizations are traditionally very sales-driven and may struggle to get their sales teams to accept that there might be components in a deal they don’t control and may not earn a commission. Change management is a crucial part of this process.

B2B customers have very different expectations from a commerce marketplace. Their needs are more complex and sophisticated. Providing the right CX is achievable, but only with a headless approach to commerce can it truly succeed.

Alexander Graf
Alexander Graf is one of the top e-commerce minds in Germany. He is a passionate e-commerce entrepreneur who to date has built more than 10 companies, including e-commerce leader Spryker Systems which he co-founded. He is evangelical about e-commerce and marketplace selling and explores these themes via his blog, Kassenzone, now the largest German podcast on e-commerce, and in his best-selling book, The E-Commerce Book.


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