Ashish Goel is Head of Business Solutions & Marketing at mjunction services limited, the largest B2B e-commerce company in India. He has been part of the management team at mjunction for a decade and has overseen large e-commerce, e-procurement and digital transformation projects. Before mjunction, Ashish has worked at Tata Steel and L&T Infotech in strategy, change management and sales functions. By qualification, Ashish is a B.Tech from IIT (ISM), Dhanbad and MBA from S.P. Jain Institute of Management & Research, Mumbai.
In today’s era, e-commerce has almost become synonymous with B2C e-marketplaces for consumer products. In this B2C segment, the buyers are primarily individual consumers, and the products sold are consumer items. The Amazons and Ubers of the world rule this space. However, a very significant proportion of e-commerce business takes place through the B2B segment. This B2B e-commerce segment is very different from B2C e-commerce and has the following hallmarks:
- The deal size usually is considerably large
- Needs are not casual or impulsive
- Long decision-making cycles
- Heavy on Product and Collateral literature
In the B2B e-commerce segment, both buyers and sellers are businesses. The sellers could be an aggregator setting an e-marketplace (example, Udaan, mjvaluemart.com etc.), or an individual organisation setting an e-store for their products (example: metal bazaar by a leading natural resource company). The products transacted are often industrial consumables items like Steel, Metals, Petrochemicals, and other commodities. Though the adoption of e-stores had started several years ago, the pandemic has accelerated its adoption. Some companies are also exploring the e-store model to distribute their branded items to their dealers and retailers. I believe that there is tremendous growth in the adoption of B2B e-store, and will share five critical factors that contribute to the success of a B2B e-store and the steps that companies can take to excel in these.
1. Customer onboarding process:
The customer onboarding for a b2b e-store often involves steps like registration, fee collection, setting up of login, training and sharing crucial communications etc. The process is often tedious owing to the following factors:
- Need for collecting and verifying the customer details like GST, PAN and any other information due to statuary or business reasons.
- Multiple stakeholders from the customer organisation are often involved in the customer onboarding process – e.g., both procurement and finance functions may need to be onboarded for their work scope.
- The workflow on the e-store could also be complex due to business reasons
- Customer-specific customisations, if applicable
Following are some of the steps that may be taken to ease the customer onboarding process:
- Documents explaining each step for customer onboarding are made available on the e-store.
- Multilingual training videos
- Dedicated customer onboarding team, if feasible.
Customer onboarding is the most critical step in the customer lifecycle journey and hence needs to be implemented with perfection. An obsession for simplification of the onboarding process can take a B2B e-store a long way.
2. Intuitive web/mobile interface with customer-specific catalogue, terms & prices:
Unlike a B2C portal with a standard price for the products, a B2B business often involves customised pricing for its different customers. The differential pricing is owing to the volume discounts, delivery terms & conditions, legacies etc. Hence, displaying the customised pricing & conditions to the customers is essential functionality for a B2B e-store.
The incentive for the customers to buy through the e-store is the convenience of buying anytime with all the information available readily. Hence, it becomes essential that past purchase information, Tax certificates, invoices etc., are made available in the store.
Further, an intuitive, minimalistic e-store interface through different mediums, e.g. web, mobile and tabs, can help customers buy more conveniently and contribute significantly to the success of the e-store.
3. Digital Marketing:
The B2B businesses cater to a niche segment. Hence mass marketing or promotion could be a waste of resources. If the customers can be segmented basis a few unique attributes, then its best to target them through a three-step process:
- Create Awareness: Awareness campaigns are targeted towards creating knowledge about the e-store among the target groups. Mediums like LinkedIn Feeds, sponsorship in niche conferences & seminars, affiliate marketing and sponsored reviews are some of the channels that may be used for creating awareness about the e-store
- Engage them: The identified targets need to be constantly engaged to create a pull for the e-store. Mediums like webinars, Blogs, Knowledge articles through e-mail could be used for engaging prospective customers.
- Lead generation: Once a prospective customer has been sufficiently engaged, the effort to convert them into customers must be commenced. The channels for this step can be LinkedIn InMail, pay per click listing, direct mailers etc.
Even a fabulous B2B e-store, if not marketed well, could fail to get noticed by the customers and eventually fail to generate the requisite business volume. Thus effective digital marketing becomes a very critical element for the success of B2B e-stores.
4. Order Fulfilment process:
Order fulfilment as per agreed terms and timelines with the customer is a hygiene factor. Even a single deviation would create discontentment, and repeat failures in order fulfilment could lead to loss of customer and reputation. Hence the b2b e-store must ensure that warehousing and logistics are put in place effectively.
If the supply is made to order, then communication between functions becomes essential. Integration with the ERP system and the e-store can ease synchronisation between the production and fulfilment teams.
5. Value-added services:
Additional services required by the customer in their buying journey can create act as a significant differentiator. Some of the value-added services that the e-store may offer are financing through a partner bank, insurance, quality assessment or verification through a trusted 3rd party etc.
The above five are essential and critical elements for b2b e-stores. If implemented effectively, the e-store can distinguish itself and become a favourite among the customers.