By Njabulo Nzimande
In April 2020, headlines rang out after Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella proclaimed that business the world over were delivering “two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months”. And two years ago, this headline might have raised an eyebrow or two – but not today.
For all of its negative impacts, the pandemic has compelled businesses who want to stay relevant to speed up their digital transformation journeys and, for many, this means building an online e-commerce presence.
The fact is, buying habits have changed. Consumers are not as quick to enter brick-and-mortar stores anymore, with 75% of them now opting to make both B2C and B2B purchases online, and we anticipate this figure will increase by around 15%-20% every year going forward. In fact, a Sappio Research report titled: The Manufacturing and Ecommerce Benchmark shows that business operating in B2B sales industries are, in no uncertain terms, going digital.
The report, commissioned by Sana Commerce, an Altron Karabina partner that specialises in the delivery of B2B and B2C e-commerce solutions that are natively embedded in ERP solutions, says the recent COVID-19 disruption has introduced additional incentives to digitise manufacturing, warehousing and retailing businesses with an e-commerce engine.
What used to be viewed as a perk has suddenly become a necessity, but making B2B e-commerce work comes with its own set of challenges that can often make or break a businesses relationship with its customers.
Buyers expect more from their online purchasing experience but ease and speed are key, with 25% of respondents saying they want easier and faster checkout, simpler repeat reordering, quicker delivery and improved tracking as priorities. At the same time, businesses surveyed for the report cited top e-commerce challenges that were centred on issues customers faced when using their existing web stores – namely, limited product data (32%), inaccurate inventory information (30%) and long or complicated checkout processes (30%).
Big business opting to use mainstream e-commerce platforms are not delivering on these requirements because most mainstream platforms are not integrated with their ERP systems and this equates to a conflicting customer experience (CX). Now, CX ranks high on the list of most business e-commerce priorities, with concerns that a poor experience online will result in increased customer service enquiries (56%) a higher cost of sale (44%), non-returning customers (46%) and missed or lost orders (35%).
So, the trick here is to do what is necessary to deliver the same experience to your customers as you once achieved offline, which means delivering convenience, reliability and constant evolution – and making it personal at the same time.
Convenience, reliability, evolution
When mainstream e-commerce platforms are used to sell B2B products, you can expect a lack of harmony. The multiple silo approach – where platforms don’t talk to ERP systems in real-time and vice versa – can impact client interactions negatively, putting the transaction at risk. In these scenarios, customers aren’t able to trust the information on site, which tends to be inconsistent and unreliable.
Systems that are integrated with ERP are updated in real time, which means product information is up to date, stock levels are reliable, pricing is aligned to each individual customer’s agreement with the business, and customers are easily able to track and trace their orders. Naturally, this is possible in a siloed environment, but it does demand duplication of efforts, trust in the finance and operations team’s focus on keeping all platforms updated at the same time, and can lead to an increase in business costs.
An integrated platform also encourages continued evolution. Businesses can adapt to customer needs and market changes, which today are frequent, but an ERP system that talks to the e-commerce platform does so without delay or duplication. In a Sana Commerce environment, for example, all updates, from stock levels to new product web pages, are made from a single application, and the platform is without limit in as far as how each web site is customised. Businesses looking for vivid, colourful stores incorporating videos and imagery will be as pleased as those seeking more sedate, low-to-no-fuss online catalogues.
The ability to personalise your customer experience has been a top priority for many businesses over the past while. Before our most recent spike in businesses moving online, many had already been investigating how and when they should be talking to customers within this space. An e-commerce platform that empowers businesses through strong omnichannel customer engagement tools can help them reach 10% year-on-year growth with a 10% increase in average order value and a 25% increase in close rates – if Forrester research is anything to go by.
People are particular – each person has their own preferences in as far as how platforms talk to them and the Sana Commerce platform can actually simplify what is usually a complex buying process while making each customer feel like more than just a number. For example, the platform is able to quickly tabulate customer discounts and bulk orders, ensuring a smoother checkout, and it provides comprehensive product data, reducing the need for customer queries.
It bears repeating that digital transformation is high on the agenda for businesses across many sectors, but incorporating a robust, automated e-commerce platform is becoming a core entry point for sales and growth. Mainstream copy-and-paste e-commerce platforms will simply not suffice for businesses targeting businesses – the high costs and delays associated with customisation and updating will ultimately prove the case for a natively embedded solution that connects directly to the digital core of the business, integrating your processes for the best outcomes for your customer.