Martin Rohde, general manager of commercial customers at Amazon Business, the business-to-business arm of Amazon.com Inc., shares details in a Q&A with B2BecNews of how Amazon Business helps business buyers procure products and control their spending.
A former executive in charge of B2B e-commerce at manufacturer Hewlett-Packard Enterprise and distributor Arrow Electronics, Rohde joined Amazon Business last year as the head of the department that works with commercial customers—the businesses that buy from other businesses on Amazon.
Amazon Business, which launched in April 2015, has reported having more than 1 million buyers and some 85,000 sellers, and it’s still working on ways to attract more and keep them as long-term customers, Rohde says. “It’s still just the beginning.”
Q: Describe your position and responsibilities as head of commercial customers.
MR: As the director of the commercial vertical for Amazon Business, I’m focused on providing business customers in this space, from technology companies to restaurants, access to an online marketplace for all of their B2B purchasing needs. I’m also focused on meeting the unique needs of our customers. With Amazon Business, we’re serving our customers by leveraging everything that’s been built by Amazon and tailoring it to our business customers.
For example, one thing we’ve heard from commercial customers is that they wanted payment options such as Pay by Invoice and terms that align with how they manage their businesses, or more visibility into their purchases their employees make. My team at Amazon Business is in charge of ensuring needs such as this are heard and met.
Q: Why did you make the shift from HPE to Amazon Business? How do you like working in an environment where you’re helping companies procure products, rather than being at a manufacturer where your company designs, manufactures and sells products to customers?
MR: What attracted me to the job at Amazon Business is our focus on innovation for our customers, and the ability leverage my passion for e-commerce to create meaningful progress for them. We often describe Amazon Business as “everything you love about Amazon, for work.” In many cases in the B2B world, business buyers had to go through a time-consuming procurement process. Amazon Business provides an efficient way for them to procure what they want, while addressing their companies’ needs for budgetary control and compliance.
Q: What experience from your HPE, HP and Arrow Electronics days help you in your new role at Amazon Business?
MR: I love this question! During my tenure at HP and Arrow Electronics, I worked with customers of all sizes from Fortune 100 companies to small businesses, from startups to global enterprises. Understanding the different needs of these customers is key to building a solution that resonates with each and every customer. At Amazon Business, we are building features and benefits that are tailored to specific customer needs. Today, large enterprises use several of them to make their procurement process more efficient, while sole proprietors also get to enjoy these features, including the ability to purchase from a marketplace accessing new suppliers that they previously hadn’t found.
Q: Can you cite one or more examples of a feature Amazon Business has built, or is building, for a specific customer need?
MR: Absolutely. Our analytics dashboard is a great example as we heard from customers that they wanted more visibility into their spending. The dashboard provides businesses the ability to view purchasing activity at the individual, purchasing group or type of spend level. These insights also allow them to adhere to compliance policies.
Another example includes building a simplified purchasing experience, where our customers can add multiple users to a single business account. Administrators can also define groups of users to share payment methods and shipping addresses. We also introduced Business Prime Shipping last year, which is a paid annual membership program for multi-user business customers. In the U.S., Business Prime Shipping offers unlimited two-day free shipping on eligible items for all users on an Amazon Business account (and one-day free shipping on orders over $35). We built these features based on feedback we heard from customers.
Other features and benefits we have built include business-only selection and pricing, payment solutions such as Pay by Invoice, and integration with third-party purchasing systems. Amazon Business also has a seller credential program that allows third-party sellers to feature and display one or more of 18 nationally recognized diversity, ownership and quality credentials. This includes credentials such as small, minority-owned, women-owned or veteran-owned businesses, which gives customers the ability to discover and purchase from these businesses on our marketplace.
Q: What are the types, sizes and geographic locations of companies that make up the base of commercial customers at Amazon Business?
MR: In the commercial vertical, and even across Amazon Business, we serve businesses of all sizes from Fortune 500 companies to sole proprietors. Customers across industries see the value that Amazon Business brings to improving their tail-spend (or off-contract) needs for procuring a wide range of products and services, from industrial manufacturing, to financial services, to real estate—you name it. Our customers are located across the United States, and Amazon Business is also available to companies in the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, India—and in February we expanded to France.
Q: What is the range of products, supplies and materials available to buyers?
MR: Amazon Business provides access to the hundreds of millions of products available on Amazon.com. This includes everything from IT and lab equipment to education and food service supplies. Additionally, we provide access to more than 85,000 business sellers and we offer a list of business-only selection and pricing. For example, Amazon Business offers quantity discounts, which provides business customers the option to purchase in larger quantities.
Q: Assuming much of these procured products are indirect goods, such as POS accessories for running a retail store, are buyers also procuring direct goods that make up part of the merchandise they sell—such as materials used in private label garments or consumer electronic goods?
MR: I don’t have those specifics, but as I mentioned, our customers include businesses of all types and sizes. They shop on Amazon Business to find the products they need to run their businesses, whether it is electrical components or janitorial supplies.
Q: Describe the range of procurement and spend-management technology and services you provide. And how does Amazon provide price transparency among multiple sellers for customers buying on or off negotiated contracts?
MR: In terms of transparency, one unique aspect of Amazon Business is the multi-seller marketplace, where businesses can view multiple offers on a single product page for price comparisons. The Amazon Business analytics dashboard, allows them—in charts and graphs—to monitor and track how their organization is spending on Amazon.
We offer several features and benefits to help businesses purchase more efficiently and gain better control over their spending. In addition to having multiple buyers on a single business account, procurement managers can also monitor or approve purchases of their teams using group- and user-management with workflow approvals, which adds a layer of control to support cost-saving initiatives.
Business customers can integrate their financial management systems with third-party procurement applications they already use for access to Amazon Business. They can also make tax-exempt purchases and manage tax-exemption permissions across an organization
Q: How much does Amazon Business connect with third-party procurement applications, and how does this benefit customers?
MR: We integrate with more than 50 third-party purchasing systems today, and we are constantly listening to our customers to integrate with solutions that they are already using to make their procurement process more efficient. With the support for solutions such as SAP Ariba, Coupa Software and others, customers can stay in their procurement environment, and with a single punchout, access the Amazon Business marketplace to shop for supplies.
Q: What new buying and procurement contract-management tools and services can we expect to see over the next few years from Amazon?
MR: We are constantly innovating on behalf of our customers. While I can’t share future plans, we’re always listening to our customers and will continue to build out features that matter most to them. It’s still just the beginning.
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