(a platform agnostic spin on self service B2B Vs. the Oct ‘20 version which was Magento-focused)
B2B procurement professionals are looking for increasing sophistication and ease-of-use when interacting with their vendors. In many cases they are doing much more online purchasing, much less by telephone and EDI and more by smartphone tapping and scrolling as their choices increase and as their use of B2B e-commerce features and functionalities increase. For example:
- Construction Managers and Contractors ordering equipments, supplies and more from a remote job site outside of an office
- Retail store workers ordering inventory from the store floor or warehouse
- Spa managers ordering health and beauty supplies
- Hospital managers ordering and re-ordering supplies from secure medical storage facilities
In order to keep B2B customers, many of which are companies with multiple buyers, returning and buying from your e-commerce website in greater numbers, it’s important to consider and execute a “Self-Service B2B E-Commerce” model. This can be accomplished by merchants at basic and complex levels in e-commerce depending upon the platform, the technology and the user experience that they are planning on designing. This blog post quickly summarizes a range of features from basic to complex that B2B merchants should work towards as they adopt a self-service model for their customers.
Remember, B2B customers are looking for B2C-like e-commerce features – ultimately they want similar experiences even if they’re shopping and buying online as a part of their “day job.”
The Basic Features of B2B Self Service E-Commerce
B2B is different and in order for the merchant to make an e-commerce site more or less “self-service”, it needs more than a unique login, a detailed catalog and a way to checkout. It needs to give customers the functionality to conduct business as their business – with the benefits and functional requirements that a company typically has when it transacts business with another company. Some of these basic requirements include:
- Different prices for different customers – “price tiers”
- Different discounts for different customers
- An ability to generate and share a “quote” with accurate, account-specific pricing and availability
- Multiple sub-account log ins for each B2B account – this allows multiple buyers to use the same commercial account
- An ability to transact “on account” without a credit card
- An ability to reference purchase order or customer number as a part of creating an order
- An ability to review and order from past orders
- An ability to see reports on purchasing activity by account and sub-account
- Associating sales reps with account activity
- Associating different shipping rules with different accounts
- Limiting the catalog availability by account – at a minimum by category
These are really the basics of functionality that a B2B merchant must provide in order to give their customers the confidence to serve themselves. Accorin has worked with a number of platforms including Big Commerce, Magento CE, and others to enable these types of self-service scenarios for its clients. Some of these B2B features come “out-of-the-box” on the most popular e-commerce platforms, some require extensions and plugins. As a part of a planning phase prior to developing a new e-commerce website, it’s best to map out the requirements and the source of the functionality prior to proceeding.
More Complex Functional Use Cases That Serve More Complex B2B Buyers
Beyond the basics, larger, more complex B2B businesses need greater sophistication and a vast array or features in order to give their customers that true sense of “self-service.” Setting up these features and making them work with all of the integrations that are typically required in a B2B setup can still require significant effort. It can also be frustrating to set it up differently for every business customer because they might have different requirements for their particular procurement process. Here at Accorin we’ve established a baseline B2B “self-service setup” for Magento 2 Commerce that includes out of the box features and some of our own extensions.
- Companies as Customers with Hierarchical Control
- Set up a company with sub accounts each of which has rules based on the customers rules: for example a store clerk can purchase from the supplier up to $500 but can only ship to that store where they work, while a store manager can purchase up to $5,000
- Unique, Company-Specific Catalogs with custom product taxonomy and presentation
- E.g. Unique product assortments based on their needs and possible category restrictions
- Complex Quotes
- E.g. Volume-based quotes, custom quotes based on shipping needs, or configurations
- Purchasing on Credit
- E.g. Purchasing against a line of credit and then being invoiced for their purchases;
- Company-Specific Shipping Rules
- E.g. Options for selecting specific carriers or using their own shipping contracts;
- Purchase Order Management
- E.g. Order approvals based on purchasing criteria
- Setting up Purchase Order approval process so that it works and obtains approvals as a apart of the transaction
- Integration of company customer hierarchy with
- Integration of the purchasing activity on the self-service B2B e-commerce website with a system of record, like an ERP – orders from website and other sources reflect in the system of record
In order to get this more Sophisticated more complex level of self-service you would be best served to look at Magento / Adobe Commerce. It’s very powerful and highly flexible. With the launch of Magento 2 Commerce, B2B merchants now have a lot of functionality that can serve them and meet these requirements right out of the box. Setting up these features and making them work with all of the integrations that are typically required in a B2B set up can still require significant effort. It can also be frustrating to set it up differently for every business customer because they might have different requirements for their particular procurement process. We’ve established a baseline B2B “self-service setup” for Magento 2 Commerce that includes out of the box features and some of our own extensions.
An example of a merchant that can most benefit from Self-Service B2B is a retail supplier (wholesale) like an apparel company that sells to a chain of retail clothing stores. Within the chain there can be hundreds of stores and within each store there can be multiple purchasers based on a hierarchy of responsibility and geography. Here’s an example of a simple B2B buying organization – a retailer with an HQ and 4 locations and multiple buying roles at each location.
This self service configuration has a number of out of the box features pre-configured, integrations pre-configured, and also some extensions that we’ve written that really help a B2B merchant provide a true self-service experience to its B2B customers and the users within those companies. The Self-Service B2B setup has a number of key aspects:
1. Configuration of company customer roles & permissions and a cool integration of these permissions with the company address book (see #2).
When a B2B e-commerce merchant serves a company that has a lot of prospective buyers things can get complex. The roles and permissions functionality within a business customer account allows a company customer to set up an actual purchasing hierarchy. This self-service makes your e-commerce store as easy to use as an internal purchasing system. Combined with subscription ordering and other automation it can really increase average order value (AOV) for B2B company users.
2. Company Address Book (An Accorin Extension to Magento 2)
The Accorin Company Address book takes the out-of-the-box address book functionality in Magento 2 and merges it with the Roles & Permissions functionality that makes Magento 2 B2B so powerful. This simple extension allows merchants to give their company customers the ability to control purchasers shipping destinations for all orders. For example, a “store clerk” buyer can be granted access to use an address book associated with their role; and they can only ship to certain company addresses and cannot ship anywhere else.
3. Shared Requisition Lists (An Accorin Extension to Magento 2)
The Accorin Shared Requisition List extension, like the previous one, takes the out of the box “requisition list” functionality and ties it with Roles & Permissions and also allows for sharing. This allows merchants to give their company customers the ability to control who on the purchasing team has access to requisition lists and who can create and share them.
The Bottom Line
With the setup described in this blog post, a B2B merchant can achieve true self-service e-commerce for all of its company customers and their users save time increasing AOV and bottom line profits quickly. They can do it using the basics or using more advanced B2B functionality. It’s important to scope out the levels of self service, the roles and permissions that a merchant wants to give to its customer organizations in advance (Accorin can help with that) and it’s also important to allow for significant training and knowledge transfer. Whether you choose to get it done with the basics or more advanced set of features, it’s important to get it done so that you don’t let your competitors provide your buyers with a superior experience.