The innovations born-in-the-cloud platforms enable are defining the future of e-commerce today. Instead of requiring intensive levels of customization, these cloud platforms are configurable, support multi-tenancy and can scale to support innovative new business models including CPQ and pricing. Born-in-the-cloud e-commerce platforms also support more complex selling workflows including order orchestration, fulfillment through multiple channels and the ability to manage multiple fulfillment systems concurrently. The following six factors are defining the future of B2B e-Commerce.
There’s a lot to be learned from Alibaba and Amazon when it comes to delivering an excellent customer experience. Both have set the bar very high, and today the same is expected from B2B vendors. This is especially the case for manufacturers who rely on multiple e-commerce legacy systems that weren’t designed to be integrated. B2B buyers expect an experience comparable to shopping on Alibaba or Amazon. Cloud-based B2B e-Commerce platforms have the potential to deliver omnichannel performance and online experiences close to Amazon across every device and channel, yet few are investing enough in personnel and expertise to get to this level of performance. This factor is so significant that Gartner predicts that by 2018, 70% of e-Commerce will move from B2C and B2B models to models that focus on the individual customer experience.
Driven by the need to add improved catalog management, storefronts, partner portals, CPQ and payment gateways, organizations have created e-Ccmmerce technology stacks that are expensive to maintain and have a high TCO. Many are now moving to born-in-the-cloud e-Commerce platforms that provide a unified, global view of all channel selling activity and replace the functionality of previous-generation legacy systems while reducing costs. The result is lower TCO and a more streamlined e-Commerce technology stack easier to modify in response to changing customer demands.
These factors are primarily the reason traditional B2C vendors can’t make the transition to selling B2B. SAP Hybris is a case in point, which is largely B2C focused. Despite this limitation, SAP Hybris is known for its ability to support unique localization requirements at the currency and language level, complex product lines, multisite requirements, and globally-based business models. Selling decisions made at the beginning of a given quarter are going to be different than those made at the end, as sales managers often choose to accelerate deals into the closing quarter with special pricing options. Today many selling teams do this for just their direct channel or at most three different channels at once. Enabling dynamic pricing and approvals – even when selling through multi-tiered channels dramatically increases the deal velocity without losing control. Many manufacturers are also adding in CPQ to provide customers with a personalized experience and the opportunity to get solutions configured for their unique needs. Catalog-based solutions can be commodified on the Internet very easily by search crawlers – and then vendors are left to compete on price. CPQ-based selling across all channels are enabling enterprises to sell based on unique differentiators and value.
Often e-commerce systems are developed completely independent of existing, and often legacy order management systems. The disconnect between these two systems leads to order errors and gets in the way of delivering an excellent customer experience. Born-in-the-cloud B2B e-commerce platforms have order management designed in from the very beginning, making it possible to synchronize order processing across all channels. Order management systems designed in at the platform level are also capable of scaling to support Just-in-Time (JIT) availability with automated replenishment, customized and complex purchasing workflows, and JIT with automatic replenishment. It is common to see wholesalers specify partial delivery, multi-warehouse shipping, and returns management for their e-commerce cloud platforms as well.
From unique, negotiated price lists with major accounts to supporting complex product configurations, manufacturers are looking to their e-commerce platforms to bring greater speed and simplicity to these complex processes. It’s not enough to just add in a price management or CPQ module; these workflows need to be systemic to the platform itself and contribute to a true 360-degree view of omnichannel selling results.
Multi-tier distribution networks thrive on partner commerce apps and the functionality and information they provide. Given the complexity of these distribution networks’ requirements, it’s unlikely that general or B2C platforms including Alibaba or Amazon will be able to expand their scope to support multi-tier distribution networks’ needs. However, Alibaba or Amazon are more likely to provide a base set of capabilities for B2B use cases that businesses would be limited to – and not able to leverage their unique differentiation and innovation now. Getting a partner commerce app to scale across a multi-tier distribution network and provide a unique buying experience is a challenge. Cloud-based B2B e-commerce platforms are making progress in this area. Manufacturers I’ve spoken with are looking for a cloud-based B2B e-Commerce platform capable of managing incentives, promotions, rebates and across all channels so they can better motivate channel partners to sell their most profitable products.