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Apr 17, 2024 | 5 minute read

B2B Commerce is B.S.

written by Bryan House

For most companies, the B2B commerce experience is complete B.S. Sellers sell and buyers buy, commerce is commerce. Sure, B2B use cases may have some unique requirements, but the distinction between B2B and B2C is becoming increasingly irrelevant in experience, if not investment. Forgotten by most commerce vendors, the majority of B2B commerce sites look like something out of 2005, summoned by the Wayback Machine. Worst of all, these sites rarely meet the needs of their primary users. B2B buyers and sellers shouldn’t be expected to tolerate sub-standard experiences, even when direct to consumer B2C sales are a company’s primary revenue driver.

The fact of the matter is, most B2B buyers are also modern internet users. They’re used to doing their own research online and expect a certain standard — even if they aren’t completing the transaction online. The current state of B2B commerce applications ignores a massive opportunity for companies to accelerate their sales process. Whether you’re a manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor, or B2B2C seller, the commerce experience should be far better and simpler for your users. In other words, just because the B2B sales process is complex, it doesn’t mean the digital storefront has to be.

Raising the bar for the B2B storefront

It’s important to note: Not all B2B commerce implementations are created equal. Sellers use different distribution channels. Some have a network of suppliers and distributors in their supply chain. Others rely on a sales force to reach their buyers. Still others hold multiple brands under a single parent company. The common thread: Most B2B commerce implementations assume the buyer doesn’t care about the experience. In reality, a quality digital commerce application could make the difference between a buyer converting or going to a competitor.

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At a base level, here’s what a B2B commerce system should do:

  • Provide buyers with the tools to self-educate: Even if the final transaction doesn’t take place online, most buyers want to navigate a product catalog, read product descriptions, and understand the implications of what they're buying. It’s certainly not rocket science, but many B2B commerce websites today don’t meet that benchmark.
  • Support and/or accelerate the existing sales motion: Whether buyers need to order a custom configuration, or a specific sub-set of parts required for a repair, the commerce site should make the transaction path easier. If a salesperson is involved, the site should allow sales to simplify and accelerate a complex buying process and reduce the margin for order error.
  • Enable the fast rollout of digital catalogs and storefronts: This is particularly important for multi-store implementations or organizations with a variety of channel partners. Using a composable product catalog as the foundation, B2B sellers should be able to create a variety of unique catalogs to support negotiated pricing, geo-specific product availability, or specific channel needs. Then, they should be able to create repeatable storefronts and roll them out with custom branding across multiple brands or partner sites in their portfolio.

Beyond the basics, a composable commerce system can easily connect to best of breed B2B capabilities, such as CPQ or punch-out solutions that are directly integrated with a procurement system. Depending on your needs, you may need the flexibility of a composable system to support things like bulk ordering, recurring purchases, flexible payments, personalized pricing, restricted access, real-time inventory updates, and other customization capabilities.

Simplifying B2B sales operations

Most of the stagnation in the B2B commerce space rests with the fact that digital isn’t the primary sales channel. However, B2B sellers should expect more of their commerce sites; innovation doesn’t have to be limited to D2C. Applying D2C principles to B2B can align a brand with a younger workforce, and meet their expectations for what a good experience looks like. The simple fact is that better sites convert more, even if the sale itself is complicated or multifaceted.

Reaching this baseline doesn’t have to be complicated — arguably, composable commerce lowers the barrier to entry and helps B2B sellers choose only the components they need to be successful. I’ve seen many B2B companies switch to a composable commerce approach by experimenting with a single product line, vertical, or new market opportunity. Starting small gives B2B sellers a chance to test the experience, understand the unique needs of B2B buyers, and adopt just the essentials — rather than going through a long, expensive digital transformation.

Those that take the chance on innovation will find that they’re able to streamline their digital sales operations, with technology that’s easier to manage and has a lower total cost of ownership. If those aren’t great reasons to step out of the WayBack Machine, I don’t know what is.

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