Every manufacturing company today has a website. A few slider images filled with stock photos, a listing of some of the main products and a contact us page is all that is needed to have a “good website”, isn’t it?
Wrong! If your website matches the description mentioned above then you are missing out on valuable leads. Your website is an untapped gold mine of business opportunities.
Your consumers need information on your products, services, order processes and be able to view your inventory. All this is similar to the eCommerce sites that B2C companies have and many manufacturing companies today are offering such services through their B2B portals.
For a manufacturing company today, having a well-designed B2B portal is absolutely necessary to not just sell more but also in connecting with their vendors, wholesalers and distributors. It acts as a base for all of them.
The main difference between a portal and a website is that the portal is built dynamically and has multiple built-in user functions so that users can customize their experience. Yahoo.com is a good example of a B2C portal.
A B2B portal should have these basic features:
- Invoice and order history
- Live customer help
- Order and shipping details
- Product catalog
- Ability to place orders and quotes
- Knowledge base
In addition to these features, the other important features for a B2B portal are as follows:
Company account: In a B2B portal, partner companies need to have access to the site. This means giving them a company account with an authorized person who can place orders on your site. If you have a sales team that is handling the account on your client’s behalf then they should also be able to update the client account and place orders on the partner’s behalf.
Financial data management: You also need to give your partner companies multiple accounts and different rights based on user privileges. Your partner company might have a requirement where one employee can see the financial details of orders placed while others can just browse the product catalog.
Payment method integration: The payment method of B2B businesses is different from B2C portals such as Amazon. Manufacturers should have the ability to accept different payment methods such as credit cards, PayPal, etc. and also offer credit limits and purchase orders. The credit limit that you set should be customizable based on payment status and order frequency.
Automated order approval: B2B websites often require approval from the owner or a designated person since they are not selling consumer items that are typically stocked in thousands. But in certain cases, the manufacturer might want to let his regular customers order certain parts. This again requires a customization of your B2B portal.
Till now we have talked about what features and functionalities your B2B portal needs. But just having all the right functionalities is not enough. Your portal should also offer a good user experience. For this you need to make sure that while designing the portal you include these elements:
1. Talk to your customers and sales teams
You should know what your end users want when they come to your site. This means that you need to be aware of the core problem that your customer is trying to solve with your product and his decision to purchase from you.
Your sales team needs not just more leads but also high quality leads while your customers want valuable information, have pricing queries and want a fast response. This means that you need to ask your sales team how they perceive the brand and what they think are the unique advantages for customers who choose your company.
2. Create a buyer persona
You need to create a research based hypothetical buyer who will function as the stand-in for your target audience. When creating this buyer persona you need to know who your buyer is (demographic information), what he wants and how he thinks. This means interviewing your prospects and customers, doing surveys, reviewing web analytics reports and tracking social media activities.
3. Content that converts
The copy on your site should be crisp with clear call to action buttons. The content should be skimmable. For this, you need to do a content audit to figure out what’s working and what’s not. Your content should be engaging, whether it’s a blog, or videos or white papers. You need to know which content is most sought after by your site visitors, user flows and traffic sources. An SEO analysis should give you a good idea on which pages are optimized and what are your visitor-to-lead conversion rates.
4. Responsive design
Your website should work well on all kind of devices. This means ensuring that it has been created with responsive design.
5. Marketing automation software and ERP Integration
An ideal B2B portal should be integrated with marketing automation software so that you have access to its marketing tools such as lead capture forms, list management and the ability to have automated email campaigns. You will also be able to do more than just basic analytics and have a more targeted approach towards your leads.
Technology – no single right answer
No matter which technology you use, a B2B portal can be integrated into SAP or any other ERP system. This gives your customers the ability to place orders on your portal and your warehouse will be able to receive it and start processing it.
There are many programming languages and platforms that can be used to create a robust B2B portal. SharePoint and Magento Enterprise Edition are being used for creating B2B portals. But the .NET framework continues to be the most popular choice for developing B2B portals. If you are more interested in an open source solution, then PHP can also be used for the task.