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Ecommerce for B2B companies: what you need to know

The world of ecommerce never sits still – and for many B2B companies, it can be hard to keep up.

Here we sit down with Inviqa ecommerce and B2B consultant Nicholas Weber to get the low down on the most important trends affecting your business.

How is the B2B landscape changing?

B2B companies have traditionally used the likes of paper order forms and telesales to capture orders, partly because investing in IT – often seen as costly, and a less personal customer touchpoint – was not a huge priority.

But it’s becoming increasingly inefficient to operate in this way – particularly as businesses find themselves facing growing margin pressure and new market entrants.

Business leaders are looking at B2C success stories and are learning that B2B customers have come to expect the same online experiences: the ability to order anywhere, any time and on any device. And the ability to browse image-rich product catalogues, create wish lists, and navigate seamlessly.

The bottom line is: B2B companies need to be using ecommerce effectively to both maintain their existing customer base and extend their reach and services to new customers and new markets. In reality, businesses are technology dependent, but they are not always technology competent, so finding the right technology partner is as crucial as the business itself.

What’s important to consider when selecting an ecommerce platform?

Ask yourself if the platform you’re considering will have a functionality build that’s appropriate for your business model. Selling to B2B customers usually involves complex pricing – tiered and bespoke, for example. Will your platform of choice be able to do this efficiently? If it needs custom coding to support these requirements, you could be racking up costs.

Other key questions are how the platform will integrate with existing backend logistics and how the platform will perform under pressure. B2B shopping baskets can be large, containing multiple products across different product categories, but will your platform cope? Will you be able to offer features like favourites, budget control and account permissions?

Be sure to also consider how much you can afford to spend on proprietary licenses and how much traffic the platform will be expected to process. How long will it take to launch the platform and how easy is the upgrade path? And are you buying into a community? If so, having access to different plugins and functionality provides a fast, easy way to try out new things.

Ultimately you need to understand if your platform workflow is flexible enough to adapt as your business evolves. You don’t want a system that puts you in a straightjacket, but you also don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel and create bespoke code at a cost if you can use a platform that already supports your needs.

How do legacy systems factor in?

How you connect ecommerce with traditional, often 20-year-old legacy systems is a key consideration. Ecommerce should compliment your legacy systems while allowing you to extend your reach. Of course, dealing with digital workflows can be challenging, so you may need a technology partner if you lack the internal resource and technical expertise.

Choose your technical partner based on their ability to connect your ecommerce site to the spaghetti of your legacy systems, product management systems, and Excel spreadsheets. Many companies can’t afford to change their backend systems – or it’s too complicated – so look for someone with the technical expertise needed to integrate the right data with your ecommerce site.

How can Magento make my life easier?

Magento is developing a new functionality suite to meet B2B needs. It came about because Magento recognised that lots of companies have been using its popular platform and successfully adapting it for B2B customer bases.

With these features expected later this year, you don’t need to invest time and money in creating bespoke code and can instead fuel more energy into the important task of making sure your own legacy systems can talk to Magento to enable you to develop a successful outline sales proposition.

In my view, Magento is the obvious choice for B2B companies. It’s versatile and can be adapted to work for you as your business evolves to meet new business models, challenges and opportunities. It’s also a cost-effective solution with useful partner integrations, and it provides one of the fastest ways to deploy and grow your ecommerce system.

What’s your top advice for B2B companies looking to enhance their online presence?

First consider your business objectives. How important are your digital channels for those objectives?

For those of you who already have a basic ecommerce platform, think about how you take your offering to the next level. Are you addressing weaknesses in your platform’s functionality or integration?

For those of you who are new to ecommerce, think about customer expectations. Consumers have come to expect and demand high-quality, efficient online experiences and you will be assessed against those experiences. Having a poor online offer will reflect badly on how people view your business and could affect your wider performance, so do your due diligence.

If you’re not already using the platform, give Magento 2 some serious thought. With a B2B feature set ready to go, it’s a fast, efficient and cost-effective route to market that alleviates the challenges of creating bespoke code. 

Lastly, invest in a technology partner who understands your business challenges, understands how to integrate your legacy systems, and has unrivalled expertise and industry relationships – someone who will help you on your journey to develop and enhance your online sales channel.

About the author

Nicholas Weber: a strategic and innovative thinker who has developed and implemented an ecommerce and digital marketing proposition for an £1.6 billion B2B business from scratch. At Inviqa, Nicholas applies his commercial acumen to client projects, which he gained during his 12 years of experience of buying in both the retail and foodservice sectors.