Intershop Blog
Your hotspot for market and technology trends in B2B e-commerce
  • There are no suggestions because the search field is empty.

Trumpf, SPINNER, Teka, Miele or Würth: five very different B2B companies, and yet they share a common strategy. All of them are using e-commerce platforms to improve customer satisfaction, boost revenue, and improve the bottom line.

And they do this for a good reason: The rapid changes in digitalization, increased use of AI technologies, and challenges caused by war and economic turbulence, such as unstable supply chains and higher energy and commodity prices, have a long-term impact on manufacturers’ and wholesalers’ daily business. In order not to lose the connection, those responsible need to continuously develop, optimize and invest in their digital competences and capacities.

Digital relationships, extended services and the selected communications and sales channels are crucial to success. A recent McKinsey report found that e-commerce has taken the lead as the most effective B2B sales channel: rated first by 35% of respondents, ahead of in-person sales (26%), video conference (12%), email (10%) and telephone (8%).


Why do B2B companies need to invest in the digital transformation of customer interaction?

B2B comes to this digital fork in the road for a number of reasons. Some organizations are looking to generate additional revenue due to declining sales. Others see their competition outselling and outpacing them, due to e-commerce early adopter status. The competition took a chance and it’s paying off – and siphoning customers from their base.

One of the most strategic reasons, however, is the fact that there’s been a shift in the mindset of the B2B buyer. The Millennial generation wants an Amazon experience, whether they are buying electronics for their home or supplies for a business. And they prefer to do business without human interaction. According to a Harvard Business Study, 81% of customers try to solve problems themselves before picking up the phone.

Today, B2B salespeople are charged with making deeper connections with their clients, and becoming consultative sellers. Instead of just processing orders, B2B salespeople need to provide advice, upsell their customers, and be available 24/7. E-commerce allows them to do all of the above, since it can help the sales person and function as a sales channel.

That’s not to say that it’s simple to create a new e-commerce platform. On the B2B side, business models are more complex, so there is a challenge to bring them online. B2B sales cycles are longer and more complex, but if you put emphasis on content so you can use the e-commerce platform as a channel to answer questions for the customer, you’re going to make ordering easier.

The key, experts say, is finding the right technology partner. Since there are many providers out there, it can be difficult to find a platform advanced enough to have the newest features and functionalities, yet agile enough to understand and work with business nuances and seamlessly integrate best-of-breed solutions and existing legacy systems. This is where the so-called composable commerce approach comes into play: Start with a solid commerce platform that can grant you basic, reliable, high-performance, core commerce functionalities to run your business online, and the potential for further improvement via customized packaged business capabilities (PBCs).

The recent IDC MarketScape “Worldwide B2B Digital Commerce Applications for Midmarket Growth 2023-2024 Vendor Assessment” highlighted Intershop's full feature set with a modular architecture that meets the needs of a composable and headless commerce approach. Heather Hershey, Research Director of IDC's Global Digital Commerce Program, says: “Consider Intershop if you are a midmarket or entry enterprise business looking for a full-featured, composable, headless, AI-centric platform from a company with extensive expertise in digital commerce.” Read more about Intershop’s positioning here:

Intershop named a Leader in IDC MarketScape


5 tips for a successful digital transformation

To give customers the integrated, seamless channel experiences they seek, B2B leaders need to ensure there is companywide alignment on cross-channel digitalization initiatives. High-performing B2B companies go beyond implementing an e-commerce platform; they fully embrace new opportunities and make these initiatives top organizational priorities.

In fact, working with the right e-commerce platform makes everything easier, so many potential issues become non-issues; but before you can choose an e-commerce technology partner, you’ve got to do a little legwork. There are five steps every organization should follow before sending out a single RFP or rolling out e-commerce offerings. They include:


1. Understand your customer – and your own company’s goals and needs.

Your customers don’t care how they buy something. They just want to buy what they need when they need it and at the best price. It is important to take the time to understand who, exactly, your customer is and what problems of theirs you are supposed to be solving. You need to answer:

  • What is your customer’s journey?

  • Where do they need help?

  • How are they currently working with your company?

  • How do they interact with your sales force?

It is also advisable to approach the development of your e-commerce site from the customer’s standpoint – not your company’s internal perspective. A mistake that companies can make often is building their e-commerce presence around their current org chart. They say, ‘this is how we do things internally and that’s how we’re going to expose it to the customer‘. However, talking to our customers, it becomes clear that this just doesn’t work.

When you have a firm grasp on these issues, you can work with your e-commerce vendor to find and pilot functionality that addresses each. An office products wholesaler demonstrates this and set several goals including acquiring more customers online and expanding its sales past traditional supplies such as paper and printers. These goals are being met using Intershop’s e-commerce solution for its customers in India. The company knows it serves both large enterprise organizations and small- and mid-size businesses, the company – using Intershop’s flexible platform – was able to create two versions of its site for its different channels. In addition, the extensive product catalog is now maintained centrally, and all transactions are seamlessly integrated into the back end and CRM systems. Now, new customer accounts are set up in hours, as opposed to days, and customers get the exact experience and offerings they need.


2. Benchmark against your competition.

E-commerce opens up your company to new markets and customers, so that means you need to evaluate how your site may be viewed in comparison to others in your vertical. While you don’t want to copy a competitor’s e-commerce platform design, it’s worth looking at what they are doing and how the market is responding to that paradigm. Benchmarking, in particular, can be very beneficial since you can find gaps in your own strategy by comparing it to your competition’s.

You can also learn a lot by looking at the language and content on your competition’s website. Are they using the same terminology for similar products and services? Maybe the competitor is capturing a bigger slice of the pie because customers can find them more easily via natural search or identify with how they are marketing a specific product or service. Content is something many B2B companies do poorly.

For example, they have relied on the reseller channel for so long that they are not good at answering questions for the customer. Content truly is king and customer experience is queen. You need the right content to answer the right questions at every stage of the buying process, and the right functionality, too.

That said, when you’re talking to a potential e-commerce vendor, it’s worth asking if the company has customers in your vertical and internal experts who are well-versed in what you need. Intershop's expertise in the B2B environment is extensive.

Read about the success stories of our global customers from industry and wholesale here.


3. Map out a roll-out plan including people, processes, and technology.

Think about your e-commerce platform as a salesperson who never goes to sleep. How can you support that salesperson with technology and process so that in six months, 12 months or 24 months it has everything it needs to succeed? More importantly, can your platform improve your speed-to-market?

Experts suggest starting small with an MVP approach and building on successes. The biggest mistake is scaling too soon or overbuilding. Amazon, which started selling books and added categories and new sales targets one by one, is a perfect example. By taking it slowly and learning from mistakes, the company grew into a behemoth. B2B companies should take a similar strategy. It’s worth rolling out features, functionality, and SKUs as you’re ready, so you can get feedback from your customers and use it to inform future site iterations.

To do this, you’ll need to examine your needs from a technology perspective. How many SKUs do you have today? How many do you expect to have? That information should go at the top of your selection criteria. You also need to investigate exactly how your customers like to interact with you, how they expect to make purchases, and what your endpoint should be. Are you looking to use your e-commerce platform for direct sales? Will it act as a conduit between sales reps and your product line? Are you selling locally, or will you need to go global in the short or long term? What languages, currencies, taxes, and shipping options are going to be necessary? How will you calculate reseller commissions? Are there resellers involved? Do you know exactly which customers belong on an e-commerce platform and which may not be suited to an online storefront?

The goal of any e-commerce system is to make the customer’s experience simple and transparent. The platform should support the complexity and flexibility of business, and customers shouldn't be able to see or have to worry about the magic happening behind the scenes – the platform handling millions of interactions with dozens of systems. You should, though. Consider the following: Are there multiple fulfillment locations? How many ERP and CRM systems do you have? Which system keeps the master customer record? You need an understanding of processes and data flow, much like you’d need an understanding of a blueprint before adding an addition to a building. The answers to these questions, along with some help from an experienced e-commerce vendor, will assist you in plotting out your next steps.


4. Focus on training, organization, and feedback to improve B2B sales.

Since no two B2B e-commerce systems are the same, value comes from working with a vendor who can support your unique e-commerce journey – including training your employees and partners. A big part of a project’s success comes from having a well-educated employee base that’s ready for change. You’ve got to empower the field service organization, helping them to understand e-commerce and how it will complement what they do and help them to be more successful.

You can ensure a better transition by asking salespeople to help you identify the positive and negative aspects of your initial pilot – everything from user interface to content, to which customer segments will be most amenable to going online first. There should also be a mandate and buy-in from every level of management, starting at the top. Customer service or junior marketing teams will be less likely to embrace a new e-commerce platform if those at the top give it only a perfunctory nod.


5. Enable continuous innovation and flexibility.

The work doesn’t stop once you’ve chosen a vendor and implemented a new platform. The evolution of the industry, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in all areas of our personal and professional lives, and changing customer needs will necessitate new features and functionalities, as well as a high degree of personalization. If you’re working with a company like Intershop, your needs are covered and you’ll be able to react to changes in the competitive space without worrying about code. Intershop’s cloud solution delivers automatic software and functionality updates on a continuous basis, so you’ll be able to concentrate on your core business.

Establishing a test-and-learn mentality from the start is advisable so you can quickly eliminate strategies or features that aren’t working for your audience. Following an MVP approach, your B2B commerce website is turning into a “minimum viable product” and can go live after 100 days of project duration.

If your vendor is as quick, nimble, and agile as Intershop, you can turn those changes around quickly, delighting customers and finding new opportunities, channels, and revenue streams.


How to choose the best e-commerce platform for your B2B company

While every e-commerce player may say their offering is the best on the market, there are several company and platform criteria that improve an organization’s chances for success. Integration is also extremely important. E-commerce does not exist in a vacuum anymore. Every department in an organization – from research and development to marketing to sales – is touched by the effects of e-commerce.

As such, the best e-commerce offerings will have the ability to integrate with existing cloud-based technology and software – today and in the future. The e-commerce platform should connect easily to ERP, analytics, and marketing programs. Intershop’s modern API-based architecture does exactly that. Containing all important out-of-the-box features, you will be able to rapidly implement your e-commerce project – and later complete it step by step with best-of-breed applications.

Companies with the longest tenure in the space tend to have the best results because they have more experience and more customers than their competitors. They’ve been able to see what works and what doesn’t, and they have their fingers on the pulse of the market. With its long e-commerce experience, Intershop is a good example. The company presented its first e-commerce solution in 1994 and has an innate ability to identify and create fast return on investment for its customers while still working within budgets. In a recent IDC MarketScape report, the Intershop Commerce Platform is recognized as a “Leader” and “may be a good fit if your organization is focused on differentiating via AI and data-led, tech agility-led, or experience-led commerce strategies” (IDC MarketScape: Worldwide B2B Digital Commerce Applications for Midmarket Growth 2023-2024 Vendor Assessment).


Best practice in manufacturing: SPINNER's digital transformation

For more than 75 years the SPINNER Group has been setting standards with its products in high frequency technology. With its headquarters in Munich and production facilities in Germany, Hungary and China, the SPINNER Group employs around 800 people worldwide. Leading companies in telecommunications, broadcasting, mechanical engineering and industry still rely on first-class engineering, outstanding series products and individual solutions from SPINNER today.

In order to boost its digital transformation and enable further growth, the company started a strategically thought through e-commerce initiative aimed to achieve three main goals: more online leads, more efficient processes and an improved reach and brand visibility. “We want to offer our customers the service, the user-friendliness and the positive shopping experience that they are already familiar with from private use of online shops, smartphones and other services and that they expect in the business-related ordering process – without abandoning the requirements of the B2B world,” says Stephanie Spinner-König, Managing Director of SPINNER GmbH.

The basis for this is a transaction-based Intershop Commerce Platform. It was chosen because of its extensive out-of-the-box functionality to ensure a rapid market launch for the additional sales channel. Scalability and flexibility of the solution were also crucial for the decision.

An agile project management approach with a first product release according to the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) principle ensured a rapid introduction of the online sales channel to the market. The result: “SPINNER’s e-commerce offensive had three objectives: more online leads, increasing efficiency in our processes and opening up new markets. In just one year we registered 400% new leads and up to 90% less effort in order processing. This has already enabled the SPINNER Group to reach new customer segments”, states Matthias Riedinger, Project Manager Digitalization of Spinner GmbH.

Thanks to the implementation of a B2C-like shopping experience including self-service options allowing for more autonomy and transparency during the buyer journey, the SPINNER Group always has a clear focus on the most important success factor in digitalization: its customers. Hats off!

Intershop enables the world’s leading manufacturers and wholesalers to digitalize, transform, and boost their businesses. Our robust e-commerce platform gives companies the power to establish and expand their digital presence, improve customer experience, and increase online revenue.

Book a demo today