When it comes to purchasing car parts, telecoms equipment or medical equipment, buyers want the same experience they get when shopping for books, music or clothes. They want to be able to browse through the options, identify the most appropriate product, get a good price and complete the purchase online. They understand e-commerce, it underpins their everyday lives and it’s understandable that they are looking for the same easy purchasing processes for business related products.

But hang on… can B2B buyers really expect to complete the entire ‘customer journey’ online when they are purchasing complex manufacturing or technical products? Evidence suggests that they would certainly like that option, or even better, to be ‘guided’ through the process if and when expert advice becomes necessary.

Certainly, B2B companies are aware of the pressure they are under from buyers to emulate the intuitive, personalised e-commerce experiences they enjoy in the B2C world. They know that unless they can capitalise on the digital revolution, they are missing out on massive sales opportunities and are falling behind in the race to remain at the front of the pack.

It’s not easy to migrate a B2B business online, and most sectors are actively looking for the best way to do it, without compromising on their established direct and indirect channels. They are also under the impression that B2C commerce technology platforms are not geared up to support their very specific needs.

In many ways, they are right. Most e-commerce platforms are not designed to sell a piece of farm machinery with multiple parts or a range of helicopters featuring multiple configurations. This is frustrating because a recent study by Forrester shows that the complexity of companies’ products or services is preventing them from increasing e-commerce sales from 35 percent of their current revenue mix to their goal of more than 50 percent. Bridging this ‘complexity gap’ is critical so they can capture their share of what is predicted to be a $1.13 trillion B2B e-commerce market by 2020.

What Is The Missing Piece?

Some B2B firms have invested in e-commerce platforms, only to discover that they lack the application, a missing piece, if you will, that allows manufacturers to provide a good user experience to B2B buyers.

Customers, sales reps and partners have very distinct expectations from a B2B buying experience. If sales are being made directly, solutions can be added on a piece-by-piece basis to meet challenges as they arise. Indirect sales people, on the other hand, need to have up-to-date information and are bundling products and services from multiple companies. But e-commerce solutions can only support simple transactions that require the buyer, in most cases, to have a good idea of the product they want whilst the facility to customise solutions and offers is seriously restricted.

The only way to manage this is by using a unified platform, one that can interface across existing sales, CRM and ERP technologies and across different channels. It must be able to deliver product and pricing recommendations, and provide a consistently high-quality experience regardless of whether the buyer is online, face to face or on the phone. This technology is available in the form of configure-price-quote (CPQ) solutions. They are designed to provide this detailed level of functionality from a single platform, and they are built to meet the exacting demands of complex B2B environments.

B2B E-Commerce Is A Reality

There’s no doubt that the complexities of B2B buying and selling cannot be fixed with a sticking plaster approach, so it is up to manufacturers and vendors to look for the right solution to meet their needs. If they don’t, they are in danger of missing out, just as the B2B commerce wave starts to build.