THE BLOG
01/28/2016 10:40 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Key Differences Between Building B2B and E-Commerce Websites

2016-01-21-1453392168-11136-SethRand.pngSeth Rand is the Founder and CEO of Rand Internet Marketing. He is also an Internet marketing speaker and author and consultant specializing in Search Engine Marketing and Social Media Marketing. Follow him @sethrand.

Are business-to-business (B2B) websites the same as every other e-commerce website? By and large, if you ask an experienced web developer who has built sites for wholesalers, distributors, and other B2B businesses, their answer will surely be no. B2B organizations typically play by different rules and have different needs -- many of which can't be met by standard out-of-the-box e-commerce software.

I have been involved with e-commerce since 2002, growing into the role of the e-commerce website and marketing manager for what is now Magid Handbags. Over the past 13+ years, I have sold, project managed, and/or performed search engine marketing services for hundreds of e-commerce websites, and in the process, I've identified which aspects are unique to B2B sites.

If you run a B2B business and looking for a web development agency, here are some areas you should ask them about to ensure they have the right expertise for you:

Unique Features and Access for B2B Buyers

When selling to businesses, an online shop is more likely to need special rules and uncommon features. They may have order minimums or allow for special payment terms, such as cash on delivery or net terms. For shipping, they may need to offer freight options for bigger bulk orders, or options for customers to provide their own shipping account information. They're more likely to require shoppers to have an account in order to view the website, see pricing, or get discounted B2B pricing. Taking it a step further, different shoppers may have access to different products, shipping methods, and payment options.

Marketing and CRM

B2B store owners also need to tackle marketing differently. For instance, they may have better luck in attracting potential customers via LinkedIn than they will through other networks. They are also more likely to have a larger Lifetime Acquisition Value per customer, making it important to deploy a CRM that talks to their e-commerce store, like a search engine marketing client of ours, OroCRM.com.

Integration With Other Software Systems

In some cases, B2B sites will also need to integrate with other software systems. A successful B2B business is likely running existing ERP software from providers like Sage, Exact, MS Dynamics, or SAP to manage their warehouses and inventory. By syncing these systems together, a business can keep their inventory automatically up to date, and push orders to one central software system to keep their pick, pack, and ship operations streamlined within their organization.

An open-source e-commerce platform like Magento can meet many of these needs, but it will take some significant elbow grease. It will also typically involve adding plugins to customize the store in order to meet the functional needs of B2B operations.

Online Storefront Software Trends

We're also starting to see the market produce online storefront software specifically built for B2B organizations. As more and more businesses move their researching and purchasing from trade shows and catalogs to the Internet, it will be increasingly important for sellers to keep up technologically. Shoppers are already choosing vendors that offer a digital shopping experience, as it's faster and more convenient than traditional methods. Even Amazon now offers business user accounts for approved B2B shoppers. Small and medium businesses will need to address their technological needs in order to stay competitive in an expanding online marketplace.

Small and medium businesses will need to address their technological needs in order to stay competitive in an expanding online marketplace.