Omnichannel is a rather ungainly word for how we all negotiate our world today, moving fluidly and unselfconsciously from one device to the next, from marketplace to brand app to a physical shop. This has shifted the focus of eCommerce from ‘merely’ driving online sales to creating customer journeys that lead to a sale ─ whether that be on the webshop or the showroom. Predictions that online would destroy the high street have proven pessimistic and shortsighted as B2C businesses are now opening physical shops to orchestrate a more holistic customer journey.
This blurring of offline and online is supremely relevant to B2B where, traditionally, transactions were made through a network of trusted business contacts. This culture persists but as part of a well-structured customer trajectory. An influential paper (pdf, 3,5 MB) from Accenture revealed that the modern B2B buyer first meets a sales rep when he is more than half-way through the customer journey. Two things flow from this: the customer journey has to be compelling enough to get the buyer to commit to a meeting and the sales rep has to be the natural continuation of that journey.
Both have to tell the same story, communicate the same brand message, quote the same prices and discounts, and describe the products in the same way.
For this to happen an eCommerce business needs a single source of truth. Even if you assume that such a truth exists in the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, it still has to simultaneously reach the customer, the marketplaces where you trade, your sales reps and warehouse team, your delivery drivers and so on. ERP systems are often described as monolithic but the truth is not carved in stone: it changes with every order.
The single source of truth requires the ERP to be integrated with the eCommerce platform. In our whitepaper, 9 key benefits of ERP driven eCommerce, we conclude that this integration is indispensable to the success of modern B2C and B2B eCommerce.
In this blog, we take a closer look at one aspect of this: the ordering process.
ERP integration optimizes SEO and searches in your own webshop. Customers want to find exactly what they need in a matter of seconds or be presented with alternative products that are meaningful to them, not a dog whistle response to a few keywords. ERP has the clout to store and filter huge amounts of information, and to re-interpret this information for every customer whose search, purchase, payment and delivery histories are also archived in the system. But unless your data is accurate and up to date, your product suggestions will be customised for a customer who does not exist.
You can update your customer data manually or you can automate this process by integrating the ERP system with your eCommerce platform. Automation means the job gets done and gets done right every time. Visitors will get fast and accurate search results or product suggestions that are a helpful next step in their customer journey if the specific item they were looking for is not available.
Naturally, a search result is incomplete without the information if the product that you sell is available for immediate delivery.
Integration will give the customer that information in real-time.
Businesses do not want to over-stock or accept orders they cannot fulfill: one creates an unnecessary cost, the other imperils your relationship with the customer.
If you keep track of inventory on Excel spreadsheets or by email, you will inevitably create inconsistencies and frustrate not only your customers but also your sales and warehouse teams. Integration, on the other hand, creates a loop of automated, synchronized data that binds ERP and shop in a single version of the truth in real-time, where “shop” is every online and offline channel where an order may be placed. The ERP feeds the stock position to the shop, which instantly updates the system once a purchase has been made so that a customer looking at the same product at the same time ─ or the same “real-time” which is a matter of nanoseconds ─ also gets the right information.
Delivery dates are crucial for B2B businesses because they are often part of a supply chain. B2C customers are not significantly impacted if their vacuum cleaner bags or trainers are delivered later than they had been led to expect ─ but in reality, they are as unforgiving as B2B.
The speed and accuracy of fulfillment break down if there are inconsistencies in how the order is recorded. Integration takes away the main cause of this: human error.
Integration automates the synchronization of important data such as order number, customer information, product specification, quantity, shipping details, invoicing and so on. Entering all or part of this data manually (often more than once across different systems) takes away resources from creating new value for the business. This would be bad enough if these manual processes were accurate, which they seldom are.
A simple keying error can ripple out across the entire fulfillment process, absorbing yet more valuable time as you painstakingly correct it. Mistakes that slip through the net result in delivery delays, wrong orders, product returns, customer dissatisfaction, and reputational harm ─ and fewer orders.
You cannot put a price on your reputation. As for the cost of order error and reshipment, this has been estimated to be around $50. What this cost may be for your eCommerce business is actually irrelevant because it is completely avoidable. Your competitors who have integrated their ERP system with a best-of-breed eCommerce platform do not incur these costs.
Businesses fear integration projects ─ not without just cause as they are often complex and disruptive. In our whitepaper on ERP driven eCommerce, we analyze why businesses have no option but to grasp the nettle and integrate: is it a matter of survival, a choice between hard work and no more work at all.
But our ERP has an order management module, I hear you say. Won’t that do the job?
It won’t. Whatever the ERP seller or re-seller may say, the order management module they are touting is not an end-to-end solution. Rather, it is usually an add-on application built by a third party and interfaced rather than integrated with the ERP system. Whereas integration with an eCommerce platform fosters agility, encrusting the ERP system with yet more functionalities makes it even slower to respond to change.
The other deal-breaker is that the elaborate customizations of most ERP systems has made them slow to adapt to mobile technology ─ in an environment where even B2B customers expect to be productive when they are on the move.
An order management module has the same disadvantage as the ERP system to which it is attached: it does not “talk” directly to the customer. For intelligent and effective communication with the customer, you need the intervention of an eCommerce platform.
And don’t forget, this is just the ordering process. Integration transforms an eCommerce business in many other ways: you can easily operate multiple shops, explore international markets, personalize content for customers and ─ increasingly ─ for prospective customers new to your webshop. Not a change you want to miss!