As digital commerce capabilities and sophistication grow, unified commerce across all sales channels becomes more important than ever
The people over at B2B E-commerce World send out a regular newsletter. I’m a subscriber, and I often find interesting articles and specific examples of how companies are doing B2B well. Or where opportunities are being missed.
In both the good and the bad examples, I always see the same dynamic. Either your business strategy is driving your technology – excellent! – or your technology strategy is limiting your business. No business would purposefully sacrifice their strategy options as a result of limited technology choices, but it happens in the vast majority of cases.
Technology changes rapidly. This influences buyer and other operational behavior. Then technology changes again. And the cycle repeats. Let’s take B2B purchasing as an example:
Someone builds a focused B2B purchasing product to accommodate the latest trends. That’s all it does — B2B purchasing. Suppose it takes nine months to build the product and take it to market. Then, the brand manufacturer buys and implements the solution, which takes another three months. Now a year has passed since the product development team began the effort of documenting and building to the then-current behaviors and preferences among B2B buyers.
Guess what? Change didn’t stop. The new B2B purchasing system is already out of date, and because of its limited focus (and often because of its licensing limitations as well), it cannot be effectively enhanced or expanded on your end. You’re stuck with this thing as-is until the product team is ready to deliver an upgrade, presuming that even happens.
In the meantime, the order processing team also upgraded to Fishbowl as their new order management system. And the accounting team moved over to NetSuite. You get the idea.
Now you’re stuck with an out-of-date B2B buying tool that is difficult or impossible to change, and your main need is to get it to play nicely with the rest of the disparate 3rd party systems in your IT ecosystem. You’re dealing with various silos of data in different systems, broken integrations, and conflicting plugins.
Cracks open up. Things fall through them.
The is not the way to empower your business strategy.
In the most recent B2B E-commerce World newsletter, the focus is on exactly this. B2B buyers want more from brand manufacturers. They want to be able to approach the brand manufacturer directly, get complete and thorough product information, understand pricing, inventory and availability, and in many cases buy directly from the brand manufacturer itself. In a Forrester article referenced in the B2B E-Com World newsletter, Andy Hoar writes that 43% of buyers prefer to buy directly from the brand, and 20% of them are willing to pay slightly more for the privilege.
So what’s the solution?
First, make sure that B2B buying tool is flexible and customizable. As the landscape shifts beneath your feet, you can keep your balance through the ability to modify, extend, and enhance your tool.
Next, have an eye on your broader unified commerce strategy. Who needs B2B orders without inventory? How about a distributed omnichannel order manager that can process those B2B orders along with B2C, call center, mobile, and outlet shop? How about integrated inventory, warehouse, and fulfillment on the same native platform?
A unified commerce strategy that empowers the broader business strategy, like any good chess game, will require thinking ahead a few steps. But it’s not so hard to understand that the tools you begin bringing into your broader IT ecosystem should be open and easy to integrate. The goal of the tools should be to eliminate silos of data and gaps between processes that in fact rely wholly on one another.
In the end the goal of unified commerce is to create “one good source” of data for all of your front end commerce operations. From the POs you send to your suppliers, through your order channels and warehouses, all the way to the delivery at your customer site. Harmonized, real-time data available across all of your commerce operation opens up the complete set of business strategy options.
Replace overly-specialized SaaS components. They’re too limited and you have no control.
Peel off the the duct tape holding licensed solutions together. Consolidated processes sharing the same data are far less error-prone.
Unify the operation. With each additional step onto a unified platform, your operation becomes increasingly self-aware. Business strategy can take the lead, knowing that technology direction is ready to empower it in whatever the future holds.