Digital commerce & new sales channels for B2B companies
Digital transformation is on the tip of every B2B director’s tongue these days. Leaders know they need to digitize and automate business operations to stay competitive. The old ways of face-to-face sales and a handshake deal are practically gone. The B2B buyer’s journey has changed and it is not going back.
Options for digitizing B2B operations and sales
The pandemic taught us that physical access to clients isn’t a guarantee. It has also shown that the up-and-coming B2B buyers want contactless sales and digital tools. B2B organizations need to figure out how to target new markets and digitally evolve.
That doesn’t mean a company has to abandon all its existing sales tactics. Rather, digitizing the sales process, increasing communication, and improving productivity are key.
Manual sales vs. B2B commerce portal
A possible manual sales flow
Imagine this is your company, a B2B window manufacturing company.
- You have boots on the ground sales teams.
- They go from client to client, manually writing down orders.
- They call the office to check stock and availability.
- Then they get back to the client with pricing and wait for order confirmation.
- The order is manually entered into your system, a packing slip is issued and sent to the warehouse.
- The warehouse then picks and ships the order and inventory is manually updated.
- The production department is manually notified when stock levels drop below a certain threshold.
- The accounting department issues an invoice to the client.
- The client calls in looking for a delivery date for their order.
- A salesperson has to track the order on its journey and update the client.
Automation can help save time by having all your systems integrated into an effective commerce platform that increases productivity and customer satisfaction.
A potential sales flow with a connected B2B commerce portal
Here is a digital blueprint that a connected system could give you.
- Your sales teams still visit your clients and keep that relationship strong.
- Your sales team is now armed with iPads that connect them to a custom-built B2B portal where they have real-time access to stock, pricing and product information.
- This portal is also connected to your accounting system, pulling in all relevant customer data for the salesperson to have on hand (payment terms, purchase order requirements, delivery addresses, etc.).
- Place orders through the portal, giving real-time quotes and delivery dates to your client.
- Once placed the order is automatically sent to the warehouse system for picking and shipping.
- Once shipped, the system will send the delivery information and an invoice to the customer.
- Also once shipped, the inventory is automatically updated. The system generates a stock level warning if it is low. A work order is then sent to the production department for that item.
In this scenario, the time from order to shipping is faster. There is no back and forth waiting for product updates from the warehouse. Your internal operations are all connected making sure that no one is holding each other up. And finally, because the customer receives shipment notification and an invoice at the point of shipment, there is an improvement in customer experience and a better chance of increased sales. From an accounting point of view, because the invoice is issued immediately, payment is likely to be faster, improving cash-flow for the company.
Adding direct to consumer for B2B
Ok, but say you have a B2B company and have already done all the above, to great success. How can you further improve your digital sales model and enter new markets? We are seeing B2B companies take the leap and adding B2C channels to their ecommerce sites as well.
How do we add a B2C channel without alienating our existing B2B customers?
One option we have seen B2B companies use to great success is to give a small commission of all web sales to the closest retailer based on the purchase address. This fosters goodwill for their existing B2B clients but also allows them the chance to open up to a larger market. Another option we have seen is for B2B companies to open up side businesses that cater to the direct-to-consumer market. This is effective, but there is still the risk of backlash from your B2B clients.
Other digital sales channels for B2B
Amazon for direct-to-consumer
Many B2B brands have quietly created sub-brands or white label products and have started selling through the direct-to-consumer marketplace on Amazon. This does put B2B companies in direct competition with their existing clients if those clients also sell through Amazon. But, it also opens up to a global market that the B2B company didn’t previously have access to. In the end, it is a matter of weighing the business outcomes against each other. For those that find the risk too big for upsetting their clients, there is still an Amazon option.
Amazon for business
B2B commerce companies are also quietly competing against themselves by selling on Amazon Business. This new kind of market place opens up access to over a million business buyers worldwide.
Many well-established B2B companies are reluctant to digitize. Common misconceptions about creating a digital commerce channel include:
- It will mean changing every single system.
- It will be too hard of a technical challenge.
- It will cost too much money.
In reality, digitizing your B2B business is about automating processes where you can to improve efficiency. That could mean adopting new systems, but not necessarily. Legacy systems can often be connected to new systems, saving money and resources that you already have in place.