The future of B2B commerce: your digital customer portal

Lucrative, efficient, customer-oriented:
Create personalized digital experiences to increase customer satisfaction and revenue!

the future of b2b commerce is b2b digital customer portal

What is a digital customer portal?

The digital customer portal is the next evolution of the B2B online shop. It can replicate the buyer’s procurement process, digitize the vendor’s sales processes, and support after-sales activities and the development of digital services. Covering a large part of the customer lifecycle, it provides a full spectrum of services during the various phases of the relationship. It also enables targeted communications based on the various roles and requirements at the customer’s end.

The benefits of customer portal

Amazon Business, Alibaba & Co. - or rather a unique platform?
B2B companies today face a whole range of challenges:

  • Business models are changing significantly due to digitalization and the rise of disruptive technologies.
  • As products become increasingly indistinguishable, competition is getting fiercer.
  • Online marketplaces and platforms may extend a vendor’s reach, but the same rule still applies: the best price always wins.
  • B2B buyers now have B2C expectations when it comes to service, efficiency, and the customer experience—including after-sales.
  • The role of sales staff is changing as a result; they are now customer consultants whose job is to deliver tailored solutions.

So what can vendors do?

One option is to offer high-quality services—the better you cater to the specific needs of customers, the more you stand out from your competitors.

The digital customer portal is the next evolutionary step of the B2B online shop. It’s the platform vendors need to meet demanding customer requirements while also gathering data to create new digital services and personalized business models. Using this technology, vendors can strengthen brand loyalty and generate new opportunities for sales and value creation.

More than just a B2B webshop: the digital customer portal in machine manufacturing

Trumpf, known for high technology from lasers to digitally networked machine tools, created a digital customer portal: MyTrumpf. The machine manufacturer has thus set the course for long-term customer loyalty and increasing online sales.

In MyTrumpf customers beneft from highly customized convenient self-service options: they can register their machines, view service contracts, purchase spare parts, read up on contract information, and much more. For the future, Rainer Schüssler and his team plan to make all products available online: from standard machines and spare parts to tools and highly customized plant equipment. This includes a central login, standardized access to buying and processes, as well as access to machine data for example for proactive maintenance. Welcome, digital future!

Visual Rainer Schüssler

“Intershop helps Trumpf to master the digital challenge of customized customer portals.”

Rainer Schüssler Program Manager Customer Experience at TRUMPF

The four pillars of the digital customer portal

The digital customer portal is a central hub for efficient and productive interaction. As a result, it is becoming a pivotal element in the increasingly digital customer relationship. Combining digital selling and service processes, the typical portal provides a harmonized view of individual customers across all locations and systems. It also merges customer, transaction, and product data with service offerings to create a unified information and service platform for customers, sales and service employees.

Conceptually, the portal is built on four pillars that represent different usage scenarios and the associated benefits for vendor and customer.

01 B2B self-services

What are the biggest timesavers for
my customers?

02 After-sales services

How to create cross- and up-selling potential to your installed base?

03 Digital sales processes

What is the added value for my sales department?

04 Digital service models

How to create tailored services to meet customer needs?

Why should you implement a B2B customer portal?

As products become more and more complex, customers need detailed information. A digital customer portal provides each customer with intelligent, personalized information and a 360° e-commerce experience. This makes shopping throughout the entire customer lifecycle much easier.

What are the benefits of digital customer portal?

B2B customers, too, expect a shopping and service experience that is convenient, all-inclusive, and available at any time—leading to fundamental change in many traditional business models. So it’s hardly surprising that a digital customer portal is becoming the primary platform for handling increasingly digitized customer relationships. These portals are already well established in the B2C sector, where they are widely used by electricity, gas, water, insurance, and mobile providers to consolidate sales and service processes. Many B2B companies still lack this customer orientation.

Yet it is B2B where customer portals are the ideal solution for:

  • Equipping sales and service departments for the digital future
  • Creating real added value for customers through digital offerings
  • Meeting customer demand for greater efficiency and control

If all sales and service processes would be centered in a powerful and deeply integrated customer portal, B2B companies could expect positive side effects, such as:

1. You will profit from cost savings.

Communicating with customers burns money. Sales and support staff is often burdened with recurring routine tasks: taking orders, sending out documents and invoices, and locating user guides and data sheets. These processes are costly, time-consuming, prone to human error, and occur throughout the customer life cycle: from customer acquisition, sale, and customer onboarding through to support and after-sales service. As products and services become more complex, these costs will inevitably rise.

Using the B2B self-service tools in the digital customer portal, customers can access information and documents whenever they want. This frees up staff in sales and service roles and reduces errors. Another plus point is that by using the portal to support and simplify core sales tasks—such as negotiation, fulfillment, invoicing, reporting, and master data management (e.g., customers, products, price lists)—vendors can reduce the cost per customer contact and let sales staff focus on what matters most: adding real value for customers.

2. You will increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Services play a crucial role in boosting customer satisfaction. Most B2B customers have grown up in a digital world and expect the same service experience and usability they are accustomed to as B2C consumers. Every day, buyers use online portals offering tailored services that make their lives easier. They go shopping on Amazon, receive personalized recommendations on Netflix, and manage their insurance policies via service portals. These experiences create the expectations that B2B customers bring to the workplace. What’s more, this trend will be even more pronounced from 2020 onwards, when the majority of B2B buyers will be “digital natives”—who are even more digitally savvy and demanding.

3. You will sell more.

A digital customer portal also improves efficiency by using up-to-date customer data to create personalized and perfectly timed offers. While the customer is free to manage their own data, the vendor can tailor cross-selling and upselling offers that increase sales and customer loyalty. These offers are particularly effective if they add specific value for the customer—which solves two problems at once. For example, easy-to-manage offers, such as add-on insurance, not only generate additional revenue, they also make it more feasible to carry low-margin products.

According to the Forrester report Online and Mobile Are Transforming B2B Commerce, 54% of the 353 companies surveyed are more successful in reaching customers when they use a digital solution to market services. And if related products and services are clearly presented:

4. You can develop new digital services.

Products are becoming increasingly digitized and also collecting data as part of the Internet of Things. This data can be used within a digital portal to allow customers to improve their operations and vendors to understand their customers. Vendors who recognize their customers’ needs can create tailored digital products that offer genuine added value. They also have an active means of differentiating themselves from their competitors.

A digital customer portal is the ideal platform for diverse digital services that have the potential to create new value, e.g.:

  • Digital product management: overview of digital products with usage information
  • Product-service bundles (e.g., machines linked to maintenance contracts or automated reordering via kanban systems)
  • Product-as-a-service models (e.g., metered billing of product use)

Tech tip: Integration and architecture of a digital customer portal

Being customer-centric means putting your customers first. Most B2B companies live this philosophy by providing a good customer service. Nevertheless, customer centricity goes beyond this and needs an architecture that supports it. To be truly customer-centric, we have to start outside-in, from the customer perspective to provide a positive customer experience throughout the entire customer life cycle.

An API-based architecture is the evolution from more siloed e-commerce initiatives to a more integrated approach. It natively supports multiple front-ends/touchpoints and allows the leveraging of the API-economy.

This means, an API-oriented architecture fits best to the requirements needed for customer centricity.

The following is Intershop’s vision of an IT architecture for a digital B2B customer portal:

Intershop’s vision of an IT architecture for a digital B2B customer portal
Intershop’s vision of an IT architecture
  • On top, the Intershop Progressive Web App offers a flexible front end, as well as synchronization to a list of other possible touchpoints. Intershop is not just “headless”, it also provides a complete PWA blueprint based on Angular that is already integrated with the Intershop CMS.
  • At the bottom left, there are the Intershop components “Intershop Commerce Management” and “Intershop Order Management” plus additional Intershop micro services.  
  • At the bottom right, the architecture can be extended with custom micro services or other existing products and services like “Microsoft Dynamics 365” to schedule service appointments.
  • The API mediation layer is central. This is the single point of access for API calls. An API layer acts as a "bridge" between storefront(s), touchpoints and underlying applications. It assures consistent security along with data transfer.

#Good2Great: A step by step approach to digital excellence

The digitalization of customer interaction, including all sales and service processes, is a call to action by more and more future-oriented B2B companies. In view of the wide range of user scenarios, the adoption of a smart B2B customer portal, which enables a B2C-like shopping experience, is the logical next step.

The good news is that getting there does not have to be a Herculean task. Depending on the maturity level of your e-commerce initiative and your growth ambitions, concrete recommendations can be derived to help you achieve digital excellence step by step.

The digital maturity model

the digital maturity model
The digital maturity model

The maturity model reflects on the digitalization progress of B2B companies. The higher the maturity level, the more sophisticated the commerce platform in use and the greater the benefits for manufacturers and their customers. Whatever the status quo, for successful further development of B2B commerce strategies it is advisable to invest in scalable platforms that support further digitalization initiatives without expensive, time-consuming replatforming. In detail, there are four steps towards a smart B2B customer portal:

Information portal

With an information portal you provide your customers with comprehensive information about your product and service portfolio. Documentation, manuals, tutorials and contact addresses are a plus in terms of service. You can’t order online, but will be given the contact details of your nearest specialist retailer.

Information and ordering portal

Via an information and ordering portal, your customers not only find comprehensive product and service information they also have the opportunity to buy your products. An integrated web shop is particularly (but not exclusively) suitable for the efficient distribution of consumables, spare parts and services. It's a great way to boost your after-sales business and increase customer loyalty.

Information, ordering and service portal

By integrating your information, ordering and service portal with a CRM system, you can offer your customers tailor-made, personalized services. For example, present only those spare parts and documentation that match the registered machines of your customers. By integrating service partners, you can expand your range of services and thus increase customer satisfaction.

Smart portal with intelligent services

The Champions League. By combining your digital customer portal with IoT and AI (Artificial Intelligence), you can offer your customers smart services for Industry 4.0, including, for example, special response times or availability commitments, service support via virtual reality, tool monitoring, consumption optimization or prediction of material wear.

So, how advanced are you in terms of digitalization? What progress have you already made and where is there still room for improvement? Click through our test and determine your digital maturity level. You will be rewarded with practical tips for your growth strategy.

Start the test!

Smart ideas that will boost your business

In our global and increasingly digital world, products are becoming more and more commoditized. So what should companies do to stand out from the crowd? Simple: provide intelligent services that strengthen brand loyalty and differentiate them from their competitors. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and machine-to-machine communication are two most promising approaches to tackle this.

Here are some smart ideas that will inspire you:

Smart replenishment: automatic (re-)ordering of spare parts

Using a smart replenishment system, it is possible to monitor current inventories and ensure the availability of parts and consumables. For example, this system can measure the quantity of parts in a storage box that is equipped with integrated sensors. If the weight drops below a predefined threshold, parts are automatically reordered from the manufacturer. There is no need for manual checking and reordering, and no room for human error. The operator selects a replacement nozzle from the box and the system takes care of the rest.

Smart replenishment uses built-in logic to avoid delivery bottlenecks. It keeps track of the supplier’s inventory and delivery times and places orders accordingly. The customer portal provides full transparency for the user, displaying the real-time inventory in the storage boxes. The system also shows how long that stock will last as well as the quantities ordered and delivery date.

Pay-per-use models

In addition to machinery, many manufacturers offer power tools and production accessories. These items can be either sold or rented out. This pay-per-use model requires certain technical conditions to be met, including the drills being fitted with integrated sensors that record service time and output.

A typical user scenario: The customer of a machine manufacturer has received a major order and needs to increase production of sheet metal parts during the coming month. The workforce requires additional drill drivers, but only for this particular order. The most cost-effective option here is to rent these tools. With a pay-per-use model, the customer only pays for the time and/or output used. The intelligent drill drivers have a range of outputs that can be selected according to the customer’s needs. The service time and outputs are displayed on the customer portal, enabling a flexible billing model.

Predictive maintenance

Compared to other maintenance concepts, predictive maintenance models enable companies to maintain machines at exactly the right time. Wear components are used as long as possible, and are replaced (only) when needed to. This is cost-effective!

Further advantages:

  1. Downtime is kept to a minimum.
  2. Expensive, specific individual parts do not have to be kept in stock.
  3. Production efficiency is increased.

An example: Your machine is digitized via IIoT. Sensors measure vibrations, temperature and rotation speed. You collect these data in your IIoT hub. Based on your knowledge of system-critical components and a machine learning algorithm, you are constantly aware of the system’s stability and can determine at which point in time a certain component could fail in what probability. Then, you push this information to your customer via a connected after-sales portal. By linking to e-procurement functionalities, customer employees can immediately reorder the critical components. Your subsequent service offers are also integrated in the portal. For example, machine operators can book an appointment for maintenance with the manufacturer and import it automatically into their calendar. By this, you create an all-round package of services adding value to the machine or system as such.

Augmented commerce: Microsoft HoloLens

The adoption of augmented reality concepts in digital commerce - it's called augmented commerce - is more than just a fancy trend. In particular, it enables intuitive and fast spare part reordering via your tablet or smartphone. Utilizing the Microsoft HoloLens, users can see a object of interest, e.g. a defective machine component, with all its details from all perspectives - and are able to add it, or included (spare) parts, to the shopping cart via voice or sign command. Furthermore, it is possible to convert existing CAD-files for 3D- and 2D-models used in the spare part search app.

Inform yourself about the possibilities of intergrating augmented reality and e-commerce functionality in our HoloLens showcase:

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