A successful B2B e-commerce site needs many functions to properly serve customers. Here’s a look at nine that top the list.

Businesses selling online to other businesses require e-commerce functions that go well beyond just the ability to support unique pricing or payment terms for business customers. Key functional areas that should be evaluated when selecting a business-to-business e-commerce software platform include:

● Promotions & Merchandising

● Shopping Cart

● Checkout

● Parent/Child Accounts


● Order Management

● Inventory

● Product Information Management

● Marketing to the B2B Buyer


● Reporting

This second part of a two-part article covers the importance of the last five of these functional areas: Order Management, Inventory, Product Information Management, Marketing to the B2B Buyer, and Reporting. The first part of the article appeared last week and covered the first four functional areas.

Order Management

An Order Management System (OMS) needs to be included as part of the e-commerce solution or a third-party solution that is tightly integrated. The OMS should include a dashboard view of all orders and their current status from pending to completed and everything in between, with full drill-down capability into all of the relevant transaction details. The solution should include order processing and fulfillment for finalizing your quote-to-cash or order-to-cash scenarios—which electronically process and record each step from an initial contact with a customer, until the supplier receives payment—along with handling order modifications, credit orders or returns.


Your OMS also becomes the vehicle to a proactive customer service strategy to focus on addressing the most common customer problems or benefits across the buying lifecycle. The post-purchase stage represents the biggest opportunity for a company to differentiate and build trust with the customer. An example would be notifying your customer that a product has shipped via email or text versus requiring them to access their account online to view the order status. An online B2B solution with a flexible OMS that allows you to build out workflows to proactively automate customer service will make for happy customers where reordering is the norm.


Inventory visibility is a big priority for business buyers as they want
real-time inventory information available online. To help ensure
accurate data, companies need accurate, real-time inventory visibility across their channels (web, store, warehouse, 3PL).

An e-commerce solution needs to be able to support a single, reliable view of inventory across all these channels as customers want to know if an item is in stock or out of stock before they click purchase. Providing this data provides a good customer experience and ensures you don’t lose potential sales because of bad information. According to a 2014 Forrester Consulting survey of B2B buyers, 77% said that real-time inventory visibility was either important or very important. 


For some companies, the ability to allocate stock to different channels or specific retailers is important in supporting their omnichannel practice. For example, they need to allocate specific amounts of inventory to both their retail and direct-to-consumer channels.

Additionally, for retail customers, they may need to allocate specific amounts of stock per retailer. The issue occurs when inventory gets overcommitted for the consumer business or another retailer purchases more than they were allotted. The company has no controls in place for inventory and could end up ruining a relationship with one of their largest retail buyers as a result. Along with providing inventory visibility, it’s important to have a system that can support the appropriate allocation of stock at the channel or customer level.

Product Information Management

Product configurations in B2B sales can go well beyond a single product to include dynamic kits, collection products, product bundles and Bill of Materials (BOM) that support a single SKU with multiple sub-SKUs, configurable products or all of the above. It’s important that your solution has the flexibility to display any of these configuration types to the B2B buyer.


There also should be no limitation on the product attributes you can expose to the buyer on your product detail pages (PDPs). Attributes can cover everything from product descriptions to product ratings and reviews to imagery and video. The more informed the buyer is, the more confident they are in making the purchase. Also, providing an array of details can help cut down on returns as the buyer has a more complete picture of what they’re getting and are less likely to be disappointed.

Support for multiple pricing scenarios is also important. For your wholesalers and resellers, you may need to expose to them MSRP (Manufacturer Suggest Retail Price) or MAP (Minimum Advertised Price) as part of the buying process. Variable pricing support may include different price break scenarios, option level pricing, unique contract pricing for the buyer, tier pricing or even subscription pricing.

Companies in many industries and verticals have set up subscription-based pricing models for their B2B business and the discussion now goes from the initial order to managing the complexity of a recurring billing scenario.

Product data can be an important factor for effectively tracking your inventory. For example, a company is selling one specific item or SKU that is a combination of many sub-SKUs. They need to support a process where the order captured online offsets inventory not only at the SKU level but at the sub-SKU level. Another example which is common with discrete manufacturing companies is the ability to support a variant configuration where an item can be figured online based on a large set of product options.


For each of these scenarios, the e-commerce solution needs to be able to pass through the order details at the SKU or sub-SKU level and update inventory correctly across multiple channels. How you manage your product information in your B2B e-commerce solution is not going to be the savior for an inventory issue, but it can be set up so it’s not the problem.

Marketing to the B2B Buyer

The buying cycle is usually longer in B2B sales than it is in B2C, so
it’s important that B2B businesses have the ability to nurture relationships with buyers online throughout that process. This means publishing more educational material to drive decisions or communicating more frequently with a prospect in order to deliver the right content.

Email marketing is still a very effective tool. That said, don’t overdo it with daily or weekly emails as you risk that being seen as an annoyance and becoming counter-productive in the customer engagement process.


The quality content gets lost in the pile of frequent, irrelevant touch points. A fun fact for millennials, the 18-34 age group, is that they are most likely to check their email from bed (70%), from the bathroom (57%), or while driving (27%), according to data from Adobe Systems Inc. These current and potential future B2B buyers also typically prefer emails that mostly have images versus lots of content as attention spans tend to waver during the aforementioned activities.  

Inbound marketing is also one of your most effective tools today. A B2B site should be full of helpful documentation, product information, blogs, detailed FAQs and videos. Your strategy for inbound marketing needs to continue to evolve with relevant and educational content for the B2B buyer.

Providing a relevant, personalized experience is a key factor in driving more sales and reorders, so the content should be targeted, whether it’s a specific banner, message, or promotion. The targeting can be done based on a variety of factors, such as shopper profile, browser behavior, shopping cart or geo-location. Content needs to live and breathe outside of your B2B site with exposure in all of your relevant social media channels as well.

It goes without saying that search engine optimization (SEO), the practice of optimizing web content to make it more noticeable by search engine crawlers, is mission-critical for B2B e-commerce as organic search drives the majority of B2B website traffic. A study from Google confirmed that 71% of B2B researchers start their research with a generic search. SEO management capability should be native to the platform at the product, store and category level for URL Keyword, Page Title, Meta Description, Image Alt text and all of the relevant content. If you’re re-platforming, make sure there is a process in place to support all of your legacy URL redirects.


Organic search drives 51% of all visitors to business-to-business and business-to-consumer websites, whereas paid search drives 10% and social 5%, according to MediaPost.

Reporting: Analytics, analytics, analytics…

Reporting capabilities and analytics should be evaluated to ensure you have access to a full view of what is happening on your website. Basic reporting needs can span many areas, such as order reports, product reports, traffic reports, channel reports or user reports, and should be available to you out-of-the-box.

Your e-commerce solution should also be able to provide custom reports that can be added at any time to ensure you are seeing all the data you need, when you need it. Having access to real-time analytics is critical for addressing issues, as well as for taking advantage of short-term opportunities.


Reports such as total sales, abandoned shopping cart, best viewed products, best purchased products, low stock, wish list, search terms, and coupon usage can all give you better insight into what consumers are doing on your site. These are common reports that will provide you the data you need to make informed decisions to benefit your inventory, merchandising and promotional strategies.

A/B and multivariate testing helps take the guesswork out of what you need to do for site enhancements and improving conversion rates. For B2B e-commerce, multivariate testing is a must. In contrast to an A/B test, which is based on splitting traffic for two different versions of a web page, multivariate testing allows you to provide a more focused test on one web page to help determine which specific elements play the biggest role in achieving the desired result. These types of tests are more complicated but the analytics you derive can have a big impact on the bottom line!

Matthew Grattan is the senior vice president of global sales for pdsCommerce, a provider of e-commerce software and services. Prior to pdsComerce, he was senior national director of the e-commerce practice at Avalara Inc., a provider of tax management software. He has also served on the partner advisory board of Demandware, an e-commerce software company acquired earlier this year by Salesforce.com Inc. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGrattan1 and on LinkedIn.