When technology is the disruptor
Smaller businesses can compete with larger manufacturers is they choose an ecommerce solution which can handle the complexities of B2B, and expand and scale with the business as it grows.
In our last disruptor we discussed some of the challenges around B2B commerce logistics as the “Amazon effect” continues to drive up expectations for the most desirable customer experience. The complexity of the B2B hybrid buying cycle, combined with these elevated expectations, creates the need for technology that can handle not only surface UI requirements but the unique aspects of B2B that accelerate efficiency and productivity.
Large manufacturers have the human and financial resources to successfully implement best-in-breed technologies that can accommodate not only commerce, but backend systems like CRM, ERP, and PIM (to name a few.) Small to mid-size manufacturers don’t have the luxury of a large IT staff or a substantial budget. That’s why technology itself has now become a major disruptor as smaller entities compete against the massive commerce capabilities of bigger competitors.
Unfortunately, choosing the wrong technology when faced with this type of competition is often the reason B2B ecommerce initiatives fail. Too often smaller organizations try to extend the capabilities of their existing CRM or ERP system, misled by vendors or hampered by lack of resources. Or perhaps they’ve chosen an entry-level ecommerce platform that has not been designed to support advanced B2B complexities like sophisticated catalogs, multi-tier pricing, multiple warehouses or robust promotion and pricing.
In some cases, the choice is made based on the idea that B2B ecommerce is merely a shopping cart or website place “in front” of the “real” systems. This is the wrong approach when planning to turn technology disruption into opportunity. In fact, it often boils down to two things that have nothing at all to do with technology: focusing on strategy and maintaining the right mindset. Just as investments in a new warehouse often require detailed requirements analysis, careful planning and a well-designed implementation plan, determining the investment in a digital channel should also be carefully planned before software evaluations can even be considered.
Small to mid-sized manufacturers need to find the solution that answers most requirements right out of the box, with the ability to extend, customize, and adapt as business grows. There are quite a few good quality, affordable tech stacks that provide most B2B commerce needs. Having said that, it’s important to find a robust commerce solution with native B2B capability that includes the ability to manage customers’ data. It’s easy to fall for the idea of CRM- or ERP-based commerce, but remember that customer data is often spread across systems, including the ERP. The real way around this disruptor is to ignore the solutions based on other backend systems and focus on technology that is both built for B2B commerce and can grow with the organization.
To overcome this disruptor and choose the right technology, small to mid-sized manufacturers need to rely on a B2B ecommerce platform with these primary characteristics:
- A robust integration architecture that can easily sync with ERP and other backend systems.
- Enough native B2B functionality to manage complex B2B requirements out of the box, including a fully functional mobile app.
- Product information capability to build and manage sophisticated, customer-unique catalogs.
- Cloud-based services to help scale the operation as digital revenues grow, and productivity increases.
- A customer-centric strategy that enables everyone within the buying cycle to do what they need to do – easily and efficiently.
As contrarian as it sounds, it’s important to step back from technology when considering this disruptor. Focusing on strategy, and applying the right mindset as well as the correct goals for B2B commerce will lead naturally to the correct technology choices and help turn this disruptor into a competitive advantage.