Some time ago, we wrote a post about how a PIM system can be the first step towards e-commerce, which we illustrated through a fictional manufacturing B2B company that wanted to publish its product catalogue online. A logical next step for the company would be to offer its customers to make the actual purchase by simply adding a purchase functionality to the product catalogue. This is where the fun begins.
Just adding a buy button to the products where all customers get the same price is usually a relatively simple manoeuvre if you already have your product data well-structured in your PIM. However, B2B sales are often a bit more complex than that.
Customer unique prices
To begin with, you often enter into unique agreements with your customers, which means that each customer (or customer group) has a unique price list depending on several parameters Let it be purchasing volumes, market, segments or simply the result of a negotiation. It is also common for some customers to be offered a customer-unique or expanded assortment. A solution to simplify the pricing and assortment structure is to arrange the customers in some form of classification, e.g. A, B or C where each class receives different prices and/ or assortments. If you use the classes above, however, it is quite common for creative sellers to sometimes offer additional discounts that are at company level, which adds to the complexity. In addition, some customers only want to use specific delivery methods or have requirements for special payment terms.
All these requirements are usually handled in a business system where it is possible to keep track of which customer should have what price, assortment, discount, shipping calculations, and payment terms. The challenge is how to illustrate this in e-commerce. Integrating your e-commerce directly into the business system in such a way that prices are always retrieved in real-time is rarely a good solution. An ERP is not built to be able to quickly deliver customer-unique prices since there are several requests per second, which results in a slow user experience. In addition, ERPs are sometimes unavailable, making e-commerce impossible during, for example, an upgrade of the business system.
If you instead let your e-commerce engine keep all customer-unique terms, you get several benefits. On the one hand, logged-in customers quickly gain access to their unique prices and their unique assortment. In addition, it is possible to offer a large, expanded assortment, for example, spare parts, available on the web, but which are not represented in the ERP system. It also creates the conditions to build a web interface for salespeople and other internal staff, where they can place orders on behalf of the customer when, for example, they call or email in their orders. In this way, you give the staff the same nice web interface as customers get instead of having to work directly in the ERP system, which can often be complicated to handle, especially for newly hired.
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