Busi­ness to busi­ness­es buy­ers fac­tor response time into their pur­chas­ing choic­es because it is a crit­i­cal part of any com­pet­i­tive sit­u­a­tion. But how, asks Geoff Webb, from PROS,  do you cre­ate a B2B eCom­merce infra­struc­ture that can han­dle the demands in numer­ous fast-paced indus­tries?

Con­sid­er the rel­e­vance of B2B eCom­merce infra­struc­ture in the case of mak­ing a sale to a cus­tomer. If you ask a ven­dor to sup­ply you with a quote for a prod­uct or ser­vice, but they take two weeks to get back to you, chances are you will have moved on and pur­sued anoth­er oppor­tu­ni­ty with a com­peti­tor that got back to you much faster. On the flip side, if a sell­er pro­vides a good quote quick­ly, you’re far more like­ly to buy what they’re offer­ing because your busi­ness moves fast and there­fore, your pur­chas­ing deci­sions should too.

That pres­sure to pro­vide instant pric­ing for quick­er sales cycles is caus­ing con­sid­er­able stress on anti­quat­ed ven­dor pric­ing infra­struc­ture. The tech stack at many com­pa­nies isn’t built to sup­port the kind of real-time, dig­i­tal sell­ing envi­ron­ment that busi­ness must now oper­ate in. Many orga­ni­za­tions are poten­tial­ly los­ing ground, and increas­ing­ly face a need to update their sys­tems to deliv­er greater agili­ty and keep pace in evolv­ing indus­tries.

The abil­i­ty to deliv­er a per­son­al­ized, accu­rate quote quick­ly has become a steadi­ly more impor­tant com­pet­i­tive advan­tage for busi­ness­es. It’s not just the price itself that buy­ers care about  – they’re also look­ing for a time­ly, agile quote that match­es their fast-paced busi­ness needs.

B2B eCom­merce infra­struc­ture: Find­ing your bal­ance while rid­ing the dig­i­tal wave

The shift to dig­i­tal busi­ness mod­els, espe­cial­ly eCom­merce, means that cus­tomers expect rapid (or even instant) turn­around on things like quot­ing. If com­pa­nies can’t respond quick­ly, then stud­ies clear­ly show that buy­ers will go else­where. An updat­ed infra­struc­ture can help ensure that new busi­ness mod­els will be prop­er­ly sup­port­ed and cus­tomer expec­ta­tions met.

This means that dig­i­tal sell­ing chan­nels must be able to scale to meet the demands of online buy­ers whose expec­ta­tions for respon­sive­ness and accu­ra­cy are already set by the B2C buy­ing expe­ri­ences. Addi­tion­al­ly, such eCom­merce chan­nels must work in har­mo­ny with oth­er chan­nels, like tra­di­tion­al in-per­son sales, and dis­trib­u­tors and resellers. Prices and prod­uct offers must not only be avail­able instant­ly, but they must also be con­sis­tent and accu­rate across every chan­nel so that cus­tomers will have con­fi­dence in their buy­ing expe­ri­ence.

Get­ting B2B eCom­merce infra­struc­ture right: Equip­ping sales with the lat­est tech

Sad­ly, sales­peo­ple are often over­bur­dened with admin­is­tra­tive tasks, caus­ing them to spend less time serv­ing cus­tomers. Get­ting the right price and an accu­rate quote to a buy­er can be daunt­ing, time-con­sum­ing, and dif­fi­cult. The right tech can help alle­vi­ate these issues, giv­ing the time back to sales­peo­ple to devote to sell­ing.

Specif­i­cal­ly, sales pro­fes­sion­als need to be able to under­stand what a cus­tomer needs, pull togeth­er a quote – which can be high­ly com­plex or very large – and price it to win the deal with­out leav­ing mon­ey on the table. Doing so quick­ly enough to meet cus­tomer expec­ta­tions is extreme­ly dif­fi­cult with­out pow­er­ful sales tech­nol­o­gy. Such tech­nol­o­gy must deliv­er guid­ance on what prod­ucts to offer, what prod­ucts might be appro­pri­ate for cross-sell­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties, and what the opti­mum price is for that cus­tomer inter­ac­tion and sit­u­a­tion. More and more, this capa­bil­i­ty requires the pow­er and insight of AI-based tech­nol­o­gy.

Edu­cat­ing, train­ing your sales team

Eas­ing those admin­is­tra­tive bur­dens will also ensure that your sales­peo­ple can work on stay­ing ahead of buy­ers, who are often very well informed. Com­pa­nies need their sales­peo­ple equipped to push back, quote a defen­si­ble price quick­ly, and eval­u­ate real val­ue to the buy­er. Oth­er­wise, sales teams will find them­selves con­sis­tent­ly los­ing mar­gin, los­ing deals, and poten­tial­ly, los­ing cus­tomers.

Increas­ing­ly the role of the B2B sales team is defined by their abil­i­ty to step into a deal and add val­ue to the cus­tomer dur­ing the buy­ing process. While some inter­ac­tions may be per­fect­ly fine through an eCom­merce chan­nel, occa­sion­al­ly a cus­tomer will want the extra help that a con­sul­ta­tive B2B sales rep can offer. In this case, again, it’s crit­i­cal that every chan­nel is offer­ing up a con­sis­tent set of infor­ma­tion and a ratio­nal, defen­si­ble price for cus­tomers to feel con­fi­dent they are get­ting the right deal.

Work­ing toward that ‘final coat’

B2B busi­ness­es will also need to remem­ber that true dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion can­not rely on a “wait and see approach,” as it will fail to deliv­er the full ben­e­fits that dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion can offer. Orga­ni­za­tions often approach this change the same way one paints a house: add one lay­er, then wait for it to ful­ly dry before adding anoth­er. The prob­lem with this approach is that com­pa­nies might feel dis­il­lu­sioned if that “first coat of paint” does not deliv­er what they want because the goal is still sev­er­al “coats of paint” away.

Yet if busi­ness­es start their path to dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion at the inter­face of sales and cus­tomer – where the impact of new sales tech­nol­o­gy can have the great­est ben­e­fit – they are in a strong posi­tion to build and deliv­er val­ue at each stage of the dig­i­tal jour­ney.

Build­ing a strong B2B eCom­merce infra­struc­ture is not easy, espe­cial­ly with ever-evolv­ing tech­nol­o­gy. Orga­ni­za­tions need to focus on adopt­ing a busi­ness mod­el that is entire­ly built around the abil­i­ty to process infor­ma­tion because suc­cess in mov­ing to dig­i­tal is defined on a busi­ness’ abil­i­ty to har­vest the full val­ue of the data they have, and the addi­tion­al data sig­nals they can incor­po­rate.

Busi­ness­es that are also able to adjust their approach to the sales process, and ensure sales­peo­ple are edu­cat­ed and equipped with the right tools, will find greater lev­els of suc­cess, far more quick­ly, than their less dig­i­tal­ly-enabled com­peti­tors.