Is B2B E-commerce Always Enterprise?

What is B2B E-commerce?

  • High stakes
  • High complexity
  • Highly configurable
  • High cost

You’re not selling a T-shirt. You’re selling a six-figure programmable power supply unit, or you’re selling a six-figure industrial robot. The person in charge of procuring your solution is under pressure. The stakes are high for them. The things they are buying from you are high in complexity and highly configurable. You know they have very particular needs in their factory. They can customize on top of your platform. And the cost of what they are buying from you is high.

This is B2B e-commerce.

We actually know enterprise and the myth

The myth of ‘enterprise’ is that you have no choice but to buy reassuringly expensive stuff in order to be taken seriously. The truth is that every enterprise purchase we have been part of has happened gradually. They all started off small and then ramped up into a full enterprise engagement.

We took over the build of a critical website for Nokia in 2015. This was an enterprise deal. But, Nokia started by discovering Solspace through our Freeform plugin for ExpressionEngine. One of the marketing team members had a hobby site on ExpressionEngine. They wanted a form. They grabbed our plugin. They reached out to ask us to add a feature. They worked with Solspace’s dev team. Our reliability made them comfortable. Then, when another major project hit a crisis point, they turned to someone with a solution that they had come to trust gradually, steadily moving up an onramp to a larger engagement.

That’s enterprise.

The truth about enterprise software licenses is that they are sold to companies whose IT and security teams have claimed enough territory that they have caused policies to be put in place about enterprise SLAs, security guarantees, etc.

We know B2B E-commerce and the typical sales schtick

“All you have to do is make one six-figure sale on our big, expensive enterprise platform in order for it to have paid for itself for the year.”

You can make that argument about anything expensive. It doesn’t make it true.

What if you can use inexpensive or open-source digital technologies to get the same job done for a sliver of a slice of a fraction of the cost of the big, reassuringly expensive enterprise solution?

Invest your money in the problem-solving people, not in their tools.

For two decades, we have found far less expensive ways to do enterprise-level work

The question usually comes down to, do you have to buy the entire future solution at once? Or can you be clever and find ways to gradually move into your digital future?

At Solspace, we pride ourselves not only on cleverness but on rigid practicality. I’ve lost a great deal of money over the years by talking clients out of stuff that they didn't need. I’ve made a lot of money by retaining those clients for many years.

The web is now composable and headless, it’s ready for steady progress through experiment.

We’re practical. We want to try a practical experiment, get feedback, throw out what fails, and keep what works. Then, when our clients can see the justification for further investment in a solution, such as an expanded B2B e-commerce initiative, they invest further.

Web development in 2023 is highly conducive to our approach. Please see my guide on this, but the gist is that you can weave excellent solutions to discrete problems into your web stack without rebuilding everything over and over again. You can compose, over time, new approaches to problems.

Your customers aren’t fully ready, but they’re getting there quickly

We generally serve clients with gross revenue in the $5m to $75m range. They have money to spend but not to waste. Each and every one of these clients wants to move carefully and serve their customers digitally. But they also have to juggle the demands of existing dealer and sales networks. They’re not sure if customers are ready to put a $100,000 something in a shopping cart to buy it, but what we’re seeing is that B2B customers are rapidly getting comfortable with this.

Buying T-shirts online has spoiled them. Why can’t they buy a $100,000 manufacturing solution online? Well, soon they will be able to…and may even expect to.