The challenges of B2B
Selling online to business-to-business (B2B) customers is a very different ballgame to selling to B2C customers alone. The differences present a host of challenges that touch almost every part of an ecommerce store.
The way B2B customers place orders, for example, and the frequency at which they want to do it, is not the same for B2C customers. Pricing often has to be tiered or customer-specific, and the nature of promotions and loyalty is completely different.
And the contrasts don’t stop there. Pre-orders are very common with B2B customers, who require varying levels of permission for their admin users. What’s more, both fulfilment commitments and catalogues can change from one customer to the next.
The list goes on...
But catering to both B2B and B2C customers on the same platform can actually amplify these challenges and lead to a compromised solution for all of your customers across B2B and B2C. This is particularly true if such a compromise is poorly executed.
Thankfully, this is set to change very soon. A new B2B feature suite for Magento 2 (M2) is expected later this year.
Separating B2B and B2C
B2B and B2C online trading have often been kept separate, for the reasons I’ve already touched on. This has been the case with the Magento platform which – since its inception in 2007 – has always been geared towards B2C customers.
Of course, that’s not to say that Magento users haven’t been able to successfully meet the demands of B2B on what has traditionally been a B2C platform. Brands like Bidvest, Wella and PZ Cussons are a testament to what can be achieved with the platform.
And part of the major appeal of Magento is its flexibility and the way in which it can be extended and/or modified. There is a large market place offering hundreds of B2B extensions and there are just as many Magento agencies able to deliver custom B2B functionality.
In the past, Magento users that needed to service both B2C and B2B channels have had three main ways to meet their B2B needs: customisation of the platform and existing functionality, third-party extensions and disconnecting their B2B offering from Magento.
Customisation has always been seen as the best approach for larger, enterprise-level organisations as it offers obvious benefits. First and foremost, a custom solution can be designed around needs specific to the business. And a business is not limited by module capabilities when customising, as opposed to installing, a module.
But customisation can be expensive and time-consuming, and there will likely be on-going costs to maintain custom code, particularly with platform upgrades.
There are plenty of third-party extensions, of varying cost and quality, available to Magento customers who want to improve their B2B offering. Modules can be a great option if requirements are standard and budgets are tight. But they have clear limitations too, in that you are constrained by what they can do, and the way by which they do it.
Disconnecting B2B from Magento
Of course, keeping B2B completely separate from a B2C Magento site has always been an option. For example, the fashion industry still uses order sheets – often in the form of Excel documents and lengthy catalogues in PDF or even plain old paper.
Separating the two isn’t necessarily the wrong approach. But as we move towards less compartmentalised and more comprehensive ‘commerce’ – as opposed to a siloed landscape where ecommerce, bricks and mortar, and B2B are all kept separate – it will become more important to manage a unified vision of all customers.
Magento 2: driving forward B2B
Magento has recognised the need for a more unified approach to commerce, and as such has recently announced enhanced B2B functionality to go hand-in-hand with M2.
In what will be the first ever dedicated B2B offering from the platform provider, Magento will be delivering a full suite of enterprise edition features to sit alongside the M2 platform. Fresh off the back of the success of M2, it’s a big statement of intent, and we can only assume Magento plans on growing its B2B offering over the coming releases.
So what key features can we look forward to?
Tiered and negotiated pricing
This allows for different business customers to be given different prices. This is a key feature as most B2B retailers will have a range of prices based on factors such as how long they have been a customer, how often they buy, and the size of their orders.
The fact that this is now core functionality is crucial to the success of the M2 B2B offering.
But the pricing options don’t stop there. Negotiated pricing will also be available, allowing customers to request a quote. This is a very powerful and necessary tool in the B2B space.
The idea of B2B customers sat behind desks, placing orders on desktop computers is outdated. Thankfully responsive design allows web pages to be viewed in response to the size of the screen being used. The idea? Customers can easily place orders across a range of devices – from mobiles to tablets.
This is important because B2B trends are mirroring those of B2C, with more and more orders being placed on mobile devices. Denying your customers the ability to order whenever and wherever they want could cause your businesses to fall behind.
This functionality, as the name suggests, will enable B2B customers to place repeat orders very quickly and easily. This is a major benefit in B2B trading where customers regularly place repeat orders or know exactly what they need and in what volume. The quicker and easier it is for them to do this, be it by SKU or even uploading an order sheet, the better.
This will definitely drive up repeat customers, order frequency, conversion rate and average order value, among other key performance indicators.
The ability to control product catalogues and prices for individual customers is key when selling in a B2B environment. The new functionality allows for this level of control, meaning that each customer can have a bespoke catalogue with unique pricing.
Enhanced account management
One of the big challenges with managing a successful B2B offering is the need for enhanced account management and visibility/control over customer accounts. Allowing different permission levels within each customer account is an example of this.
B2B customers can have multiple admin users, and each admin user can have a unique set of access and permission levels. Some may need to prepare orders, others may need to approve and place the orders.
Consider a shop manager wanting to replenish stock for their store. They know what they need but someone with more control over spending may need to approve the order before it is placed. Managing roles and permissions is key to those running business accounts.
Improved ERP connectors
The ability to connect with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems more easily will take a lot of the pain out of using Magento for B2B. Difficult integrations can cause deployment delays and drive up costs, so the simpler these connections are to integrate, the better. The fact that it can be more easily done using M2 helps distinguish the M2 platform from the competition.
This post gives you a glimpse at some of M2’s new functionality, but the platform has much more to offer. That’s why there are already a number of successful launches across a range of large Magento clients.
But now it’s your turn. With the new B2B functionality available as an additional offering for any M2 platform, it’s time to think about the benefits these tools could bring to your organisation as you look to engage, win and retain your B2B customer base.
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