B2B omni-channel commerce: Responding to consumerization


lightwellomnichannel-2It's become fairly evident over the past few years that the once-sharp distinctions between customers and companies are becoming fuzzier. The Internet has made commerce more democratic and customer-centric, and companies are increasingly judged on the strength of their ideas and ability to innovate, rather than merely resting on their laurels and loyal customers.

It's a great opportunity for businesses, emerging and established alike, to experiment and bring challenging new ideas to the forefront. It also makes people savvier and more critical, both as producers and consumers of goods. With so many options out there, standards go up. And as people become more used to fluidly moving between their roles as buyer and seller, it's changing the way B2B and B2C commerce work as well.

The challenge for B2B companies, evident in their B2B integration processes, is how to respond to the increasing consumerization of buyer relationships. Is it better to incorporate digital developments into existing business models, or is it more prudent to drastically reorient them in light of emerging technologies and techniques? There's no one right answer for today's company, because every enterprise, every supply chain and every customer is different. There is, however, a definite need to take a good look at B2B integration efforts, and see how they can be recalibrated to unfold more cost-efficiently. The supply chain goes digital

In the past, B2B exchanges along the supply chain generally occurred manually and through the use of custom-built or proprietary tools. While such systems work effectively inside a company, they can add layers of difficulty to conducting B2B e-commerce, especially when multiple companies have to connect along the supply chain. This has often been the major difference between B2B and B2C relationships - B2C has long been more standardized, in many ways.

Customers expect a certain shopping experience and respond well to a certain set of familiar marketing and sales strategies, that means B2C efforts have been more uniform. It's harder to establish a workaround with a customer than it is with a business partner. However, as supply chain expert Brijesh Agrawal recently said in an interview with Business Today, the rise of digital tools is leading to standardization.

"This whole e-commerce movement, which started as a consumer movement, will be adopted by businesses big time," Agrawal told Business Today. "The distinction between B2B and B2C is going to die very soon. For buying consumables and supplies, which are very standardized products, businesses will like to buy online."

While it's obviously not realistic, or advisable, that companies abandon in-house tools and approaches that work in the favor of universal uniformity, it is important to recognize that prioritizing seamlessness and fluidity in B2B integration efforts can make them much more successful.

Diving deep into B2B integration

The challenge for companies becomes delivering an experience to business partners similar to the one they might offer a consumer - approachable, easy to understand and not fly in the face of expectations. With so many moving parts, delivering this level of service can be difficult. As Practical Ecommerce contributor Dale Traxler recently observed, it's an end-to-end process that requires an end-to-end effort. 

"B2B e-commerce requires deep and seamless integrations into many systems that almost always include customer records, products, pricing and inventory," Traxler wrote. "None of these areas are simple to build. They require substantial initial investments as well as ongoing maintenance."

Traxler wrote that an organization should consider partnering with a managed services provider that specializes in B2B integration and B2B e-commerce. They can first conduct assessments on B2B systems and architecture, which enables any germinating issues to be isolated and potential opportunities to be recognized. Then they can assist in the selection and deployment of B2B integration technology solutions with an eye toward future B2B partnership requirements. The managed services provider can help roll out these applications, install upgrades and maintain an optimal system, allowing companies to devote more energy and resources to fostering meaningful partner relationships.

More B2B and omnichannel resources from Lightwell: