Business-to-business ecommerce platforms grew in both size and capabilities during the last decade. Nowadays, to find the right one for your online store, you ought to be aware of the features that define a good platform.
This comprehensive guide presents key insights into the requirements, essential features, evaluation criteria, and best practices for choosing and implementing the right B2B ecommerce platform for your business needs.
Understanding B2B ecommerce platform requirements
B2B ecommerce operations can differ vastly from their B2C counterparts. This usually manifests in a more complex buying process, customer groups, and custom pricing.
Let’s look at what B2B ecommerce platforms are, how they differ from B2C digital commerce platforms, and what the business requirements are when you make a selection.
Definition and overview of B2B ecommerce
The B2B ecommerce model pertains to online transactions occurring between businesses. Within the scope of this business model, companies sell products or services to other companies over the Internet instead of individual customers.
An enterprise-grade ecommerce platform serves as the backbone of a company’s digital operations. It’s an online store while simultaneously being a digital solution that enables a company to aim more steadily toward business growth by optimizing processes.
In that sense, a quality web store that can manage customer data, process transactions smoothly, and handle any other operations you throw at it, is considered a well-put B2B commerce platform.
This platform allows businesses to manage multiple brands by integrating multiple stores with multilingual support under one roof. With it, you can cater to a global audience, serving better enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.
Key differences between B2B and B2C ecommerce
While business-to-customer digital platforms involve selling to individual or retail customers, business-to-business transactions target wholesale customers and other businesses.
Here are some fundamental differences between B2B and B2C ecommerce.
- The volume of transactions. B2B transactions generally involve large, bulk orders, as opposed to B2C transactions, which are smaller, though more frequent.
- The complexity of sales processes. In B2B, factors like customer-specific pricing enable providers to be more flexible at the cost of businesses being more involved during the sales process. In B2C, prices are usually final, and there is not much wiggle room, which, in turn, tends to make the sales process much more straightforward.
- Transaction processing. Business customers have slightly different needs, which the platform has to support – for example, plenty of payment options, including invoicing. On the other hand, retail customers mostly rely on credit and debit card payments, sometimes in installments.
Business requirements for B2B ecommerce platform selection
Knowing the specific requirements of B2B transactions is crucial when selecting an ecommerce platform.
The platform should be capable of managing wholesale pricing structures to accommodate large-quantity orders. It should also aim to provide a layer of customizability to pricing for various customer groups based on factors such as order volume, buying frequency, and customer loyalty.
A unique requirement in the B2B landscape is the need to support sales representatives effectively. Sales reps play a role in establishing and maintaining a business’s customer base, and the platform they use should come with features to boost those efforts. For example, customer data, sales tools, and other functionalities streamline the sales process.
Business growth requires a platform that can be scaled alongside it. Larger enterprises have more traffic that can increase even further, especially during busier times of the year. It is most crucial for businesses that reach a point where they manage multiple storefronts and work with thousands of products across various online stores.
A good platform handles complex pricing structures, supports sales reps, integrates easily with existing systems, and scales with the business. In the next section, we explore those and other features in detail.
Key features to look for in a B2B ecommerce platform
Any platform that prides itself in providing top-notch services for its clients will have most, if not all, of the key features we go over below.
Robust product and inventory management capabilities
Powerful inventory management for products is essential, given the complexity of B2B transactions, such as bulk orders across an omnibrand portfolio.
To be precise, the platform should make it easy to add, remove, or modify products, provide detailed descriptions with customization options, and support multiple media files like video, audio, and images. Furthermore, it should smoothly handle product variations, including sizes, colors, materials, and others.
In terms of inventory management, you should look for an effective solution that reduces costs in the long run and increases efficiency for the business.
Real-time updates on stock levels and the ability to monitor them across all warehouses can help achieve that. Additional capabilities to watch out for include handling backorders and pre-orders. If your line of business deals with dropshipping, then the platform should also facilitate that.
An efficient platform will allow you to set up automated reordering triggers. With those, you can prevent out-of-stock situations, thereby improving both the buying process and customer satisfaction. To further optimize inventory management, you should be able to rely on accurate inventory forecasting based on sales trends and other factors.
Flexible and customizable pricing and payment options
Pricing and payment terms are precious elements in B2B, as they are not as straightforward as in B2C.
An essential feature of platforms businesses in this domain should look for is payment method visibility control – it allows the picking of payment methods visible to each customer group. Having control over the prices that appear means you can target countries where the standard of living is higher, as well as countries where it would otherwise be hard to afford the same items, opening up new sales channels.
Ecommerce platforms can support varied payment terms, like net 30 or net 60, in accordance with the types of business they are targeting. Not all companies can cover costs for certain kinds of orders, so giving a due date of 30 or 60 days can ease up on cash flow when you want to receive and reconcile payments within predictable timeframes.
On that note, supporting multiple currencies goes a long way toward convenience when purchasing a local currency. There are options in some platforms to display product prices in the local currency through automatic currency conversion.
Of course, multi-currency systems are not enough if customers’ preferred payment methods are unavailable. Credit and debit cards and bank transfers are an obvious necessity, but the platform should also be compatible with PayPal, Google Pay, and Apple Pay, and have on-account payments.
Advanced search and filtering options for complex product catalogs
Product catalogs that B2B businesses deal with are often large and complex, requiring ecommerce platforms to offer more advanced options for customers, so they can quickly and easily find what they are looking for.
Keyword search is the first function to add to an ecommerce website, giving rushing customers a chance to enter a word or phrase and make a purchase without delay. An extra helpful function is auto-suggestions that pop up while typing, and a synonym index to display an accurate array of products close to the keywords users enter.
Filtering options are just as important since they make it much more feasible to narrow down search results by various criteria, such as price range, brand, product type, size, color, and more. Customers wishing to discover the trendiest items would lean on filters to save time browsing different categories.
See if you need freedom in arranging the filtering options, including adding new ones. Once you define the search attributes and filtering criteria for your product lineup, you know what kind of capabilities this feature should have.
Integration with ERP and CRM systems
To establish a seamless data flow between systems and improve efficiency and accuracy, a steady framework with integration options for enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management systems is necessary.
ERP systems manage business functions such as inventory management, order processing, accounting, and human resources. Through integration, you gain visibility over data on product information, inventory levels, and order details in real time.
CRM systems meanwhile manage customer data, sales processes, and marketing activities. When they are integrated into the platform, you can leverage customer data for personalized marketing and sales efforts.
Such an example is how you can use customer purchase history data and preferences to offer product recommendations and promotions tailored to each customer.
With a unified view of the business, you can make better-informed decisions and are more likely to increase sales. Seamless data flow between your primary platform and other systems is how you reach maximum operational efficiency.
Multi-store and multi-site management capabilities
Omnistore businesses that partake in multiple markets dealing with wholesale ecommerce in multiple languages function best when in front of them is a single dashboard to control everything.
A flexible ecommerce platform enables you to customize each storefront according to its specific requirements – design, content, product catalog, pricing, or anything else. Although you manage inventory, orders, and customers separately for each website, you do everything from one place.
However, consistency across stores should not go unnoticed if you want to maintain the same look and feel, enforce branding guidelines, and provide a consistent shopping experience. This is crucial for building a strong brand identity and trust among customers.
To cater to customers in different countries, it is best to have an invoice portal where customers can add or edit fields so that they can make their purchases by following local regulations and taxing laws. For instance, add their VAT ID if they place an international order.
Granular user permissions and role-based access control
Given the complex nature of B2B transactions, one of the ecommerce features that any reliable platform should offer is controlling access to information and functions team members and customers can interact with.
Having mechanisms that guard against unwarranted access to customer data, particularly sensitive information like credit card data, is a trait that all platforms should have. Roles are pretty helpful in keeping that information out of prying eyes’ way.
You should be able to create different user roles, each with its own permissions. Let’s take sales reps as an example – they need access to customer data and order history; finance teams, on the other hand, may need access to financial reports and payment information.
Similarly, when you can control what customers can see and do, you can add a flavor of personality to their experience and build stronger relationships. That is the case if you use customer groups based on factors like order volume, location, buying frequency, etc.
Order management and fulfillment workflows
With the help of these advanced features, you can handle the end-to-end process of receiving, processing, and delivering orders, which ensures customers get their products in a timely and efficient manner.
Most order types are standard, recurring, and pre-orders – while you can have many others, these are the ones you need to manage. When working with multichannel orders, having only one dashboard for all management operations comes in handy.
Fulfillment – the nightmarish process for many that can ruin the relationship between a business and its client. When choosing a platform, look for one that allows you to define fulfillment workflows based on your business model and requirements.
When working with NEXT BASKET, you can use your own warehouses, or we can provide you with ours and take care of this step.
If you decide to do it yourself, ensure your chosen platform can integrate with ERP solutions for real-time syncing of order and inventory data, with options to update customers. It should also have features for managing shipping rates, carriers, tracking shipments, and handling returns and exchanges.
Real-time analytics and reporting
Analytics and reporting in real time provide insights, based on which you can make data-driven decisions in a preferred period and adjust your strategy accordingly.
What you will find in most B2B platforms that offer this feature will pertain to on-sales performance, customer behavior, website traffic, etc. A range of reports should also be available – sales reports, customer reports, product performance reports, and more.
The more you customize each report, the more accurately you can tune it to inform you what business aspects you care about the most. Real-time data lets you quickly identify trends and respond to changing market conditions.
For example, when you see a product that sells well, you will want to keep track of the stock and refill it faster than it sells to avoid an oversold state. Likewise, if a marketing campaign is not performing as expected, you can quickly adjust it and see the results immediately.
API and third-party integration capabilities
Application Programming Interfaces and third-party integrations work well with almost any ecommerce software. With them, you do not have to rely on a single platform but can utilize other systems to facilitate data exchange and automation.
Plus, if you already use marketing tools like Google Analytics, you don’t have to move to a new tool if you decide to move from one B2B platform to another.
Integrations are priceless, especially considering you can use custom integrations tailored to your business’s specific needs with APIs. You can further automate processes like checkout, shipping label generation, and tracking with various payment gateways and logistics providers.
Mobile responsiveness and accessibility
Running your business smoothly in the age of digital devices can be a challenge if your website does not excel in its mobile responsiveness and accessibility.
To provide a seamless shopping experience across all devices, keep customer satisfaction unhinged, and drive sales, a buttery-smooth mobile experience is what you should be aiming for.
Accessibility, in particular, refers to the adherence to web accessibility standards. Meaning your store can be used by people who may have disabilities. That way, you broaden your reach while complying with legal requirements in many jurisdictions.
If you develop an additional helpful feature that most websites don’t have, you also show your customers that you care about their experience on your website. For that, though, you may need a team member with deeper developer knowledge.
Evaluation criteria for B2B ecommerce platform selection
There are several criteria in the wholesale commerce platform selection for companies in the B2B field.
Business needs and requirements assessment
As always, start by identifying what your business needs and what it requires.
A need is defined by a broad, high-level business goal or objective. A requirement is a more specific, detailed characteristic or function that a product, service, or system has to possess.
Your unique business needs have to be aligned with your ecommerce operations for there to be an impact. The requirement assessment has to include elements like the scale of operations, the range of products, customer segments, and pricing.
Platform scalability and flexibility
Factor in the growth potential when you have assessed everything else. If you plan to expand to international markets, you are looking for a multilingual framework and broad product management capabilities.
More traffic and transactions just call for performance optimization. Some businesses take care of this themselves, though some also turn to their technology partners to develop a solid technological foundation that would support any kind of load.
Flexibility is the ability to add new features or modify existing ones without much friction. A flexible platform allows you to easily customize features like how it looks and feels, all according to your brand image.
Integration with existing systems and workflows
Not all B2B ecommerce platforms have excellent integration capabilities.
What you want yours to include is ERP solutions, CRM systems, payment gateways, shipping solutions, and other kinds of possible integrations.
As long as your ecommerce platform has reliable integrations, you can expect better customer data management. That is because, by syncing data between several systems, you get a broader view of how your customers behave and can work on improving customer retention and loyalty, as well as delivering personalized customer experiences.
How payment gateway and marketing tool integrations benefit your business is just as simple. Customers who have options tend to be happier, and targeting them is more effective with marketing tools you already know that work for you.
Technical and development capabilities
Complex ecommerce operations go hand in hand with higher expertise of developer knowledge and resources. But the platform you are on can constrain you if you are not careful.
Firstly, consider your platform’s architecture and development language. If it’s built on a technology stack your dev team can already masterfully work on, you will cut development time and learning costs.
Otherwise, you are looking at a more prominent timeframe and higher costs, which may even include hiring new staff to handle specific aspects of the platform.
When you have the workforce to fully develop your store, the next step is customization. When you have the look and features nailed down, the rest is optimization to make it as easy for users as possible.
Total cost of ownership and return on investment
Everything has its cost. The total cost of ownership (abr. TCO) and your return on investment (abr. ROI) are determined by the fine balance you can strike between the time and budget needed for the development and management of your business.
Licensing or subscription costs are the initial thing that may come to mind. That would be based on features you have signed up for, the number of users, the volume of transactions, and other factors.
NEXT BASKET’s adaptive plans are suitable for businesses wanting maximum value with minimal resources. You can completely customize the set of features to cover all of your business needs and requirements.
This includes the implementation costs for setting up the platform in a way that fits your business and integrating it with existing systems. Maintenance and upgrade costs can also be factored in within your plan, or you can have a portion of your team focus on implementing new features, fixing bugs, and ensuring your store is based on a secure platform.
Vendor support and customer service
Vendor support and customer service can go overlooked, but they are quite important.
Customer service begins from the moment you engage with a vendor. You should be adequately onboarded by them and receive assistance with some of the steps of the process.
Once the platform is alive, you should still get the necessary support. At some point, you may have times when you need to reach a certain level of performance that you cannot do with just the manuals, tutorials, and forums provided by the vendor.
That’s when the help of the vendor is crucial. If you know they have your back, you can rest assured that your store performs at its best.
Judge a vendor by their platform’s clients and what they say about them. Is the response time short? Do they always aim to give you an optimal experience? If you see yourself having a hard time with a vendor, perhaps you need a new one.
Implementation and management best practices for B2B ecommerce platforms
A significant undertaking that requires careful planning and coordination is the implementation process between your online store and the B2B ecommerce platform you have chosen.
Focus on the following aspects to be sure you are not missing any crucial steps.
Developing a comprehensive project plan and timeline
It all begins from the drawing board – develop your project plan by outlining the key tasks and responsibilities. Then, set timelines for each stage of the implementation:
- Stage 1 is defining your business needs and requirements, as discussed earlier. For this, you need to know all the processes and what features they require so that you can set clear goals. During this stage, you should involve key stakeholders from across your organization and have everyone contribute in order to establish a clear project plan.
- Stage 2 starts when it’s time to select only one of the best B2B ecommerce platforms for your business. This can be done by following the evaluation criteria from earlier, inquiring with the select few, and picking one final candidate.
- Stage 3 is the implementation itself – setting up the platform, customizing it, integrating it with existing systems, and testing it works.
- Stage 4 is none other than the launch of your new platform – training your staff, migrating the data from your old platform (if applicable), and marketing your new online store to your customers. A contingency plan should be set in place here in case any issues arise during the launch.
Prioritizing feature development and customization
In the realm of B2B ecommerce, not all features carry the same weight. Thus, the need for prioritization appears before you.
Focus on features that directly influence your business. For one, that may be your inventory management system or a sophisticated reporting system.
Customizations, customizations, customizations – it’s good to have them, but you should not go overboard. Identify and pick the most beneficial customizations and incorporate them first.
Out-of-the-box solutions can work for a while, but by the end of your development plan, you ought to know which ones ask you for a pinch of custom spice. That way, in the eyes of the customer, you can keep your value high and your relevance even higher.
Establishing quality assurance and testing protocols
Quality assurance deals with meeting your business demands to a full extent, and testing protocols are there to help you do that.
It helps to have a plan for testing different aspects of your platform – from the user interface and functionality to the security and performance. The QA could be done by an internal team or an entirely separate entity, which you can hire.
Regardless, QA and testing should not be treated as one-off tasks. They should be part of an ongoing process to monitor and improve the platform continually.
Ongoing maintenance and optimization strategies
Successful B2B ecommerce platforms don’t just stop at implementation – they keep up with the changes in the B2B sector to ensure that they continue to serve their customers faithfully.
If you are worried you must go through the same process periodically, you would be correct, but you can rest at ease because not all steps must be retaken. Fix a date (or a couple) and perform regular audits to identify areas of improvement and potential issues before they escalate into serious problems.
Maintenance involves updating the platform with new features, fixing bugs, and keeping things in check. Optimization, on the other hand, is all about refining and enhancing your platform’s functionality and performance.
Aligning platform features and workflows with business goals and objectives.
An ecommerce platform is a dynamic entity that evolves with your business, market trends, and customer expectations. So aligning the features and workflows throughout its lifetime is unavoidable if you want to stay consistent and reap the fruits of success.
Therefore, your business goals and objectives have to be reflected in the kind of purpose your platform serves and how it contributes to the broader vision of your organization. To achieve this, you must always clearly understand your business’s short-term and long-term goals.
You could lose potential sales and customers if even one of your key objectives is amiss. For instance, your primary objective is to provide a personalized experience for your business customers. Still, you are not implementing customer-specific pricing, or you are not making customized product recommendations. In that case, you need to reform your approach to better fit your business goals or change the goals themselves.
Regularly reviewing the alignment between your platform and business objectives and adjusting it where necessary can help you avoid pitfalls. Businesses grow and change, and alongside them, goals may shift; similarly, platforms must be able to accommodate what comes next.
Frequently asked questions
How does a B2B ecommerce platform contribute to business growth?
It enables efficient online transactions, provides customer insights, and enhances the customer experience in multiple languages across multiple storefronts.
What is the significance of custom pricing in B2B ecommerce?
Setting different prices for different customer groups means you can use the concrete analytics from each group and make more attractive offers, basing them on factors like purchase volume, contract terms, or long-term customer loyalty.
How does an invoice portal function in a B2B ecommerce platform?
Invoice portals allow business customers to view and pay their invoices directly through the ecommerce platform, simplifying the payment process and improving cash flow.
What factors should be considered when evaluating the total cost of ownership for a B2B ecommerce platform?
These are initial setup costs, ongoing costs (licensing, development, hosting, maintenance, support), and potential cost savings from increased efficiency and sales growth.