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As digital transformation sweeps through every sector, businesses are compelled to adapt, innovate, and reimagine their strategies to stay competitive. But how can they navigate this shifting terrain with confidence and clarity? And how can they leverage their full e-commerce potential?

These are the questions the ShoppingTomorrow expert group ‘B2B Frontrunners: leveraging your B2B e-commerce potential’ seeks to answer. Hosted by De Nieuwe Zaak and Intershop, 23 experts from leading wholesalers and manufacturers engage in five in-depth sessions to explore this topic, pooling their expertise to propel each other forward. The first session focused on the modern B2B e-commerce platform: What do B2B customers want, and how can businesses align their technical infrastructure to meet these demands, both now and in the future? This blog article summarizes the insights and conclusions of the expert group. Let these learnings benefit your company!

The changing B2B buyer behavior

The composable future of B2B e-commerce

Best practice: The digital transformation of global manufacturer Coulisse

10 essential benefits of modernizing your IT infrastructure

How to accelerate your digital transformation journey?


The changing B2B buyer behavior

Traditionally, B2B purchasing decisions were characterized by lengthy sales cycles, face-to-face interactions, and reliance on personal relationships. However, as technology continues to advance and digital channels become increasingly prevalent, the buying behavior of B2B customers is undergoing a profound transformation.

One key aspect of this change is the growing preference for self-service and online research. B2B buyers now expect the same level of convenience, transparency, and efficiency in their purchasing journey as they experience in their personal lives. They are more inclined to conduct extensive research online, compare products and prices, and make informed decisions autonomously, often without the need for direct interaction with sales representatives.

Gerrit Enthoven, EVP Marketing, Sales & Channel at Intershop, notes that “B2B customers now expect 1:1 personalization at scale, wanting to be able to manage much themselves, even outside office hours.” In response to these shifts in buying behavior, wholesalers and brand manufacturers must rethink their sales and marketing strategies. They need to invest in robust e-commerce platforms, optimize their digital channels for self-service experiences, and leverage data and analytics to gain insights into customer preferences and behavior.

But what does a modern e-commerce platform look like? Which requirements must it address to meet the complex needs of both B2B organizations and their customers. The expert group agrees on these characteristics:

  • Low operational costs, encompassing development expenses.

  • Rapid adaptability to market changes to stay ahead of evolving customer preferences and industry trends.

  • Fast feature development and integration of best-of-breed technologies to enhance the customer experience and remain competitive in the market.

  • Providing peace of mind, better support, and security to instill trust and confidence in B2B transactions. 

This necessitates an e-commerce architecture that is not only robust and secure but also flexible enough to quickly adapt to changing market conditions. The digital maturity of B2B organizations is increasing, moving towards a future where e-commerce platforms become increasingly autonomous and personalized, aligning seamlessly with the evolving needs and expectations of both buyers and sellers. 


The composable future of B2B e-commerce

When we talk about robust, yet flexible platform architecture in the context of B2B e-commerce, the concept of composable commerce inevitably comes into play. Composable commerce represents a paradigm shift in how businesses approach their digital infrastructure, emphasizing modularity, interoperability, and adaptability. In essence, it offers a framework for building e-commerce systems comprised of interchangeable components – so called Packaged Business Capabilities (PBCs) – that can be assembled and reconfigured to meet specific business needs. This approach enables organizations to achieve a balance between stability and agility, empowering them to master the complexities of the modern e-commerce landscape with confidence and ease.

Key to this composable future is the adoption of Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions that empower businesses to gain access to a flexible and scalable infrastructure, facilitating rapid adaptation to changing customer needs and market dynamics. In the SaaS model, software operates in the cloud rather than on proprietary servers, offering inherent advantages such as flexibility, cost savings, and scalability. Additionally, SaaS is typically provided as a subscription model, allowing organizations to pay for software usage on a recurring basis, whether monthly, quarterly, or annually. This subscription-based approach not only reduces upfront investment costs but also ensures continuous access to the latest software updates and features, enabling businesses to stay ahead of the curve in the fast-paced world of B2B e-commerce.


Best practice: The digital transformation of global manufacturer Coulisse

During their first meet-up, the ShoppingTomorrow expert group visited Coulisse, a global window coverings specialist based in the Netherlands. Coulisse is making significant strides in its digital transformation, with a strong focus on supply chain data, business intelligence, e-business, and information management. These respective departments work closely together on innovative projects shaping Coulisse’s future. While the transition to a more integrated business architecture and processes is underway, Coulisse is already taking significant steps forward.

They are redesigning their customer portal to provide a more personalized and differentiated customer experience. This new portal adapts to each customer’s unique preferences, moving away from the ‘one size fits all’ approach. The portal also includes the Coulisse Academy, offering valuable instructions and information, allowing both employees and customers to deepen their knowledge.

Current efforts focus on improving the customer journey through extensive customer journey mapping and strengthening data governance. These initiatives aim to connect systems more efficiently, resulting in tailored solutions that elevate customer service. 


10 essential benefits of modernizing your IT infrastructure

Modernizing your technical infrastructure is no longer just an option – it’s a necessity for businesses striving to remain competitive and relevant in their respective industries. According to the expert group, these are the main benefits:

1. Happy customers: Your customers are accustomed to the flexibility and personalization of B2C markets. They now expect the same experience in B2B transactions, including the ability to order at their own pace and via digital platforms. By aligning your technical infrastructure with evolving customer expectations, you can deliver tailored experiences that resonate with your audience. Personalized recommendations, seamless omnichannel interactions, and intuitive self-service capabilities contribute to a positive customer experience, leading to increased satisfaction and loyalty.

2. Enhanced agility and adaptability: Modernizing your technical infrastructure enables your business to become more agile and adaptable to changing market conditions. By leveraging the latest technologies and frameworks, you can streamline processes, automate workflows, and respond quickly to emerging trends and customer demands.

3. Scalability: A modernized technical infrastructure offers improved scalability and flexibility, allowing your business to easily scale resources up or down based on fluctuating demand. Whether you're experiencing rapid growth or facing unforeseen challenges, a flexible infrastructure ensures that your systems can adapt to meet evolving needs without disruption.

4. Omnichannel readiness: In today’s dynamic e-commerce landscape, catering to diverse customer needs across various generations and personas is paramount for success. As a B2B organization, you must offer a wide range of ordering methods that support both traditional and modern buying experiences.

5. Multi-device support: In B2B, the use of multiple devices is complementary, not a replacement. A modern IT infrastructure enables you to seamlessly integrate devices across different platforms.

6. Efficiency and cost control: Digital transformation is not just about increasing sales but also about improving efficiency, ultimately leading to cost savings and clearer insights into business expenditure.

7. Knowledge retention: In a time where knowledge within companies changes rapidly, it is essential to keep crucial information accessible and up-to-date, so that all customers – new and old – can easily find and order the right products.

8. Innovation and growth: A modernized technical infrastructure lays the foundation for innovation and growth by providing the tools and capabilities needed to drive digital transformation initiatives. Whether it's adopting emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning or embracing new business models and revenue streams, modernization empowers your business to innovate and thrive in the digital age.

9. Streamlined operations and workflow automation: Modernizing your technical infrastructure empowers your business to streamline operations and automate workflows, leading to increased efficiency and productivity. By leveraging advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, and data analytics, you can automate repetitive tasks, eliminate manual errors, and optimize resource allocation. This not only frees up valuable time and resources but also enables your team to focus on higher-value activities, such as strategic planning, innovation, and customer engagement. As a result, your business can operate more efficiently, reduce operational costs, and achieve greater agility in responding to market demands and opportunities.

10. Security and compliance: A digital immune system is paramount in today’s digital landscape, and modernizing your technical infrastructure is essential for maintaining robust cybersecurity defenses. By implementing the latest security protocols, encryption technologies, and compliance measures, you can safeguard sensitive data, protect against cyber threats, and ensure regulatory compliance.

In summary, modernizing your technical infrastructure is not just about keeping up with the latest trends – it’s about unlocking new opportunities for growth, innovation, and competitive advantage.


How to accelerate your digital transformation journey?

The digital transformation of your B2B organization can be both exciting and challenging. However, by following key principles outlined by the expert group, you can accelerate this process and drive meaningful change within your business.

  • Understand your customer’s needs. Begin by gaining a deep understanding of your customer’s wants and needs. This will allow you to prioritize development efforts effectively and ensure alignment with customer expectations. Striking the right balance between independent tool selection and customization is crucial, as it allows for flexibility while still meeting specific customer requirements.

  • Get your tech stack in order. Make sure that the architecture of your systems is robust and customer-centric. Supplement core systems like Product Information Management (PIM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) with layers such as CRM and marketing automation. These systems should seamlessly integrate both internally and externally, enabling collaboration with external tools and services from vendors that remain adaptable in their development journey.

  • Adopt the concept of ‘composable commerce’. Build modular systems that do not require extensive customization. By influencing how suppliers structure their services, you can minimize customization while still meeting unique business needs effectively.

  • Secure internal buy-in and start with MVPs. Gain buy-in from key internal stakeholders by establishing clear processes and goals. Start projects with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach, focusing on delivering value quickly while keeping the bigger picture in mind. Strategically appoint internal champions to drive adoption and collaborate closely with internal teams to accelerate the transformation process.

  • Think big, start small. Avoid focusing solely on large-scale projects that require significant time and resources. Instead, set a minimum evaluation period to assess the viability and success of new initiatives. This approach enables you to pivot quickly and adjust course as needed, driving incremental progress towards your transformation goals.

  • Advocate for standardization in B2B e-commerce tech. Challenge traditional power dynamics within your organization by advocating for a shift towards commercially led structures. Empower commercial teams to drive development cycles and enhance responsiveness within the market. While IT departments traditionally hold control in many B2B organizations, transitioning to a commercially led approach can lead to smoother implementation of changes and innovations.

  • Harness the power of your ERP system: Despite challenges with outdated processes and systems, prioritize the modernization of your ERP system. As the backbone of your business operations, the ERP system provides a standardized foundation upon which to build and innovate. By ensuring seamless integration with other systems and applications, you can unlock the full potential of your digital transformation efforts.

By putting commerce at the forefront and transforming IT into a facilitator, your organization can navigate the complexities of digital transformation with confidence and agility. Collaborate closely between e-commerce and IT teams to leverage technology effectively and drive innovation across your business. By optimizing this dynamic and embracing change, you can accelerate your digital transformation journey and remain competitive in today’s rapidly evolving B2B e-commerce landscape.

The future is now, but the journey towards innovation in B2B e-commerce continues. The next session of the ShoppingTomorrow expert group will focus on the strategic integration of AI in B2B e-commerce. Keep following our blog for more insights and actionable takeaways! 

Download now: Intershop Digital Trends Report 2024