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Why Companies Like Yours Turn to Us for eCommerce

Selecting an eCommerce platform might sound simple on the face of it, but to ensure you end up with the best fit solution for your business, it’s important to recognise that there’s more than meets the eye…. and your evaluation should include more than just assessing the software application itself.

In fact, there are 3 crucial elements to consider when evaluating your integrated eCommerce options: Platform, People, and Results. Neglect any of these elements when choosing your solution, and you’re likely to miss the opportunity to build the foundations that will make your organization a leader in B2B in your industry.

What do we mean by Platform, People, Results? Let’s take a closer look.

Of course, the first thing you’ll evaluate when looking at eCommerce platforms are the features and technical capabilities on offer. If you're running an ERP such as Microsoft Dynamics, Netsuite, Pronto, Epicor, SAP or similar, you’ll want something that integrates seamlessly to your existing inventory and order management system. But more than just integration, you should ensure the platform can understand and support your organisation’s unique (and nearly always complex) business rules and processes.

For B2B in particular, there are some key functions that should be considered mandatory for any eCommerce platform to offer:

Complex pricing rules

True ERP integration should ensure that all contract pricing, discount rules, and unit of measure cost structures are reflected accurately on the website, guaranteeing your customers the correct product price at all times.

Product range masking

If your business deals with very large customers, chances are they will require you to limit some of your range to their buyers only, due to contractual arrangements. Ensure your B2B eCommerce platform supports hiding products from view for all but a subset of users – either via Custom Catalogues or other business logic.

PunchOut

PunchOut capability is a key differentiator for many suppliers - especially those dealing with large enterprises such as mining, industrial, government and education. PunchOut will allow your customers on ERPs such as Oracle, SAP or similar, to punch out to your eCommerce platform and build a cart, then return seamlessly to their own purchasing system to complete the order process.

Order & invoice approvals

Common in B2B eCommerce, approval hierarchies can dictate who’s permitted to order and how much they can spend. To support complex procurement structures, a B2B eCommerce platform needs the ability to restrict ordering permissions where required, and grant designated users approval authority. The same should be available for invoicing at the other end of the order-to-cash cycle.

Self-service tracking & payment

B2B users expect the same level of self-service functionality they’re used to when wearing their B2C hats. Checking on order status and tracking delivery with the freight carrier should be a 24/7 option for all customers. But over and above that, B2B also needs the ability to receipt order lines, check outstanding balances, pay (or partially pay) invoices, initiate returns, and take up credit notes – all within your platform.

Easy User management

A sophisticated eCommerce platform will allow you to configure your website users according to your business needs. Whether that means linking users to multiple accounts, assigning them multiple roles, multiple catalogues, or approval limits, your users should enjoy a customised experience from the moment they login. And the platform’s CMS should make this user management quick and easy for your customer service teams.

Complex freight requirements

Whilst you’d expect an eCommerce platform to support common fulfilment options such as store pickup / click & collect, you may require functionality such as bulky item freight, tailgate service, or cubic meterage charges. Depending on the nature of your stock and the location of your customers, you may wish to restrict delivery to certain postcodes or limit some locations to particular carriers. Your platform should provide customers an accurate freight quote at the point of checkout, and support complex freight rules and calculations.

Superior Search

Relevance-based search ensures that your customers can find what they’re looking for quickly and easily on your website. But more than just a simple product lookup function, a B2B eCommerce platform’s search capability must also understand and support the complex business requirements outlined above.

Once you’ve narrowed down your candidates - eliminating those B2C platforms masquerading as B2B - it’s time to get to know what is arguably the solution provider’s most important asset:  its people.

Are the team who will be developing, implementing, and supporting your eCommerce platform (presumably for years to come) backed by years of their own eCommerce experience and deep business process knowledge - especially across the complete ‘order to cash’ process?

Do their people understand the nuances of B2B procurement requirements like punchout, contract products, freight restrictions, and hierarchical approvals?

Can their people guide you through industry best practice and suggest creative solutions for your business needs via the eCommerce platform?

As part of your evaluation, don’t be afraid to ask to meet the people who will be working on your project. Ask them the type of questions you’d normally ask candidates you were interviewing for a key role within your business – because when you choose an eCommerce solutions provider, that’s precisely what you’re doing.

Many eCommerce providers will no doubt possess the tools required to build a website. But it’s the skill and expertise in the implementation that can mean the difference between a shopping cart and a living, breathing extension of your business.

And finally, it’s wise to examine the kind of results achieved by the customers who came before you. This step is so very important in resolving the concerns that will invariably crop up throughout your buying journey. Too often, the proven results of other customers are not given enough weighting when choosing an eCommerce partner. Some questions to ask:

Have this provider’s prior eCommerce projects been successful? Do those customers now consider their websites indispensable to their business? Have customers maintained long-standing relationships with the platform provider or does everyone seem to go elsewhere after a few years?

Is the platform provider open about offering you contact details and references from their current stable of customers? Do they encourage you to speak directly with a range of customers, without closely controlling the conversation? Many providers closely guard that information and will offer you already published case studies instead.

Your integrated B2B eCommerce solution is a major investment for your business. Getting it right can drive your organization to the next level; getting it wrong could be a very costly mistake. Ensure you take the time to thoroughly evaluate your options, and trust those who live and breathe B2B.

In the end, it’s all about the Platform. People. Results.

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Sean Toms
CIO, Henry Schein Halas

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