B2B web stores as self-service portals
Selling to professional buyers has always been complex. From technical product specifications and complex pricing rules to individual prepayment agreements, it’s never been as simple as letting clients use a self-service portal to manage every step of the sales process.
Until now, that is.
The right e-commerce solution and a smart approach to integration lets you create a comprehensive self-service portal that enables your clients during every step of the purchasing process. Read on to find out how you can transform your customer care by using your B2B web store for customer self-service — without compromising on quality.
Self-service step 1: Finding the right product
This may sound straightforward, but it can be a huge challenge for companies with large product catalogs or even smaller selections of very complex products. When it comes to machine parts, for instance, even a slight size difference can mean that a product won’t meet the buyer’s needs.
The most reliable way to ensure product data accuracy in your web store is to use product data from a single source of truth, such as your ERP or product information management (PIM) system. This makes it easier to manage and update all data at once, preventing you from displaying contradicting data in different locations. An e-commerce solution that provides seamless integration with ERP and PIM systems ensures that the customer portal always displays correct and up-to-date product specifications.
User-friendly navigation depends on good user experience (UX) design, but also on smart use of product data. This could entail letting clients search based on item number as well as product name, or even providing faceted search: the ability to filter search results based on product attributes or specifications. This lets web store visitors narrow down the options and hone in on the right product.
Self-service step 2: Placing orders without sales representatives
Once clients have found the item or service they are looking for, they need to be able to place the order correctly in one go. As you know, this is often easier said than done in B2B sales.
A key part of facilitating independent order placement is granting insight into real-time inventory availability. True ERP integration lets a web store display accurate and up-to-date inventory level data, so clients can always see whether there’s enough of their product in stock.
A self-service portal for professional buyers also has to make it easy for buyers to only place orders that are in accordance with existing agreements, such as staying within agreed minimum or maximum orders. Order value validation in your self-service portal ensures that this cannot happen.
Other client-specific agreements should also be reflected, such as custom pricing and discounts. Only when these variables are accurately reflected in the web store can it truly act as a self-service portal and let buyers finalize orders without the help of sales agents.
Self-service step 3: Paying invoices online
You can make your B2B web store a one-stop self-service portal by also offering clients the ability to view and reconcile all their invoices online — even for orders that were placed via other channels, such as phone or fax. You can provide additional convenience by granting your clients insight into their balance and allowing them to pay invoices online if needed.
This is another feature that is made possible by seamless integration between the e-commerce platform and the ERP system (and, in this case, a payment service provider, or PSP, such as PayPal or Adyen). You can achieve this by having the e-commerce software interact directly with the ERP, for instance, or by importing bank statements into the ERP and automatically matching these with open invoices.
Self-service step 4: Finding answers to FAQs
How much time do your colleagues spend answering client questions on a weekly basis? Less than they could, if you were to use your web store as a self-service portal.
What if your client has questions about which product to order? Instead of calling your sales department with questions about technical specifications or even product availability, clients can simply visit your customer portal and look this information up themselves.
A web store can also help with more typical customer service queries. You can grant insight into the status of an order, for instance. You can also share information about past orders, both online and offline. This means clients will only have to get in touch about complex questions, saving time for both you and them.
Self-service step 5: Managing returns through the web store
Even with all these advancements in client enablement, no system is fool-proof. It may happen that a client wishes to return an item — and if they do, your web store should let them manage this part of the fulfillment process as well.
One way you could facilitate this through an online self-service portal is by letting your clients submit a return request document. This would make it easy for them to share photos of damaged products, for instance.
By using the same channel for returns as the original order, you’re making things as simple as possible for your clients — and hopefully making a somewhat negative experience with your products and services as stress-free as possible.
Integrated e-commerce: The key to excellent customer service
Seamless integration between your web store platform and your existing systems lets you provide a comprehensive and user-friendly self-service portal that goes beyond simply fulfillment. An order might begin with a quote and end with invoice payment, but an enduring business partnership goes further.
By providing your clients with around-the-clock access to the information that matters to them, you not only make them less reliant on your opening hours — you empower them to do business on their terms, with you as their trusted partner.
This is part of our series of blogs on customer experience. Click here for the previous installment!