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Yoav Kutner

Customer Care

Benefits of Workflow Automation in B2B E-Commerce

Let salespeople spend more time on customer service, market research, and competitor analysis

Published: Wednesday, February 24, 2021 - 13:03

Like business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce, business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce allows customers to purchase parts and supplies via an online portal. The difference is that in B2B e-commerce, both the customers and suppliers are businesses, and the customers may or may not be the end users of the product being purchased. In addition, a B2B solution needs to let customers submit a request for quote (RFQ), negotiate, and do more of the back-and-forth that occurs in business transactions.

Despite the fact that purchasing is done online—a digital solution for many B2B online platforms—a lot of the back-end processes are still done manually, not much differently than in a brick-and-mortar business. An online order might need to be copied and pasted into an Excel spreadsheet or even an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, for instance. Ditto for getting customer information into a customer relationship management (CRM) system or generating quotes. This manual back-end work keeps both customer and supplier from operating efficiently, introducing errors into orders, or even delaying orders.

There are many reasons why manufacturers are now automating B2B ecommerce processes. Data accuracy is paramount. Most e-commerce businesses generate an immense amount of new customer, inventory, or transactional data. When maintained by hand, errors may be introduced, or data might not get relayed when and where needed, leading to lost sales.

As data accumulate, they can get scattered or misplaced, putting further strain on operations. However, workflow automation within a B2B e-commerce platform minimizes or outright eliminates human error. Businesses that automate manual tasks can perform them faster and with more precision. A single e-commerce rep can spend 30 minutes a day manually managing orders; automating this process will save them 130 hours of work over a year. This figure increases considerably once multiplied by 10 sales reps.

An automated system allows salespeople to spend more time on customer service, perform market research, competitor analysis, A/B testing, and explore other creative business growth tactics, rather than shuffle paper. Workflow automation also introduces more elements of self-service into the online purchase and order-tracking process. When customers can purchase, manage orders, and return without staff involvement, they save time and effort, improving customer retention.

For all of these reasons, manufacturers must optimize the online shopping experience for both buyers and sellers using any kind of device, from laptops to smart phones. This requires that CRM and B2B e-commerce platforms establish a single integrated solution that helps sell products online and manage business operations seamlessly.

Manufacturers measure how quickly product is made
without compromising quality...
B2B e-commerce manufacturers measure how quickly product is sold
without compromising quality.

Better request for quotes (RFQs)

Reducing time-to-market requires getting an online store up and running rapidly and generating online sales immediately. This is only achieved with a powerful workflow engine that can digitize all seller- and buyer-related business processes.

One way to speed up customer/supplier interactions over a B2B e-commerce portal is to start from the first key interaction: the RFQ. Simple online workflows help treat RFQs as opportunities for starting or maintaining customer relationships. Therefore it’s important that the process is flexible and adaptable to the buyers’ and sellers’ needs.

Often a buyer makes contact through a manufacturer’s website using a “request a quote” button, and the information is automatically forwarded to the sales staff for response. Sales staff create a quote and develop it as a customer prospect. In a well-designed B2B e-commerce platform, this information is also automatically fed into the CRM system.

Alternatively, buyers may choose not to contact the manufacturer and instead go straight to checkout with their shopping cart full of items they picked online through a self-serve model. If they would like to negotiate the selected items for purchase, the “request a quote” option is then available.

Either way, a well-designed B2B e-commerce platform makes life easier for both the buyer and seller, and helps to build relationships between the two as well as integrating it into CRM and ERP systems.

The e-commerce platform should also give manufacturers the ability to make their workflows as simple or as complex as necessary for their application. A simple workflow might only involve negotiating online transactions between the customer and a salesperson with no other intervention, as shown in the figure below.

Figure 1: Simple request for quote (RFQ) workflow. © 2021 Oro, Inc.

In other cases an RFQ might need multiple approval steps, as shown in the figure below. Often, levels of management approval are required before the RFQ can be completed. Many manufacturers require a more regulated sales process. Adding these additional workflow steps, rather than sending the quote directly to a customer, would first send it for approval to the corresponding manager. Following approval, the RFQ would be sent to the customer. Approval routing is done automatically and electronically based on the workflow designed for that customer.

Diagram  Description automatically generated
Figure 2: More complex request for quote (RFQ) workflow that includes approvals. © 2021 Oro, Inc.

Open-source B2B digital e-commerce

Open source B2B digital e-commerce platforms are particularly useful when there is a wide range of suppliers and distributors. Most companies are leaving their current e-commerce platform because they weren’t flexible enough; they were unable to meet growing needs in a changing market landscape. An open-source platform means that third-party developers can develop customizations (or may have already developed them) that meet specific needs by providing extra functionality.

Companies realizing the benefits of open-source B2B e-commerce platforms include FairPrice, Singapore’s largest supermarket chain, which has more than $3 billion in total revenue; and Braskem, the Brazilian petrochemical manufacturer with $15 billion revenue. Other new multimillion-dollar users include Petra Industries, a U.S.-based consumer electronics wholesaling powerhouse with $200 million revenue; and SaltWorks, a leading American gourmet salt supplier with $50 million revenue.

The migration from B2C-focused e-commerce to dedicated B2B e-commerce

For those companies accustomed to B2C-focused e-commerce platforms from providers such as Magento and SAP, establishing a dedicated B2B e-commerce platform offers scalability, security, and other industrial-strength B2B features needed in a B2B environment.

With built-in CRM and support for progressive web apps and headless implementation, it is easy to integrate with manufacturers’ internal enterprise tech stacks to work fluidly with existing ERP, product information management, and order management systems. Having a vibrant community of developers and open-source tools to support everything from self-service websites to fully featured B2B marketplaces is a fundamental differentiator as digitization becomes commonplace.

An unparalleled set of native B2B features is a requirement; the system must allow customization and optimization throughout the entire shopping journey for a complex B2B buying process. Only with open-source, cloud-based technology can a lower total cost of ownership and a shorter time to market be ensured. A B2B e-commerce solution should allow scalability, flexibility, and personalized experiences that meet and exceed contemporary B2B customers’ demands.

For more on the benefits of an integrated, open-source, B2B e-commerce platform, watch our interview with Quality Digest’s editor-in-chief, Dirk Dusharme.


About The Author

Yoav Kutner’s picture

Yoav Kutner

Yoav Kutner is the Founder and CEO of Oro, Inc. Prior to founding Oro and building OroCommerce, OroCRM, and OroPlatform products, he was the CTO and Co-Founder of Magento, where he led product and technology development for all Magento offerings from inception until after its acquisition by eBay, Inc. He is a proven product visionary in the business application market. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from UCLA.