Let’s look at eight surprising ways that a B2B ecommerce site can create efficiencies that not only streamline your sales process but also transform your customers’ buying experience.
But before we dive into them, we’ll first define just what we mean by “ecommerce” and then address the key to having a successful B2B ecommerce site.
Ecommerce for B2B manufacturers: More than just online sales transactions
As a B2B manufacturer, you may need to expand your notion of ecommerce. The reality is that an ecommerce website can take on many forms, likely more than you realize.
Let’s start with a basic definition, one that encompasses a wider range of business scenarios: An ecommerce site is any website that facilitates the transaction of goods. Note that the transaction does not need to include actual payment.
Here are a variety of business scenarios that fall under ecommerce:
- Credit or debit card purchase of retail goods (i.e., a conventional B2C sale)
- B2B purchase of wholesale-priced goods billed through an accounting system to a corporate account on a credit or purchase order basis
- Quote submission for a proposal that may be included in a customer’s project costs, also known as cart-to-quote
- A “marketplace” type of transaction where the website is acting as a go-between for two vendors
In fact, many B2B manufacturers may already have a rudimentary form of cart-to-quote system (third bullet above) in place. However, one factor prevents them from having a robust, full-blown ecommerce site: Their ERP system and their website can’t talk to each other.
ERP integration: The key to building your B2B ecommerce site
The day-to-day operations of your manufacturing company likely rely on your enterprise resource planning, or ERP, system. But when that system remains siloed from your website, you’re severely limited in how you can leverage the site to solve business problems and ultimately generate more sales.
On the other hand, when you integrate your ERP system with your website, that site now becomes a dynamic database of products, prices, and inventory, as well as an efficient venue for customer interaction.
In other words, you’ve now unleashed the power of B2B ecommerce. To better understand what we mean, let’s now dive into those eight ways an ecommerce site can improve your manufacturing company’s performance.
1. Decrease errors at the quote stage
Maybe you have some type of “Get a quote” option on your website where a potential customer fills out a form, which generates an email notification to a sales rep. That sales rep must now reenter the information into another system and follow through with the potential customer.
Standard operating procedure? Okay, but what about when your sales rep gets a quote email with 25 different products to order. Any time someone needs to reenter information elsewhere, you’re introducing the possibility of errors.
ERP integration eliminates redundant data entry—and the errors that can come with it. This also frees up staff for more productive activities. (See No. 3 below for more on that.)
2. Ensure accurate group pricing
Similarly, let’s assume you have a complex system for group pricing. Do you rely on staff to make sure a quote reflects the right pricing group? Imagine how high the stakes are with a huge order. A mistake here can be disastrous.
But when you have a quote system integrated with your ERP system, you can assign users to the appropriate customer group. When they login to your site, they’ll automatically see the pricing that correctly matches their group.
3. Increase staff efficiency
How much time do your sales reps have to spend on the back-and-forth following a quote submission? Maybe too much. Is that really the only way that a sale can be executed?
Imagine your overall efficiency transformed when you have thousands of orders being more streamlined, which is what happens when your ERP system and website are integrated.
And don’t forget an ecommerce site chocked full of detailed, up-to-date information on every single product—thanks to an ERP integration—means staff will spend less time on the phone answering basic questions.
And with that extra time, they can devote more attention to things like strengthening customer relationships. (Check out this case study for a real-life example.)
4. Expand sales opportunities
If you can theoretically sell online, why aren’t you? This is an especially important consideration if you’re selling commodity products.
Think about it like this: What happens when a potential buyer goes to a competitor’s website and sees the price for 500 widgets in the exact color and size they want—and they can order right now?
Suddenly, the potential lag time involved in contacting you looks a lot less attractive. In fact, consider the results from this PROS-Hanover Research study: A majority of B2B buyers (64%) said that, all other factors being equal, “they would be more likely to switch to a vendor that could offer real-time, personalized pricing.”
5. Easily update pricing
What if you need to update the pricing for thousands of products across dozens or hundreds of pricing groups? Without an automated process, that’s nearly impossible to do efficiently.
On top of that, you ideally want the updated pricing to be available to your customer groups immediately. Sure, you can run a price multiplier in your ERP system to change pricing across the board internally. But what about all the product prices and pricing groups on your website?
Not a problem. ERP integration will enable you to run a price synchronization with your ecommerce website. Now you can conveniently and accurately update thousands of listed prices for every pricing group—essentially with the click of a button.
6. Present accurate inventory numbers
Finding it difficult to maintain accurate inventory numbers? ERP integration with your website allows real-time updates—and display—of your inventory.
But that’s not all. You can control exactly what potential customers see. For example, maybe you want to maintain a certain inventory level for potential emergency orders.
By having your inventory data integrated with your B2B ecommerce site, you have the power to internally distinguish actual inventory levels from the inventory presented on your ecommerce site. (Note that some B2C companies use this technique for sales and marketing purposes.)
Another benefit: Return authorizations can be reflected in both your ERP system and your website simultaneously. If you rely on staff contacting another department by phone or email to have the inventory updated, you’re just asking for mistakes.
7. Provide shipment tracking
Nearly all B2C sites have this down pat: A customer buys something and they automatically get an email with a tracking number for their UPS, FedEx or USPS delivery when that product is shipped.
Of course, a feature like that isn’t as easy if you’re delivering, say, an 800-pound piece of equipment. But using commercial carriers doesn’t mean you still can’t give customers the convenience and reassurance of accurate shipment tracking. With an ERP integration, it can be done.
8. Prevent inaccurate tax calculations
As taxation grows increasingly complex, it can be challenging to stay on top of the changes. Are you still using an outdated flat rate taxation system?
Without careful sales tax tracking, you can have a big mess at the end of the quarter. And audits can reveal significant errors that more often than not lead to losing money.
But your ecommerce efforts can actually go hand-in-hand with better tax record-keeping. For example, you can integrate a tax application like AvaTax with your ecommerce site, a tool that can automatically produce accurate tax reports indicating how much tax you owe and to which authorities.
Your next step: Consider a preliminary strategy and evaluation project
You’ve just been given a glimpse of how an ERP integration can transform your ho-hum digital presence. More specifically, you’ve seen how a B2B ecommerce site can actually help solve business challenges and streamline once-cumbersome (or nearly impossible) tasks.
But these projects aren’t simple. Ask your current developer about their ability to handle an ERP integration.
And keep this important point in mind: You don’t have to embark on a full-fledged ERP integration project right away. In fact, you may want to look for a developer that offers a strategy and evaluation project.
Think of it like a facility needs assessment conducted by an A/E firm prior to design, engineering, and construction. A strategy and evaluation project can be a prudent, cost-effective way to wade into the ERP integration waters.
You can benefit from this type of project because it allows the developer to do the following:
- Identify significant knowledge gaps prior to a full project, thereby saving time and money up front.
- Conduct research to not only make recommendations but also validate those recommendations.
- Clarify the process and explain the benefits of ERP integration in non-technical terms to decision-makers.
- Speak directly with staff to reach a deep understanding of your business processes and the specific problems that an ERP integration can actually solve.
- Reach a more accurate scope of work that reduces your risk and increases stakeholder confidence.