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2010: B2B eCommerce (Finally) Realizes Its Potential

GAbelBy Godard Abel, Co-Founder & CEO, Big Machines

Over the past decade, BtoC eCommerce has changed the landscape for selling products as leaders like Amazon.com have brought eCommerce to the mainstream — and the numbers are growing.

A 2009 survey of online consumer behavior conducted by Harris Interactive found that 48% of US online adults say that they are now conducting more online transactions than they did in the past. In the UK, the number is even higher as 53% of online adults say they are making more purchases online, with the ability to compare products and prices cited by 74% of these as the main reason.

  • Fact: Consumers now expect products and services to be instantly available, comparable, and configurable to meet their needs online.
  • Fact: Consumers expect fast, intuitive shopping fulfillment.
  • Fact: The web provides consumers instant search results for any products or services along with real-time pricing information across eCommerce sites. Increased product choices and purchasing options are easily available from an expanding global market.
  • Fact: The business world has lagged behind in leveraging the internet for streamlining sales with BtoB eCommerce.

Businesses still rely primarily on inefficient direct and channel sales strategies supported by legacy selling tools and cumbersome enterprise software tools rather than providing their business customers the same intuitive online experience available to consumers.  We expect that over the next decade businesses will bridge this gap and deliver increasingly intuitive eCommerce tools to their business customers.

The History
BtoB eCommerce, by definition, is not a new concept in the business world. Back in 2000, sources like Gartner Research and Forrester Research were predicting explosive growth numbers in the BtoB eCommerce world, upwards of $3.95 trillion by the end of 2003. And the sales industry has been moving more toward this kind of multi-channel selling model, which integrates the Web with more traditional methods.

But, to date, BtoB eCommerce has not seen the adoption across industries that was initially predicted back in 2000. In fact, over the last decade, while many companies have expressed interest in incorporating web technology into their existing sales platforms, very few have actually implemented it. Based on experience with over 250 companies, BigMachines has found that over 90% of companies still rely on clunky spreadsheets and rigid enterprise software systems to price, quote, and sell products. And while we’ve seen great success with the BtoC eCommerce world – everyone from Amazon.com to Dell have become masters in the retail world because of it – BtoB eCommerce requires online systems that can support the complex products, contract, and pricing logic often needed to satisfy BtoB relationships.

CRM vendors have led the pack in delivering sales force automation technology but while they excel at building customer databases and sales management and reporting tools, they have not focused on delivering multi-channel selling tools that support BtoB eCommerce. ERP vendors have continued to focus on providing back-end systems that serve finance and operations, but ERP systems are not intuitive and typically not accessible by sales people, channels, and customers.  Since neither CRM nor ERP have delivered intuitive online selling tools, it has been a struggle for businesses to deploy intuitive online BtoB selling solutions.

Why BtoB in 2010?

It’s clear that the technology industry has been talking about eCommerce for a while but the question is: Why is 2010 going to be the year that it takes off in the BtoB space? The answer is simple. The need is still there, better SaaS technology is now available, and business customers are demanding it. Consider a survey we recently conducted of our customer base where we asked executives if they plan to incorporate BtoB eCommerce into their selling process over the next year. Every single respondent answered Yes. Furthermore, BigMachines has conducted its Breakthrough Opportunity Analysis (BOA) ® with hundreds of companies and has shown that companies can save 50-80% of their quoting and ordering costs and eliminate 100% of order errors by moving to BtoB eCommerce.

New technology is now available that enables businesses to provide their sales people, channel partners, and BtoB customers intuitive online tools that make it just as easy to buy business products and services as consumers shopping online. The BtoB eCommerce platforms also support the complex product filtering, bundling, contract management, and pricing rules that businesses need to conduct online commerce.  By leveraging Web 2.0 technology, BtoB eCommerce platforms now offer a much richer, more real-time business shopping experience.

In addition there has been a generational shift in businesses. As Generation X and Y take over from Baby Boomers, they simply expect to be able to conduct business online in the same way they can in their personal lives. New Gen Y workers entering the workforce have grown up digital and want to do all their product research and purchasing online. They are not inclined to talk to sales people (or anyone for that matter).  As these new generations take over the workforce they will demand online tools from their suppliers and refuse to do business with suppliers relying on antiquated paper, phone and fax driven processes.

Building on an Opportunity

BtoB eCommerce can accelerate sales through a partner channel as well. Think about how business to business transactions are typically conducted. In many cases, businesses utilize partner channels to help sell products and/or fulfill orders. Those partner channels sell from various host companies creating the need for multiple quote and order transactions across the channels. But by utilizing BtoB eCommerce, businesses can automate the channel transactions, share real-time information to collaborate to better serve the end customers, and quickly provide one integrated quote to offer to the end customer.

For example, a niche vendor in the HVAC space is constantly in competition with the large enterprises like Honeywell and Siemens but that company only makes one piece of the product. By using BtoB eCommerce, that company can partner with other companies to provide the whole solution by putting both partner and its own products in one instance within their sales software and create one integrated solution quote for a customer. That company has now grown its business over 20% by offering a competitive bid to the turnkey solution offered by these big time players.

Making it Work
Knowing that BtoB eCommerce will start realizing its potential this year, what can you do as an organization to take advantage?

Do your research and find a platform that suits your needs. Make sure the rules engine is complex enough to handle your products and services and pricing. Understand online self-service and its importance to your customers. In essence, BtoB eCommerce helps you predict what your customers may want to purchase and when you can predict correctly, you have a better chance of winning that sale.

Since its inception in 2000, Godard has led BigMachines on its mission to deliver innovative web software solutions to its customers and to build an enduring company with a great team. Godard earned an MBA from Stanford University and both a BS and MS in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).