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CRM or eCommerce for B2B Sales?

June 6, 2019

by

Ricardo Merzvinskas

CRM or eCommerce for B2B Sales? I never thought I would ask that question. Until a few years ago, CRM and eCommerce systems were very separate entities.  However, thanks to the fascinating constant evolution of technology, these systems are evolving to the point of having overlapping functionality in some cases.  The intention of this article is to help companies select the correct type of system when it comes to improving their B2B sales.

CRM

Modern cloud CRM systems work well on any device, including smartphones and tablets. They can also place simple orders either natively or through some customization. Some CRM solution vendors provide an online customer portal solution where clients can place orders online in a simple page or pages. However, despite these customer portals, a CRM system is mostly designed to support the sales teams, not the buyers.

With a CRM solution, the sales reps can also interact as a team, plan their calls and meetings, schedule follow-up activities, write notes, update their sales pipeline info, produce simple quotes and place orders that are usually routed to an ERP system. With these CRM solutions, managers can also have a consolidated view of his/her team´s sales efforts and pipeline data.

eCommerce for B2B

Companies selling to corporate customers (B2B) need to provide contract/negotiated pricing and catalogs to specific clients. Catalogs can have thousands to millions of items, with a variety of attributes and sometimes products that are created by a combination of others (configurable products). These companies need to offer discounts to their customers based on volume and other criteria. Prices have to include taxes and shipping costs that may vary depending on the client’s location and type of product.

For the buyer, it is a logged-in experience (corporate users log-in to access the eCommerce portal), so the eCommerce system has to be able to manage accounts and users. Also, some corporate clients want to have a “B2C-like” experience when purchasing online, what means functionality such as responsive pages, product images and videos, shopping cart, recommendations, wish lists, powerful search, etc.  Other companies want to be able to upload an Excel purchase list on the eCommerce portal and have that transformed into an order.

Robust B2B eCommerce platforms also enable sales reps to place orders on behalf of customers. So although the “traditional” user of an eCommerce platform is the client, the sales teams may also be users and create orders. Most B2B platforms have a call center/sales order entry system that should be used in lieu of the CRM application.  Having a single B2B sales platform for both buyers (self-service) and sellers as a service is ideal and the most efficient use of investment dollars.

Conclusions

Even the best CRM solution out there cannot beat the functionality of a modern cloud eCommerce solution with B2B capabilities. In addition, using a CRM system to place orders usually requires extensive customization and/or implementation effort to deal with simple ordering scenarios.

Modern cloud eCommerce platforms offer a lot of important B2B functionality  such as account and user management, approval workflows, multiple catalogs and multiple price lists, volume discounts, multi-site capabilities, responsive pages and are easy to interface with other systems via REST API´s, offering a great mobile and desktop experience.  

By having an amazing system to place orders online, corporate clients are happy and can self-service, while the vendor sales team is freed up to go after new customers and concentrate on the other aspects of the sale, other than dealing with the process of placing an order.  

However, eCommerce B2B systems do not offer great CRM functionality, and they shouldn't. They were not designed for that. They are systems designed to handle transactions, not to coordinate sales activities and pipeline. CRM systems are the ones who “invaded'' the eCommerce B2B space, not the other way round.

Although there is somewhat of a “grey area” between modern CRM and B2B eCommerce systems, this article attempts to show both systems are still specialized in what they do better: eCommerce for transactions and CRM for coordinating the sales teams and pipeline.  


About the Author

Ricardo is a technology executive with 15+ years of experience in CRM, eCommerce and Marketing platforms and has worked for tech companies such as Salesforce and Oracle. He joined Object Edge three years ago as eCommerce Director.


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