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B2B Ecommerce for Manufacturers – Executive Guide

Are you a manufacturer exploring the possibilities of diving into B2B ecommerce for manufacturers and taking your business online? You might be wondering, “But I’m not a retailer, am I?” Or perhaps you are, but a significant portion of your clientele consists of businesses that require a customized approach, complex pricing calculations, and maybe even that one person who handles all price negotiations, leaving you dissatisfied.

Regardless, one thing is certain: you need a tailored solution that suits your industry, and you don’t want to waste time on trial and error when others have likely already done so. Does any of this sound familiar? If so, you’ve come to the right place.

Why Should You Pay Attention to Me?

Before becoming a consultant, I worked alongside my parents, who were clothing manufacturers. At that time, they employed nearly 1000 people and were one of the largest jacket manufacturers in Eastern Europe. Later, I joined another manufacturing company specializing in windows and doors.

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In both cases, I was deeply involved in sales and customer service, so I understand the challenges. I know what it’s like to send quotes to clients, repeatedly answer questions, and lose deals due to delayed price quotes from suppliers, among other issues. Whether it’s production overload or stagnation because one customer changed their mind while the next one is a month away, I’ve been there.

During those times, very few manufacturers used self-service tools. But times have changed. Those who haven’t adapted are now the minority. Nowadays, there are plenty of tools, proven strategies, and resources available. You don’t have to take unnecessary risks or reinvent the wheel. I’m here to share some of that knowledge and help you dive into this topic.

What Sets B2C and B2B Ecommerce Apart?

Let’s get straight to the point. When dealing with consumers (B2C), you typically handle smaller quantities with limited customization options. However, when dealing with businesses, you enter a realm of payment terms, delivery agreements, production planning, complex price calculations, document turnover, insurance considerations, and many other factors absent in B2C transactions.

All these factors contribute to the complexity of B2B sales, resulting in higher costs. Increased expenses mean reduced overall competitive advantage and narrower profit margins. It’s as simple as that.

Challenges Faced by Manufacturers in Ecommerce

The primary challenge for manufacturers is the need for digitalization, a term that might seem vague. Allow me to clarify.

In B2C (or B2B when dealing with readily available products), you have a few delivery options—either handle it yourself or enlist the help of fulfillment services. Moreover, the product is physically present, ready and waiting for its buyer. You know your fixed costs and what you paid for it.

However, with manufacturers, the situation is different. You have limited insight into your costs at the time of sale. While you have an estimate, you must calculate it precisely. You rely on a supply chain, and even in the best-case scenario, materials might not be readily available.

Preparing for B2B E-commerce Implementation

Still following me? If you were a B2C store, launching your online store or business would involve steps like:

  • Developing a storefront
  • Finding logistics partners
  • Creating product images and descriptions
  • Launching the store

Of course, I’m simplifying, but the core idea holds true. In Ecommerce for b2b, you must:

  • Digitalize all your calculations, documents, and services (underscore as appropriate)
  • Establish pricing rules
  • Standardize the order processing process
  • Make decisions on exceptions (e.g., custom pricing, etc.)
  • Configure tools for these calculations

Only after completing these steps can you set up your storefront, making it a seamless part of your sales channels. Naturally, this process may vary depending on your circumstances, but converting what’s on paper or making a digital transformation of tools accessible to customers is far from straightforward.

These are the challenges you’ll face, but here’s some good news: many other manufacturers have already successfully navigated this process. Allow me to shed some light on how they did it and what you need to do.

Building the Right Team

The first consideration is assembling a team—individuals who will drive and sustain the change once the transition is complete.

Product Owner

The first and foremost role to consider is the Product Owner. I cannot stress enough how crucial this role is. A great Product Owner can make the difference between night and day, between failure and success.

For manufacturers, the Product Owner’s role is even more critical. They must understand your company’s inner workings while being well-versed in the product you’re developing, specifically the B2B ecommerce platform. Their competence should be both deep and broad.

Effective communication skills are non-negotiable. Additionally, a great Product Owner must have the willingness and ability to truly “own” the product, constantly thinking about the project and the product they’re building.

Developers

If you’re committed to your digital commerce project, you’ll want to build an internal development team. However, don’t rush into this decision; it’s not the first step you should take.

First, consider hiring a consultancy firm. Such a firm can develop, configure, and hand over the B2B ecommerce platform (Business to Business ecommerce) to you. I strongly recommend starting with a third-party team because they bring something you won’t have initially—expert project management.

Yes, management. When you hire a firm, they have a clear obligation: delivering results, or they won’t get paid. When you hire individuals, they lack this vital obligation; they get paid regardless of whether the project succeeds or fails.

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Furthermore, especially in the early stages, you’ll need to do a substantial amount of groundwork, establishing a solid foundation. You want your foundation to be designed by the best to avoid costly rework down the line.

The best developers rarely accept offers from non-IT companies because it tends to be less stimulating and more repetitive. They’ve spent years honing their skills in building complex products and seek opportunities to apply them. If they choose to work for a manufacturing industry, regardless of its sophistication, it will invariably involve repetitive projects within the same niche, often centered around mundane, repetitive tasks.

Business Team

Lastly, you’ll need to build your business team—individuals who understand how your system operates, whether they work in sales team, customer service, manufacturing, or any other role, to achieve a successful digital presence.

The key to success lies in getting your team onboard and making them co-owners of the system. Ideally, each department should have its own Process Owner, a different term for a similar role. These individuals will ensure that each of the B2b ecommerce aspects for manufacturers aligns with the new system.

Prepare for the possibility of difficult decisions. Established employees may resist implementations, and it’s a mystery why some people do this, given that such actions typically lead to their departure from the company. However, it’s a facet of human nature you may encounter: Selecting the Right B2B Ecommerce Platform.

Next, you’ll need to make technical decisions. Avoid the temptation to select a platform solely based on impressive features listed on paper. Many platforms have their pros and cons. While I won’t recommend one specifically, I’ll provide a few names to kickstart your exploration.

Additionally, building an ecommerce website can help streamline your B2B sales process and provide a better customer experience.

Before I continue, an important disclosure: I’m affiliated with Salesforce. Let’s keep that in mind.

Some famous B2B Ecommerce Platforms:

Salesforce Commerce Cloud

Salesforce Commerce Cloud offers an array of products, including:

  • B2B Commerce: Designed for B2B commerce companies

  • B2C Commerce: Targeted at B2C businesses

  • Order Management System: A comprehensive suite for managing orders

Additionally, Salesforce offers Manufacturing Cloud, which includes numerous out-of-the-box features relevant to manufacturers. These features can significantly reduce the time it takes to implement CRM and self service tools.

Towards the end of this article, I’ll share a brief case study, so we won’t dwell on this for too long.

Magento for B2B

Another viable option is Magento for B2B, owned by eBay, Inc., a company with extensive digital commerce expertise, explaining their acquisition of Magento.

Magento offers various storefront features, including attractive templates that can save you from developing your own. It also provides several quote-building tools, seamless integrations with popular ERP and CRM systems, and other useful out-of-the-box features.

Big Commerce

Big Commerce is a prominent name in the B2B Commerce world. Originally focused on B2C e-commerce, they’ve recently launched a B2B Ecommerce product with a plethora of offerings. It’s a great starting point for exploring available ecommerce platforms.

Strategies for Implementing Your Ecommerce Platform

We’re now inching closer to the execution phase of B2B ecommerce for manufacturers. How can a manufacturing company initiate this digital transformation? Well, it depends on your digital readiness level. Here are some questions to help you gauge your readiness:

  • Do we have quality data in our ERP system?

  • Do we store customer data in our CRM?

  • Do we offer any self-service tools?

  • What are our competitors doing?

  • Do we possess the necessary in-house knowledge?

Based on your answers, here are a few proven Ecommerce strategies to consider.

If You Have No Experience

Start with basic self service implementation. To begin, find a capable contractor, educate your team, and gain insight into how IT functions. You can initiate this process by implementing a Document Exchange System or an order tracking system, laying the foundation for an effective ecommerce solution.

Resist the urge to go all in, as your team likely lacks experience with such products. Starting small can prevent costly mistakes.

If You Have Some Experience

Implement a re-ordering system, one of the key benefits of B2B ecommerce solutions, that allows customers to reorder previously purchased items with manual approval steps. It’s an efficient order processing technique as this approach enables you to stress-test your internal systems, assess your team’s capabilities, and lay a solid foundation for future development.

If You Have Considerable Experience

Consider creating a full-fledged self-service store. If you fall into this category and are still reading this article, we should probably have a conversation. You likely have the expertise to implement a store with complex functionality, and our team could be an excellent fit.

Digital solutions, such as B2B ecommerce platforms, can help manufacturers improve efficiency, boost customer focus, increase order accuracy, and unlock new markets and revenue sources

Case Study

I came across an intriguing case study at one of the conferences. What captivates me about this case study is how the company transitioned gradually from tracking online sales process to offering customer self service tools. It’s a remarkable example of how a conventional company with traditional methods evolved to become modern and competitive.

I won’t delve into the case study’s details in this article, but I’ve provided a link below if you wish to explore it further.

To comprehensively explore this case study, please visit the full case study here: Numatic Iberia’s Success Story with Salesforce.

Embarking on Your B2B Commerce Journey

Now, what’s next? What actionable steps can you take to turn your B2B portal for manufacturers into a reality? While I can’t provide a one-size-fits-all answer, there are universal steps you should consider to make this happen.

Market Research and Strategy Development

Start with thorough research. Investigate what your competitors are doing and, equally important, what they’re not doing and why. Engage with your customers to understand their needs and customer expectations in the realm of Ecommercre for manufacturers. Look for gaps between your current practices and your customers’ desires. After asking these questions, develop a clear strategy, outlining your ultimate goal and taking small steps toward achieving it.

Define Target Audience and Customer Personas

Once your strategy is clear, dive into understanding your potential customers and fostering customer loyalty. I’m not referring to leading companies but rather to two personas: the decision-maker who chooses to buy from you and the individual who will interact with your ecommerce store daily.

Choose the Right Technology and Ecommerce Platform

Following that, research and select a B2B ecommerce platform, also known as B2B ecommerce software, that aligns with your requirements, promoting customer satisfaction. Consider factors like scalability, security, integration capabilities with existing systems, and support for the functionalities you need. You may need expert guidance to make the right decision. Develop a Requirement Specification

Document all technical and business requirements for your portal. This should encompass business processes, user roles, and any custom functionalities, such as your custom pricing algorithms.

Design User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI)

Design your portal with a strong focus on user experience. Ensure the interface is intuitive, easy to navigate, and caters to the needs of your B2B ecommerce sites and customer.

Integrate with Business Systems and Configure Processes

Plan the integration of your portal with existing business manufacturing systems, such as CRM, ERP, inventory management, and accounting software, for seamless operations. Ensure that your purchasing process aligns with the one used in your company. This integration can often be the most costly aspect of the entire process.

Testing and Quality Assurance

Don’t underestimate the importance of this critical step. It’s essential to go the extra mile when testing your portal, covering all facets such as functionality, performance, security, and user acceptance testing. This meticulous approach ensures that every component operates precisely as intended, guaranteeing a seamless user experience and minimizing the chances of unexpected issues down the road.

Training and Support Systems

Equipping your staff with the necessary skills to navigate and utilize the portal effectively is a fundamental component of your B2B ecommerce platform for manufacturers implementation strategy. Additionally, establishing robust customer relationship management and customer support systems is crucial to assist users promptly and efficiently, ensuring that any inquiries or issues they encounter are swiftly addressed, fostering user satisfaction and confidence in your ecommerce platform.

Launch Plan and Marketing Strategy

Creating a comprehensive launch plan and dynamic marketing strategy is pivotal to propel your portal, allowing customers to shop online, into the spotlight. into the spotlight. Consider incorporating a well-rounded promotional campaign encompassing email marketing initiatives, impactful social media strategies, active participation in relevant trade shows, and strategic partnership development. These efforts will not only drive awareness but also engage potential users and build excitement around your portal’s launch.

Monitor and Gather Feedback

Post-launch, maintaining a watchful eye on your portal’s performance is vital. By closely monitoring user interactions and system functionality, you can promptly identify areas that require enhancement or optimization. Additionally, actively collecting feedback from users allows you to gain valuable customer insights into their experiences and expectations, paving the way for ongoing improvements that align with evolving business needs.

Continuous Improvement and Scaling

Embrace a proactive approach to continuous improvement as your portal matures. Drawing from user feedback and evolving business requirements, consistently refine and enhance your ecommerce platform. Simultaneously, plan for scalability to accommodate your business’s growth trajectory. This forward-thinking approach ensures that your portal remains a dynamic and adaptive asset that can scale seamlessly with your expanding operations.

Final Thoughts

Thank you for making it this far. If you’re genuinely interested in launching a B2B store or portal, perhaps we should have a conversation. Feel free to reach out; we’re a small boutique company with extensive experience in launching customer portals, including B2B ecommerce for manufacturers.

Cheers,

J.

FREE PDF

Unveil the Art of B2B Commerce Strategy with Our Groundbreaking Guide

Delve into the Three Turtle Technique for Unmatched Business Success


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


What is the biggest B2B ecommerce platform?

That depends what you consider the “biggest”. Largest B2B Retailers tend to chose Oracle or Salesforce B2B Commerce products over other solutions due to their architecture. Smaller vendors often choose BIGCommerce solution.

Which e-commerce type is used for manufacturers?

B2B ecommerce as the preferred type for manufacturers, especially in the context of tailored ecommerce solutions for businesses.

What type of industries can B2B commerce be applied to?

B2B commerce can be applied to manufacturing companies for ecommerce operations like: property management, account management, retail, healthcare, online store, industrial cleanup, and so much more.

Example of B2B ecommerce companies?

Some examples of B2B Ecommerce companies that provide excellent Ecommerce solutions include: Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Magento for B2B, and Big Commerce.

Good ecommerce option for manufacturing business?

Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Magento for B2B, and Big Commerce count as potential options for manufacturing companies.

System Thinker, Technology Evangelist, and Humanist, Jeff, brings a unique blend of experience, insight, and humanity to every piece. With eight years in the trenches as a sales representative and later transitioning into a consultant role, Jeff has mastered the art of distilling complex concepts into digestible, compelling narratives. Journeying across the globe, he continues to curate an eclectic tapestry of knowledge, piecing together insights from diverse cultures, industries, and fields. His writings are a testament to his continuous pursuit of learning and understanding—bridging the gap between technology, systems thinking, and our shared human experience.

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