Observe the three rules of B2B ecommerce with the latest features in Adobe Commerce
Imagine you are one of your customers trying to place an order. Instead of emailing your sales rep or faxing your order in (yes, fax machines are still a thing), you can simply log in to place a new order through a buying portal that includes your negotiated pricing, product catalog, and shipping terms.
Now imagine it’s earlier in the buying journey. You’re at a national tradeshow meeting with all your suppliers at once. After visiting with a sales rep from a competing supplier who said they would follow up with a purchase order form via email, you sit down with a sales rep from your company. They bring up a portal on the tradeshow floor with your unique pricing and product catalog. After reviewing a specific configuration and asking some technical questions, your sales rep submits the order for you and tells you exactly when product will arrive at your loading dock.
Go even earlier in the journey. You’re researching products that your company provides. Instead of digging through your inbox for a PDF version of the catalog your sales rep sent you, you visit the corporate website. In five minutes, you got your questions answered about a specific product, downloaded a product brochure, confirmed standard pricing and item availability, and sent a quote to your sales rep for a response.
You’ve stepped into a world where your company is honoring the three rules of B2B ecommerce:
- The 80/20 Rule
- The Rule of Thirds
- The Golden Rule
B2B ecommerce is continuing to emerge as a required channel for all companies to provide to their customers, especially as millennials and Gen Z play a bigger role in B2B purchase decisions. According to Forrester Research, B2B ecommerce is forecasted to reach $3.1 trillion dollars in the US by 2027, representing 24% of all B2B sales and a nearly 11% growth rate.
As we roll into the second half of 2023, suppliers of B2B goods and services must observe the three rules of B2B ecommerce to increase operational efficiency and unlock growth opportunities.
- The 80/20 Rule (a.k.a. the Pareto Principle). Roughly 80% of a company’s revenue comes from 20% of its customer base and only 20% of revenue comes from the remaining 80%. Businesses can increase profitability and revenue growth by providing a self-service B2B ecommerce portal to the 80% of customers that only contribute 20% of revenue. Conversely, businesses should provide digital tools from within the B2B ecommerce buying portal to their field sales organization to serve the 20% of customers that generate 80% of the revenue with a high-touch solution.
- The Rule of Thirds. Coined by McKinsey, this rule illustrates that buyers are and will always be multichannel creatures of habit. Rather than swapping one channel for another, businesses should integrate the buying journey from in-person sales, remote human interaction, and digital self-service as buyers split their time evenly between these channels.
- The Golden Rule. Treat others, specifically your customers, the way you expect to be treated when shopping online. This means prioritizing user experience best practices including convenient, efficient, and easy-to-use B2B buying experiences.
Let’s look at each one of these rules of B2B ecommerce in more detail.
Serve each customer segment profitably with the 80/20 Rule
In today’s economic environment, serving all customers efficiently and profitability is critical. But each customer segment has different expectations and existing levels of support from your organization. Some customers have multiple account teams embedded within their organization. Others spend a very small amount of money with you but may need support or to place an order in the future. Both are opportunities for margin expansion and revenue growth.
Companies should invest in digital self-service and sales rep-assisted tools to address the 80% and 20% of their customer base in different ways. When companies implement a B2B ecommerce buying portal using Adobe Commerce, they can serve both ends of their customer base profitability.
For the largest revenue customers, 20% of your customer base, companies can deliver a high-touch digital experience by providing their sales reps with digital tools to complete tasks on behalf of their customers. This includes researching products, building a requisition list, or even initiating a quote from within Commerce.
Your highest spending and most engaged customers will expect to connect with their account team for new and repeat purchases. Instead of giving them a digital-only experience (like 80% of your customer base), provide a digitally empowered sales rep who can act as a digital sales assistant. Within B2B ecommerce platforms such as Adobe Commerce, suppliers can give their entire sales team login credentials to the ecommerce platform so they can do the following:
- View and update customer and buyer information to authorize new buyers to shop on the B2B ecommerce portal.
- View product catalog, including customer-specific pricing, in advance of an important customer meeting.
- Place orders on behalf of their customers to streamline quote to cash processes.
- Prepare quotes (including line-item discounts) and send them directly to customers to respond and convert into an order. The ability for sales reps to initiate quotes and provide line-item discounting are new features in the latest release of the Adobe Commerce B2B module.
In our latest release, sales reps with login credentials to Adobe Commerce can build quotes and send them directly to customers.
The long tail of your customer base, the 80%, is a customer segment you should not overlook. There is often a higher return on investment for B2B ecommerce initiatives that target this customer base because they soak up precious company resources for a relatively low order volume. Providing a digital-first B2B ecommerce buying portal to these customers helps bottom-line profits and top-line revenue. It reduces costs by eliminating manual steps on repeat orders and deflecting inbound customer service calls to self-service tools on the buying portal. It also opens revenue expansion opportunities through requisition lists that encourage repurchasing and suggested products that increase average order value.
This is where packaging manufacturer SealedAir began its B2B ecommerce journey. The company launched a B2B ecommerce portal for the long tail of its customer base — specifically, distributors who resell SealedAir products. After launching Adobe Commerce, 80% of the entire SealedAir product catalog could be purchased online without manual intervention.
Distributors of SealedAir products can log in to the B2B ecommerce platform, powered by Adobe Commerce, to quickly place touchless orders.
The role of the sales rep isn’t eliminated in this customer segment — it’s simply hyper-scaled. Suppliers should provide sales reps with a login credential to support these customers. When customers are ready to explore larger products or have a nuanced product question, they can initiate a dialogue with their sales rep using Adobe Commerce’s latest quoting features. This includes asking for pricing, purchase terms, or product questions for each item in their quote. Later in 2023, Adobe Commerce will enable sales reps and customers to save a quote template with all previously negotiated terms and pricing in place to speed up future negotiations and order placement.
Adobe Commerce also released new quoting features, including the ability to negotiate line-item discounts.
There are capabilities that both customer segments will use equally, starting with the basic components of a reordering portal. Established customers, large or small, will benefit from a reordering function within your B2B ecommerce website. This capability allows customers to quickly place a new order for products that already have negotiated pricing and terms. The key difference between the 20% and 80% of your customer base is the role of the sales organization. Your largest customers will have a sales-led experience with support from digital self-service tools. Your long tail of customers will have a digital-first experience with support from inside sales and customer service.
When you follow the 80/20 Rule in your B2B ecommerce strategy with products like Adobe Commerce, you also collect something even more valuable than short-term revenue or efficiency wins — you’ll get behavioral data. The data from your B2B ecommerce portal is the untapped goldmine that supports your marketing organization, which leads us to the second rule of B2B ecommerce — the Rule of Thirds.
Use commerce data to personalize marketing journeys and sales effectiveness across the Rule of Thirds
Customers don’t consider themselves “B2B ecommerce customers” or “sales rep customers.” They also don’t consider your channel strategy when they need to complete a task that involves your products or services. They simply reach for the channel that seems to be the best for the need they have. For most customers, this means they will engage across 10 or more channels, according to McKinsey, including talking to a sales rep at a tradeshow to building a quote on your B2B ecommerce website.
Integrating these channels and the entire customer journey holds the power of driving further revenue and operational efficiency. This is accomplished by using the data from a B2B ecommerce buying portal across the entire customer journey by marketing and sales teams.
Let’s look at how data from a B2B ecommerce buying portal can enhance each channel customers engage with.
- Digital self-service. Signals from your B2B ecommerce website can notify marketing teams of a potential customer that would convert if engaged through the right marketing channel.
- Remote human interactions. These signals can notify sales to follow up with a customer via email or a phone call.
- Traditional interactions. Sales reps can also know the latest web and ecommerce activity a customer has completed before an in-person visit or at a tradeshow.
Use digital signals from B2B ecommerce to enhance remote human interactions
You can use every click, swipe, and search on your B2B ecommerce portal to help your sales team close larger deals faster. In fact, 94% of sales and marketing decision-makers say omnichannel selling is more effective than traditional sales.
Sales and marketing teams can be notified when customers:
- Register for account access.
- Log in to the B2B portal.
- Search or browse for products.
- View specific product detail pages.
- Place an order.
Once these notifications are received, sales reps can quickly follow up with a phone call or personalized email, or they can set up a virtual meeting with their customer to help them finalize their purchase.
Adobe Commerce integrates natively with Adobe Experience Platform to share browser events and back-office data such as order status updates. From there, Experience Platform can forward events to your customer relationship management (CRM) solution.
In a future release of Commerce, businesses will be able to map and synchronize account and individual user data into Adobe Real-Time Customer Data Platform to create distinct buying groups within the customer data platform for enhanced targeting and a more personalized marketing journey.
Give sales reps a digital version of your B2B ecommerce portal to support traditional sales channels
Imagine your sales team being able to bring up a personalized version of a product catalog for a customer at a tradeshow with their negotiated pricing and shipping terms. After discussing options and solutions, your sales rep processes an order on behalf of the customer on the tradeshow floor using a B2B ecommerce portal, cutting order-to-cash lead times by days or even weeks.
Sales reps who work in the field are often stuck carrying product demonstration materials or heavily printed catalogs. This product information can get out of date, does not include negotiated pricing for each customer, and slows the sales team down. Giving sales teams a sales rep version of your B2B ecommerce portal can solve these issues, improve seller performance, and enable you to process orders faster.
Equipped with a unique version of the B2B ecommerce platform, sales reps can:
- View customer-approved products with customer-negotiated pricing and shipping terms.
- View and update their customers’ account information.
- View recent activity, including recent orders or returns.
- View open carts, open quotes, and requisition lists to accelerate deal closure and order processing.
- Process orders on behalf of customers.
This allows customers and your operations teams to move off email, phone, and fax order processing to a streamlined quote-to-cash process. In fact, several manufacturers and distributors have reduced their order processing speeds by up to 50% and reduced call center volumes by 20% after launching a B2B ecommerce solution with Adobe Commerce.
One of the most effective ways to help your sales team is to give them each a login credential to the Adobe Commerce application. This is exactly how State|RDA, a division within L’Oreal, uses Adobe Commerce. Its sales reps have ditched their suitcase of samples in favor of a full catalog of the customer’s approved products in their pocket.
"Today, sales reps are utilizing Adobe Commerce not only as a sales tool but as a business building tool.”
Gabby Helms, Director, Ecommerce, State|RDA, a division of L'Oréal
Once accounts are mapped to each sales user in Commerce, sales reps can view their customer accounts, purchase history, open quotes, and requisition lists. Sales reps can even log in as their customers to view the same buying experience their customers see on the portal.
This is all possible because Adobe Commerce supports customer-specific pricing, unique catalogs per customer, and many other core B2B ecommerce features that sales teams can access. Later this year, Adobe will release support for complex account and buyer organizations, including infinite parent-child account structures and unique catalogs and pricing per child account. Within this new capability, individual B2B buyers from one company can belong to multiple child accounts, including the ability to have different workflow roles within different companies.
Integrate B2B commerce into digital self-service channels powered by marketing
Self-service B2B buying portals can support marketing initiatives just as much as they can help sales negotiate deals and process orders. According to McKinsey, customers engage in digital self-service channels most often when they are researching potential purchases and placing orders.
There are three aspects to using your B2B ecommerce investments for research and order placement journeys.
The first is to expose product information, pricing, quoting, and purchase options on web properties powered by Adobe Experience Manager. Customers visit corporate websites often during product discovery and research phases. Unfortunately, many manufacturer websites have become complicated “brochureware” websites. Yet customers expect to find product information, pricing, and purchase options at their fingertips. If every solution or product page on your web property ends with a lead form to contact sales, you’re missing conversion opportunities.
By embedding ecommerce capabilities like product data, pricing, inventory, and purchasing directly within corporate web marketing experiences, marketing organizations can capture more leads faster and pass them to sales quickly.
Sunbelt Rentals, a multibillion-dollar equipment rental company, added product information, pricing, and the ability to reserve equipment directly on its corporate website by integrating Adobe Commerce to its Experience Manager solution using headless commerce application programming interfaces (APIs).
Sunbelt Rental customers can view knowledge base articles and blog posts, search available inventory, and make reservations all on a single unified journey.
The second approach to using B2B commerce within your marketing operations is to enrich customer segments with buying behavior from your B2B ecommerce buying portal. Businesses can then trigger campaigns, marketing automations, email marketing, or SMS text or mobile push notifications to customers using signals from the B2B ecommerce platform. Adobe Commerce provides native integration to Experience Platform for this exact purpose. Audiences that are defined in Real-Time CDP can be enriched with data from Adobe Commerce and then activated on Commerce, along with many other digital experience and digital marketing channels.
The third approach is to generate new contacts for lead nurturing when prospective customers register for account access on the B2B ecommerce website. Manufacturers like SealedAir use account registration data from Adobe Commerce to trigger these types of campaigns in Marketo Engage. When new users are either approved or not approved to create an account, you can add users to a lead nurturing campaign or welcome series campaigns automatically.
Embody the Golden Rule and give customers a 24/7 sales rep that never sleeps
As consumers, our expectations have been set very high by brands and retailers who have spent billions of dollars to create excellent digital experiences we use every day. We have come to expect convenience, speed, and ease of use when engaging with brands and retailers. We expect to see detailed product information, clear pricing, and the ability to get help the moment we need it.
These expectations are challenging to translate into B2B settings where internal customer experience culture and digital maturity may be lower than consumer brands or your local retailer. And yet, above all else, the Golden Rule must be respected by suppliers who wish to succeed in the future.
In fact, manufacturers must often go further than traditional B2C experiences. B2B buyers not only expect product information, pricing, and the ability to purchase online using an intuitive, fast, and easy-to-use B2B ecommerce website. They also expect to manage their unique buying process, company account structure, and authorized users within your B2B portal.
This is the core of the B2B ecommerce solutions companies launch on Adobe Commerce. Customer price books and purchase terms are standard. And in a future release, Commerce will help buyers who purchase on B2B ecommerce websites configure complex parent/child account relationships and assign users to multiple sub-accounts with unique purchase roles for each within any child account.
If you honor the Golden Rule in your B2B ecommerce strategy, you will increase your chances of creating a buying experience that sees quick adoption and repeat use.
Increase efficiency and grow revenues by implementing the three rules of B2B ecommerce
Observing the three rules of B2B ecommerce requires you to address your customer segments with digital self-service and digital sales rep solutions. It also requires you to unify your marketing and ecommerce journeys. And finally, it will require you to treat your B2B customer the way you expect to be treated as a consumer by providing a 24/7 buying portal.
Quoting and sales rep tools are just a few of the latest features released by Adobe Commerce. For more information about other features released by Commerce, check out these links:
Ed Kennedy is an ecommerce strategist at Adobe. He has spent over 12 years in ecommerce consulting and software. During his career, Kennedy has overseen more than 200 implementations of ecommerce solutions. Prior to joining Adobe, he was a product strategy director at Optimizely and held previous executive positions at global ecommerce consulting firms and agencies. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.