The business-to-business market has become more competitive in recent years as corporate buyers seek to increase operational efficiency and optimize procurement processes. B2B sellers are expected to innovate to win new business and maintain their existing customer base.The B2B market is projected to be worth around $6.7 trillion worldwide by 2020, with the US B2B e-commerce sector accounting for well over $1 trillion. The market is growing and, after a slow start, embracing the benefits of e-commerce.
Buyers increasingly prefer to use B2B e-commerce solutions rather than email or more traditional procurement workflows. But building an online version of your B2B catalog isn’t enough: many buyers also demand automation fueled by integration with their e-procurement solutions (such as Coupa, Vroozi, SAP Ariba, SAP SRM, Jaggaer, Oracle iProcurement and PeopleSoft eProcurement, among hundreds of high-tech procurement systems on the market), enterprise resource planning (ERP) and inventory management systems.
Automation streamlines procurement
Many B2B sellers do not provide e-commerce as an option to their customers: 38% of manufacturers and 60% of distributors reported having e-commerce sites in recent studies. Buyers use ERP and procurement technologies, so the sales process is typically a complex dance involving a lot of manual data entry and back-and-forth document exchanges (hosted catalogs, quotes, etc.).
This is inefficient, a waste of employee time, and staggeringly expensive compared to more modern solutions. The alternative is an e-commerce system equipped with punchout capabilities that can integrate the seller’s online catalog with the back-office systems of buyers, allowing order data to be transferred between buyer and seller platforms quickly and efficiently.
Automation accelerates transactions. Buyers can choose products, have purchases approved, and dispatch data to their ERP and financial platforms seamlessly. 41% of corporate buyers are under 40, a proportion that will only increase. They are familiar with fast and efficient B2C e-commerce, and are looking for the same efficiencies in their professional lives. B2B sellers who don’t offer streamlined systems are at a competitive disadvantage.
Easier said than done, I know.
E-commerce automation reduces errors
When we discuss automation, speed and convenience are usually the headline benefits. But correctness and consistency are just as important. B2B sellers accept orders on multiple channels: phone, email, fax, in person. When that information is collected and processed manually, mistakes are made with order quantities, delivery details, pricing, and more. Miscommunication is all too easy.
By combining e-commerce and sales automation with integration to buyers’ procurement platforms, error rates are minimized. Order data can be moved smoothly between platforms without the mistakes even the most diligent human is prone to making.
B2B e-commerce and e-commerce automation reduce costs by increasing operational efficiency. Manual, labor-intensive tasks are reduced. The self-service nature of e-commerce offloads some of the work traditionally carried out by the seller onto the buyer. Communications and staffing costs are reduced as the buying process is focused on the seller’s online presence. E-procurement to e-commerce order automation and punchout reduces costs for both buyer and seller.
B2B sellers can differentiate their business from less forward-looking competitors, increase their attractiveness to corporate buyers, and cut costs if they embrace B2B e-commerce and automation.
Watch out B2B players, the B2C players are shifting to B2B and they are coming with decades of consumer-oriented focus and tactics to make purchasing easy and gain customer loyalty. But they too will face gaps and in some case barriers of entry—for now.
Brady Behrman is CEO of PunchOut2Go, a provider of technology that integrates e-commerce sites with procurement software. Follow him on Twitter @PunchOut2Go.Favorite