Build Your B2B eCommerce Program and Portal

Congratulations! Your business is now ready to sell B2B via the web. Internal discovery of the B2B eCommerce program and portal is underway and internal sentiment suggests a replica of the B2C site. The ordering process needs to be brought online and if the development team can do a quick reboot of the B2C site on a subdomain the wholesale team can begin selling there in no time.

Not so fast.

Building the B2B site is conceptually and functionally different from the B2C site and needs separate treatment.

Repeat – it’s not carbon copy.

Orders will neither be passed through the system similarly nor fulfilled similarly. The user experiences (yes the ‘s’ is intentional, more below) will completely different. It will hit the general ledger differently. Payment and shipping terms will (likely) differ. There will also be wholesalers that want to order via phone or fax.

B2B eCommerce Site Development

Your B2B eCommerce site reflects your B2B customer base. Whether you have thousands of SKUs or just a handful, creating a compelling UI and UX is just as important on a B2B eCommerce site as it is a B2C site. In some cases there may even be a need for multiple sites due to unique requirements of distinct customer groups (language, accessibility, etc.).

B2B customers already know your product and want to buy it in quantity. They don’t need all the images, videos or descriptions your B2C store has. Typically an image plus a brief description along with the standard drop-down or unit key in order option is fine for a product page. Purchasing agents don’t need or want to spend too much time on the site and anything other than a direct ordering option will create a bad user experience.

There are many 3rd party SaaS products available as alternatives to hardcoding a unique B2B site. You will save a fortune in development costs, providing the services match your requirements. Keep in mind that you may fall victim to technology and jeopardize B2B customer sales and relationships should the service deploy an update that either modifies the software, adds/removes functionality that doesn’t align with your goals, or doesn’t support a necessary integration.

Ordering Process

There are B2B customers as small as (literally) a tiny hut in a remote part of the world, selling 10 crates of soda a week. These customers are a part of global supply chains and purchase from Fortune 500 companies. While Internet access is increasingly prevalent in the world, it doesn’t mean that a broadband connection is available to everyone and it doesn’t mean that everyone has a 22″ monitor. Multinationals are building image free, text-based, B2B eCommerce sites easily accessible via smartphone that cater to this customer segment and simplify their business cycles.

While these instances may only be resonating with large multinational companies, they pose a great case in understanding customers.

Phone and fax. Yes, people still use them and they may be your wholesalers. The majority of the ordering process will be digital, but there is large segment using alternate methods. Developing a system for internal staff to hand key in these orders will require consideration.

Remember, user experience is both internal and external and directly linked to sales – if a wholesaler or internal staff can’t easily place an order, sales will suffer.

EDI

Your wholesale customer may have an EDI requirement. EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) is an electronic data transmission method used to internationally exchange information between technical systems. When your wholesaler want to place an order, for instance, they will be able to do so directly by contacting your ERP (via EDI) and submitting a purchase order. This will kickoff your internal process of receiving the PO, verifying stock levels, cutting an invoice, etc. Deploying an EDI integration will automate a number of processes including purchase orders, ASNs, invoices, etc.

The result of implementing this data automation tool? You will see ERP data quality increased, reduced errors (by reducing manual paperwork), improved wholesaler relations, and an incrementally higher percentage of overall business efficiency.

Third party services to connect your system to the wholesaler’s system will be a good option for many companies. Direct connections are always an option.

Shipping Terms

Shipping terms are a strategic part of acquiring a new B2B customer.

As an incentive, you may want to offer all approved wholesalers free shipping on their first order. Another option could be to offer a certain value in credit for the first order. Alternatively, you can create a regional shipping structure offering free or discounted shipping within certain areas. For instance, if the total purchase amount is at least $10,000, they will get free shipping within designated zip codes. You can simply offer a pass through shipping cost. The wholesalers can be required to use their own carrier. There are limitless options for choosing shipping terms with all decisions predicated on the strategic goals of your wholesale program.

Systemically, each of these options translate to separate business rules requiring separate working sessions among departments to find the logic and flow through your B2B eCommerce site. Some terms will be coded directly into the system while others may require a manual process when an order lands at your distribution center.

Transportation rates are ever changing and impacts will come from changes in the business climate including fuel surcharges, renegotiated carrier rates, volume increases and more. To optimize your B2B program, an ongoing logistics review and tweaking and tuning of shipping terms will become a norm.

Fulfillment

Even if you standardize your shipping terms for wholesalers, there will still be impacts on your fulfillment center. Some logistics centers flat-out do not have the capabilities to handle wholesale orders. Others do. Some will change their existing system to make a client (you) happy.

In any case, you need a separate storage location for your wholesale products. All B2B orders will be sent out as case pack or pallets, not eaches. Picking from the same location will result in human error. If you are discretizing reporting between cases packs and eaches, this will pose reporting irregularities.

Payment Terms

Only offer terms when you can afford to not get paid on time. Different wholesalers will get different terms (Boeing will be a much different wholesale partner than a small retail startup). You may want to offer no terms, perhaps Net 15. Net 30.

Make sure you have the inventory in stock and can prove it. Without tangible proof, a large wholesaler may walk away from a smaller manufacturer.

Carton and Shipping Design

If you haven’t gone through the process of identifying whether or not your current case pack sizes meet industry standards, do so. Most industries have standardized case pack sizes – touch base with a few of your wholesalers and distributors to identify what the right size is. Migrating from what you are now using to industry specific case pack sizes will be a lengthy process.

Getting ahead of this will be critical to quickly onboarding wholesale customers.

GS1

Any wholesaler or distributor of note requires authorized GS1 codes on your products, inner and outer cases, and pallets. If you don’t have an account with GS1, get one. They are the sole issuing and regulatory body for UPC and EAN codes. While there are many grey market UPC sellers out there, these codes are registered to other companies and you will run the risk of orders being rejected by wholesalers.

Including GS1 codes in your item master will be critical to a successful EDI program. If B2B eCommerce customers are not able to receive item information in totality, it will create bottlenecks for them at receiving bays, distribution centers and even checkout at cash registers.

If you have an eye to engage in cross border trade, legitimate GS1 codes will not only be needed by wholesalers, but also any governmental regulatory body in the receiving country. Customs agencies are adopting usage of these codes, which will help speed your shipments through any port of entry.

Conclusion

Putting together a B2B eCommerce program and site needs unique treatment. It is not – and should not – be a rinse and repeat version of how you approached your B2C site. There are significant nuances that need focused dedication of your cross-functional teams.

Everyone sees a B2C site. Not everyone sees a B2B site. The ‘behind the scenes nature’ of a B2B eCommerce site can pose an air of mystery to some team members. Getting the internal wholesale team to invest time in helping the team understand the program in advance of project kickoff will be an invaluable asset to project success.

There will be a variety of systems to connect, and therefore a variety of system constraints. Be sure to take stock of the various systems involved (WMS, EDI, ERP, customer systems, etc.). Understanding the constraints they bring upfront and thoroughly mapping the business rules and logic will enable you to tailor the system appropriately.

Project success starts and ends with the customer. Once there is a clear understanding of your B2B customer’s needs to supplement your business and financial goals, everything will come into place.


Also published on Medium.

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