Digital B2B commerce has gained importance across all industries in recent years. Our partner agency intoCommerce is a specialist in this field and offers you valuable tips and insights for building your digital B2B business in our 3-part blog series. After we shared how to start a B2B ecommerce site, in this article, intoCommerce explains how to use an open source B2B ecommerce platform, namely Shopware's B2B Suite, to ensure that your B2B store will be truly successful and that your customers will be perfectly bound to you.
One of the first open-source store systems was launched in 2000. Known as The Exchange Project, it developed into the OsCommerce store system: The precursor to all the store systems we know today. At the time, it was the first affordable, or rather, open-source, solution for start-ups and medium-sized companies. In the early days, companies often copied their B2C store and switched the prices to show the net figures. This new “B2B store” was then hidden behind a password-protected wall, making it near-invisible to the public. Customers were given the ability to view the B2B version by submitting proof of their entry in the commercial register by fax, or even better, by post. In this respect, the internet really was uncharted territory for many B2B merchants.
Fast-forward 20 years, and many B2B ecommerce systems have come on leaps and bounds, with lots of crucial features even available in the standard versions. Store systems such as Shopware offer sophisticated B2B functionality via their B2B suite – making merchants’ lives much easier. Current trends are moving away from a simple B2B store and towards a B2B portal with lots of links to different B2B marketplaces, in-house marketplace features/drop shipping, or a proprietary affiliate system.
But what features does the latest B2B suite in Shopware 6 offer?
Customizable B2B features in Shopware’s B2B suite
- Various B2B roles within the store, such as debtors and field sales staff
- Rights and role systems for all users of the B2B suite
- Quote feature
- Order lists
- Quick orders
- Budgets and quotas
- Clearance processes
- Different delivery addresses
B2B features in the Shopware store
- Advanced Search (included from Shopware Evolve onwards)
- Option to create complex Rule Builder and Flow Builder rules for B2B customer groups
- Rights and role systems for all users and customer groups
More B2B features
These B2B functions, are possible thanks to the respective extensions in the Shopware Store or were solved by in-house development.
- Ability to upload business license
- Framework conditions
- Gross/net switcher
- RRP/B2B price switcher
- Ability to upload images
- WhatsApp Business features
- Check of sales tax ID
- Credit checks
- Affiliate extension
- Marketplace extension
- Careers portal extension
- Returns system
- Fulfillment connections
- Connections for ERP middleware
- Integration of special image formats, 3D files, exploded-view drawings
- Catalog print features for the range
Underlying features and roles of the B2B suite
There are two different roles in the B2B suite: Debtors and field sales staff.
B2B suite role: Debtors
B2B Suite at BBV-Domke
Debtors have full access to all the features and manage the entire B2B account. Once a customer has been marked in Shopware’s administration as a debtor, they can sign into the Shopware frontend, where they’ll see their B2B suite dashboard with all the available features.
Individual roles can now be defined for every B2B customer within company management. In turn, these customers can receive different rights within the B2B suite.
You can either grant or block access to company data, quotas, budgets, and all other B2B features here. Once a debtor or a B2B contact makes it to the page to complete their order, they can request a quote for their shopping cart. The store operator can now review quotes in the administration, add discounts, adjust the content of the shopping cart, and send the quote back to the customer.
Other key B2B features include order lists and quick orders. You can set up order lists to bundle together frequently purchased products and order the whole lot as a single list. Quick orders can be completed by uploading a table, which is then transferred to your shopping cart or an order list. As before, you can set the budget and quota for every B2B contact. All the settings can be adjusted as required, including the option to be notified via email if the budget or quota is exceeded.
This is how you define your own budget in Shopware's B2B Suite, simplifying the planning of your fiscal year.
Here you can see how to create and edit a quota rule in Shopware's B2B Suite.
In the standard version of Shopware 6, Rule Builder and Flow Builder can be used to assign different prices, payment types or shipping providers to B2B customers. From Shopware Evolve onwards, you can also make use of the Advanced Search feature: This can be adjusted to suit the needs of B2B operators. Here, you can prioritize literally every product database field, including a boost feature that lets individual products be displayed with priority in a dynamic product group.
B2B suite role: Sales force staff
If an employee has been given the B2B suite role for sales force staff and had customers activated for them, they can sign into these customers’ accounts with a single click. Once they’ve logged in, they can place orders on a customer’s behalf, for instance. They also have access to the B2B suite features that have been unlocked for the customer at hand.
- Sorted out the B2B settings in your new store?
- Your store’s online?
- Does the ERP system transmit all the orders, order statuses, and payment types?
- Is the speed of your store as high as your customer satisfaction levels?
Once you’ve configured the basics of the store and optimized all the backend processes, there’s one key question to answer:
What opportunities are offered by B2B online marketing?
While many stores serving the B2C market alone are perfectly satisfied with direct connections to eBay, Amazon, and the usual price search engines, the demands are somewhat higher in the B2B space. It’s important to work out which marketplace connections it would be wise to have, depending on the B2B customer and the business area at hand. This includes checking whether it’s worth connecting the marketplace directly via middleware or whether there’s a way to do this via a solution, like Tradebyte. For some marketplaces, it makes perfect sense to go back to using middleware. That said, if it’s clear from the start that you’ll be operating multiple B2B marketplaces like ManoMano, Conrad B2B, or Metro simultaneously, it makes sense to use one of these tools.
However, this does extend the project duration somewhat: Onboarding for the tools themselves takes time, as does setting up the individual marketplaces. Often, this is where a customer notices that they’re missing certain product details that every single marketplace considers necessary. For example, there are some marketplaces that get by just fine with only the EAN, price, and product name. Others want more than 20 product details – things that not even the manufacturer can provide.
In the pre-internet age, even Schiller advised to ‘test therefore, who join forever’. In times when it seems like there’s content online for every product EAN already, I don’t think it makes much sense to reinvent the wheel for every marketplace. The marketplaces that see success will be those that generate good returns, without making merchants jump through too many hoops during onboarding.
Social advertising and feed management in the B2B space
In the past, B2B marketing campaigns on social networks tended to involve publishing a news item once a month. Nowadays, through finely adjustable ads, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Co. can be seen as further optimal B2B sales channels.
In the past, Channable Connector has done an excellent job of helping merchants prepare their products centrally and then distribute them to as many providers as possible. Channable doesn’t just enable you to pass product details onto every social network, retargeting partner, affiliate, or price comparison provider: You can also set rules that determine how each channel displays this information.
Server technology, performance, and security
So, your B2B store’s been configured, you’ve connected all the marketplaces you need, the store’s being accessed zillions of times a minute and bots are crawling through the store for updates multiple times an hour?
Has your store’s performance fallen off a cliff – or, in the worst-case scenario, it’s even gone offline? What happens next? Self-hosting or a cloud-based store system?
In-house server operations in a managed cluster
Some of our customers are initially keen to run their own servers, but we’re currently advising many of them to move to a managed cluster server, like Maxcluster. This means that the server provider has the security and availability of the server on their radar at all times. The server support team is available by phone 24 hours a day. If the server is temporarily busy due to successful marketing campaigns, the hardware cluster automatically scales up the application or database server. For example, the number of CPUs is then doubled, or the RAM and SSD storage is increased so that store operations can be maintained without downtime.
Larger customers sometimes need particular security settings for their servers; this is easily done on a managed cluster.
Cloud-based store systems
Almost all modern store systems are available as cloud-based solutions. The general benefits of this, like reducing the amount of IT resources used, are clear to see:
Server updates are a thing of the past and the store system can be updated with zero risk – or this even happens automatically. Tasks that otherwise took hours or days, like copying a system to create a dev or staging environment, now usually take mere seconds. Optimum performance, 100% server uptime, and hardware that scales up or down in the background, as required, complete the perks offered by the cloud.
However, the downsides differ from system to system. It’s sometimes very difficult, if not impossible, to customize the code. This is to ensure that upgrade compatibility is protected. Sometimes, you won’t even be able to create your own store templates, with the only option being to amend the design of pre-approved templates. Data protection and GDPR-compliant server locations can also pose an issue for German customers. Shopware Cloud offers a good solution to this problem: It has an array of extension options, plenty of store templates, and its servers are located in Germany.
Now that you've learned about the wide range of B2B features in Shopware B2B Suite, you've created the optimal foundation for successfully launching your own B2B store. But after the launch is always before the launch. That's when the essential optimization work starts. Here you need to consider various factors and view the optimization from both a technical and a customer perspective. How to succeed will be explained in part 3 of our blog series.
About the author
Ilja Naroska is a technical consultant and project manager at intoCommerce GmbH. Founded in 2014, intoCommerce is one of the leading Shopware agencies and specializes in Shopware for B2B and industry.