Temel Kahyaoglu, Chief Analyst TGOA, in conversation with Ania Hentz, CEO silver.solutions on, what makes B2B eCommerce so special
Ania Hentz is the founder and Managing Director of silver.solutions GmbH. With a background in marketing, Ania Hentz identified the potential of the Internet in 1999 and founded her own IT company in collaboration with Frank Dege. She is responsible for marketing, sales and consulting at silver.solutions.
B2B eCommerce is on a growth trajectory. Strong driving forces include above all the expansion of digital processes, but also rising customer expectations and competitive pressure. Constantly-evolving technologies are opening up new possibilities and generating innovative ideas. And personalisation will play an important role here.
What are the special features of B2B eCommerce?
B2B commerce is different to B2C commerce, although they also have many similarities. It must be possible to measure the design, usability and comfort against the major players, because professional purchasers are shaped by their experiences as private individuals. In addition to this, however, the focus is on efficiency and customer-specific data. In a B2B shop, business clients expect special ordering processes and for customer-specific terms & conditions and assortments, individually-agreed general contracts, pre-orders and large volumes to be taken into consideration. It is all about visualising individual service processes and providing customers with documents and receipts from the ERP system on demand. Budget restrictions or release processes are part of the everyday work of a B2B purchaser. And, needless to say, each sector also has its specific features and customs – ranging from special vocabulary, particular packaging units all the way through to distinct sales models.
How can you best cater to these requirements?
Catering to the numerous requirements mentioned demands that a good B2B solution fit superbly into existing systems and processes and be simply and flexibly customisable, as requirements differ from sector to sector and change rapidly.
Some B2B traders deploy B2C shop solutions with the aim of implementing their B2B strategy. What is your opinion of this approach?
We have been observing this development for several years now. I am critical of this approach. Using B2C software is undoubtedly workable in the case of simple applications. However, our experience has shown that this approach requires considerable adaptations and customisation to achieve convincing B2B online offerings that are well-integrated into the company. This regularly takes B2C shop software to the very limits of its capabilities. The result is long project terms, missing functions, poor integration into company software and, not least, the absence of any capacity to update the software. These in turn lead to higher costs, and the solution originally conceived as a standard software very quickly becomes a ‘stand-alone product’, with all the associated risks and costs.
In your opinion, what is the most important element of a good B2B eCommerce solution?
In B2B eCommerce, what is important – in addition to an attractive and high-performance user interface and comprehensive online marketing functions – is the intelligent integration into PIM, ERP and CRM systems: for example, to enable the automated use of customer-specific data and terms & conditions within the shop. At the same time, this kind of eCommerce solution must visualise the business processes in a way that also permits automated transfer of all data to ERP and CRM systems.
You have been working in B2B commerce for 15 years now. How have expectations changed over the past few years?
Expectations for B2B shops were quite limited at the beginning of the millennium, with an online catalogue and an order function frequently sufficient. An interface to the ERP system for direct transmission of the order was considered cutting-edge at the time. Design played a subordinate role. Expectations have gradually risen over time. Increasingly, customers expect B2B features with the usability and the user interface of a B2C shop. Furthermore, such topics as ‘improving customer service’ and ‘cutting costs’ were focusses: from a shop to an online self-service platform. The appreciation of the product data has increased dramatically within companies over the past few years, with integration of PIM systems an absolute must.
What expectations do your customers have today when they approach you looking for B2B online solutions?
Very much in line with digital transformation, customers today are looking for a platform for everything: B2B and B2C shops, partner shops, websites, micro-sites and intranets – all under a single roof. Even B2B shop operators are faced with the challenge of convincingly creating modern eCommerce topics such as content & commerce, personalised offerings and individual addressing at all levels of the purchasing process and expect that they themselves are able to continually further optimise their shop. Today, it is no longer about ‘me-too’ B2B shops, but more specifically about eCommerce solutions tailored to customer requirements and sector features. Ensuring the solutions are expandable and future-proof is hugely important, because – unlike in the past – eCommerce platforms are never finished. They are continually analysed, optimised and expanded to ensure they remain in tune with the times.
What solutions do you have that cater to these expectations?
silver.solutions offers an innovative eCommerce platform that fulfils all prerequisites for implementing a long-term eCommerce strategy. This is not just an online shop, it is a system with which high-end shops and comprehensive websites, intranets, extranets and service platforms can be created and operated under a single umbrella. Particularly important in conjunction with the corporate strategy are the expandability and the option of practically unlimited international roll-out. Furthermore, the solution is modular in structure, so customers can start small to keep the time-to-market as short as possible and quickly acquire initial eCommerce experience. Then, the offering can be expanded step-by-step and rolled out internationally.
So, you offer an off-the-shelf ‘one-product-fits-all’ solution?
No, more than 15 years of B2B eCommerce experience have shown us that one-product-fits-all solutions do not work. silver.eShop offers a whole range of prepared functions, modules and plug-ins, which can however all be adapted to project-specific requirements. Despite this, the shop remains updateable. Our standard interfaces to ERP (SAP, Microsoft Dynamics), CRM and PIM systems can be correspondingly configured within the project and adjusted to the features of the respective business systems. If required, additional modules, such as requesting quotations, RMA, customer service with budget management and release processes, can be used and flexibly adapted to project-specific requirements. The integrated content management system supplies all the fundamental functions for creating a comprehensive website.
Looking after business customers is a delicate matter – it is not without reason that field and in-house services have their fixed customer bases and maintain personal contact with their clients. Can an online shop truly maintain personal contact in the same way?
You’re absolutely right: business customers in particular demand personal attention, needless to say also within the context of online shops. By closely integrating the solution into the business software (ERP, CRM), we provide – with silver.eShop – a 360-degree view of the customer with all its company and shop data. Meanwhile, automated product recommendations familiar from B2C commerce are also being increasingly used in the B2B sector. This kind of personalisation engine is available as an additional module for silver.eShop and can generate considerable increases in sales, while rules-based personalisation provides even greater flexibility. Shop operators themselves can select and combine criteria and rules to create profiles using an intuitive interface. These profiles can then be attributed to actions in a targeted manner. The contents, the design and the functions in the shop and on the website are dynamically adjusted depending on customer behaviour.
Can you think of a couple of applications that might help us better imagine how such rules and profiles work?
A really classic example here is the adaptation of the images used within the shop according to country of origin, region or sector. Customers in Asia, for example, are presented with the skylines of Asian cities as the background graphic, while customers with an ‘Automotive’ sector profile will have corresponding pictures displayed. For certain customer groups, the most-frequently used shop functions can be displayed in a prominent place – hence, clients with ‘professional customer’ profiles will find the quick-order form right at the top, enabling uploading of entire order lists, while others might find a search form with search tips and tricks in the same place. For registered customers, information from their last order can be directly merged with information on shipment status.
How do you see the future of B2B eCommerce?
One B2B commerce trend is the rising demand for direct customer contact between the B2B trade or manufacturer and the end customer. This requires intelligent business models that integrate partners and distributors. We predict a development away from the separation of B2B and B2C markets towards one known for some time now as the ‘B2One’ market. The B2One market focuses on 1:1 relationships between manufacturers and customers. With direct customer feedback, wholesalers and manufacturers are better able to respond to customer requirements.
The shop of the future will automatically identify customers and will address them in their respective role as a B2C or B2B customer. As a result, the topics of partner shops and shops-in-shop will become increasingly important: a B2B operator will provide the technical platform as a marketplace in which its traders, but also quite possibly competitors from the same sector, are able to offer their products.
silver.solutions is a B2B eCommerce pioneer. As a software producer and service provider, silver.solutions has been focussing on the implementation of high-end B2B commerce solutions for globally-active businesses for more than 15 years now. The silver.eShop eCommerce solution was developed especially for integrated B2B processes.
This article was published in The Produktkulturmagazin, issue Q1 2017. Picture credit © silver.solutions