Digitalisation: a B2B approach

November 8, 2017 by
Nico Hoeijmans

b2bWholesalers have always pursued a multi-channel strategy. In earlier days, it may have consisted of using a catalog, a brick-and-mortar store and sales representatives. Digitalisation and the Internet resulted in a big shift, with merchants starting to sell online, creating a whole new pattern of expectations. A lot of these e-commerce companies obviously focused on B2C, but what are the benefits for B2B platform-users?

A Forrester Research showed that two-thirds of all B2B customers expect their interaction with a company to be seamless across all channels. For them, it does not matter if they communicate by phone, desktop PC, mobile devices or even an old-fashioned paper catalog. The experience needs to be the same through every channel, providing the same products, information, price, and services. It is not always easy, for every seller, to create an equal experience through multiple channels. However, it does offer some important advantages. The research noted that about one-third of all omnichannel customers spend more, while half of the omnichannel customers are more profitable overall. The obvious downside of failing to implement an omnichannel strategy is even more telling since the internet. When a product is listed in a catalog but not online, it is so much easier to search for it on a competitor’s website.

Wholesalers have pursued a multi-channel strategy for a long time, using brick-and-mortar locations, catalogs, sales representatives, call centers and many more channels to interact with the customer. With the internet and digitalisation of business processes, harmonisation of all channels is even more important in an omnichannel strategy. A strategy that holds coherent, consistent pricing and branding, with customer-specific rather than channel-specific income statements, to deliver a decent customer experience across all areas and channels. To achieve such an omnichannel strategy often requires a change in thinking, in (re)creating perspectives, changing old ways of thinking as areas of ownership are inevitably transformed.

When B2C and B2B customers connect with a company, they provide useful information through various channels. This helps wholesalers to gain a better understanding of the needs and wishes of their customers. Based on these needs, wholesalers can implement solutions that offer a tailored experience across multiple channels. This benefits the consumer, but will help the wholesaler to improve cross- and upselling as well.

Going online has offered wholesalers a bunch of new tools to provide their customers a quick and easy order process, which adds to the customer satisfaction. Faster transactions, larger selections, products at a lower price and comprehensive after-sales services are main reasons for customers to buy online. This goes for B2C consumers as well as the general wholesale-consumer.

b2b2There is a danger in these developments; B2B e-commerce in the wholesale industry is becoming increasingly complex. It is particularly important that wholesalers tailor their quotation management and order entry system to the preferences of business customers – among all available channels. As this is executed successfully, a wholesale-consumer can place their order independently. The buyer controls the entire process, at any time and place of their liking. An example: using a digital sales platform, it is possible to assign a unique order-value limit or personal budget to each individual buyer. If an order value is higher than the assigned limit, an approval request is automatically sent to the manager responsible, guaranteeing full transparency for both buyer and seller and reducing the number of additional manual processes. The buyer is, and remains in control.

According to Gerrit Enthoven, Sales Director at Intershop, an integrated B2B e-commerce solution provides important features and information. These aspects will streamline business processes to make the order-entry more comprehensible and productive. Examples of important features are special customer price lists, custom product offerings, master agreements, block pricing, integrated quotation processes, full order histories, a full overview of all available items at all locations and special logistics options. When using these features, it is possible to coordinate all customer interaction across all available channels as well as replicate sales and order management processes as part of the digital platform. This way, e-commerce in B2B sales provides wholesalers with an additional, very useful sales channel.

More Information on digital commerce in wholesale.

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