Opening the SAP B2B Kimono – Update

Written July 28th, 2009 by
Categories: CEO's Blog
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Last February I posted a blog entry entitled “If we are going to open our Kimono…” that dealt with the impact of exposing your SAP system, and internal business processes, to the web.  Since then, we’ve experienced two more GoLives, and many more examples of how launching an SAP Integrated B2B sellside ecommerce website forces you to “clean up your act”.

I continue to believe that, while potentially very uncomfortable in the short term, making yourself transparent to your customers will make you a healthier Customer Support organization in the long run.

Here are some of things we’ve seen, and lessons we’ve learned, over the past six months:

  1. Customer Master – If your data isn’t clean, make sure you respond quickly to the requests to clean it up.  Customers hate to have their names misspelled or addresses entered incorrectly.  What they hate more is when you seemingly ignore their requests to clean it up.  Frankly, I’m hoping that one of our clients asks us to enable their customers to maintain their own Customer Master Record 🙂
  2. Orderable Products – Now that we’ve introduced a Microsite capability, it becomes even more important to make sure that the Material Master is setup correctly.  You really don’t want customers in France to order products that are only available in the US.  Again, if you can’t (and you won’t be able to) clean up all of your product data before you launch your B2B website, just make sure that you respond quickly to any customer inquiries about these materials.
  3. Substituted Products – If you are going to substitute a product for one the customer has ordered, be very transparent about what your substituting.  Customers hate to order one product and receive another…unless they understand what and why you substituted.  Keep it transparent!
  4. Product Availability– Not having accurate and acceptable availability information is THE NUMBER ONE PROBLEM customers will have with your B2B website.  They can deal with you misspelling their last name and maybe even with having inaccurate pricing.  But they want you to be honest…in real time…about when they can expect to receive an item that they’ve ordered.  It’s OK to set their expectations (by policy) that anything ordered before a certain time will be shipped the same day.  This way they don’t have to know exactly what you have in inventory or where you are going to ship it from.  But they hate getting that phone call or email 24 or 48 hours later saying “we can’t fulfill your order with X, how about we ship you Y instead?”  If you are having Product Availability  issues, a B2B website WILL make life more difficult (not less) for a period of time.
  5. Pricing – It goes without saying that customers want accurate real time pricing.  However, that requirement becomes less important the more you can differentiate yourself on other product/service attributes.  If you are selling a commodity, and all other things being equal (product features, delivery schedules, shipping charges, return policy etc.) than be prepared to calculate an accurate (lowest) price in real time at order entry time.  If, on the other hand, your customers are “loyal” to you for the features of your product or your level of service (like your well designed B2B website :-)), than they’ll trust you to send them an accurate invoice when it’s ready.  In fact, they almost always know that the website price isn’t the final final price pending the posting of actual shipping charges and/or volume discounts.

There you have it.

As I suggested in my earlier Kimono post, look at becoming transparent as a healthy incentive to “clean up your act”.  Your customers will love you for your honesty and enhanced customer service.  But be prepared to deal with the issues that are uncovered in a timely fashion…especially the Product Availability ones.

Oh…one last thing.  We’re just the messengers here.  We help you take and track orders more efficiently than you ever could have imagined.  But if you can’t fill those orders, don’t blame the website 🙂

Sam