B2B e-commerce: Innovate or die

Darin Archer, CMO of Elastic Path, explores why it is important for B2B companies to embrace disruptive trends and create frictionless commerce experiences for customers

Commerce innovation is not just for consumer brands or retailers - B2B companies must also review disruptive trends and technologies that are on the horizon. For one, it will help them to stay ahead of the curve and remain competitive against the increasing threats from private label manufacturers as well as the multitude of sources a company can buy goods or services from. Secondly, when B2B buyers arrive at the office, they now expect their buying experience to be as easy as the B2C customer experiences they’ve become accustomed to.

Thirdly, there’s never been a better time. According to Forrester, B2B ecommerce is well on its way to reaching an astonishing $1.2 trillion by 2021, meaning now more than ever leading companies are accelerating their digital transformation journeys.

To be part of this, organisations need to review B2B commerce strategies and take them to the next level by digitally disrupting some sales processes in order to create frictionless commerce experiences for their customers. In order to set out on this journey, there are some common obstacles to overcome:

  • The bane that is disjointed legacy infrastructure: Regardless of industry or sector, legacy systems are still every commerce practitioner’s worst nightmare. They are inflexible, they need constant maintenance, management and resource, and require customisations and integrations to make disparate systems work together. But, more to the point, they prevent businesses from capitalising on new technologies and customer touchpoints.  
  • Managing complex purchase flows: At the same time, efficiently managing the purchase flow is also something that B2B organisations have often struggled with. Processes are often siloed, which makes handling requests slow and manual, even for simple tasks like order status and credit availability. The companies that do not meet customer expectations in terms of personalisation and contextualisation (just like B2C) are at risk of losing once respected and long-established customer relationships. Simple solutions like self-service for purchase requests could revolutionise many B2B organisations and sales teams will shift from order-takers to nurturing customer-relationship managers.

Lose your head

Managing complex account-specific buyer experiences can also be a nightmare. If you could automate manual order entry, quoting, customer price lists, catalogues and order replenishments, why wouldn’t you? Or depending on your industry you could take it even further and get machines to cleverly monitor themselves, order their own replacement parts and schedule their own service calls. Working with a technology partner that will digitalise those multifaceted purchase flows for you can make all the difference.

To facilitate this, businesses need to invest in an API-based platform that empowers them to manage multiple commerce paths from one centralised place. This means processes can be configured differently to meet specific buyer or country requirements and make any touchpoint or device commerce-enabled. It also means you don’t have to replace all the legacy infrastructure, rather you can expose its data to a unified sales platform.

The opportunity if you innovate

For example, the explosion of connected devices in today’s world means that appliances and vehicles can easily be commerce-enabled. What first comes to mind is the likes of connected cars, which can order food or drink through voice command or with the tap of a finger, and connected appliances that can reorder products with a click of a button. B2B organisations can leverage these new techniques for use cases applicable to (and a reality in) the B2B space.

As an illustrative example, let me walk you through a scenario using the fictitious companies of Orange Grove Supply and Dynico Resources. Orange Grove Supply sells, rents and provides parts and services for equipment to customers in a wide range of industries. Dynico Resources is its largest customer in the mining industry, it purchases all of its parts from Orange Grove and has contracted the company to perform all preventative and corrective maintenance on its equipment.

The innovation lies in a smart tractor with an embedded IoT device, which is used by the Dynico crew remotely to excavate raw materials from a mine. This type of tractor requires maintenance after running for 12,000 hours and can automatically place its own service request thanks to internal sensors tracking the number of hours it has been operating, communicating directly to Orange Grove’s commerce system without any human intervention. Now, there of course can be workflows to request approvals, but you can see that many of the common self-serve type sales can be further automated.

Revolutionising B2B commerce

This is an example of frictionless commerce transactions in action. You have the flexibility to define the level of automation appropriate to your business, while also reducing human error, improving efficiency and reducing costs.

An API-first commerce platform allows enterprises to easily enable purchase flows from any device and unleashes them to push the boundaries of commerce to any traditional or emerging touchpoint. As a result, customer experience and ultimately loyalty is optimised. It you don’t start making your sales process more digital, your competition will.

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