How to select a B2B commerce vendor

6 essential criteria to consider when selecting a B2B commerce vendor

Julia Rabkin
Julia Rabkin
Senior B2B Product Expert, commercetools
Published 17 August 2023
Estimated reading time minutes

As digital commerce continues to grow in the B2B sector, how can manufacturers, distributors and wholesalers select a commerce vendor that best fits their needs? And why should composable commerce be at the top of the list? Here, discover the top six criteria you should take into account when selecting a B2B commerce provider. 

How to select a B2B commerce vendor

As a staggering 60% of B2B executives plan to find new eCommerce platforms in the next 24 months, it’s clear that the B2B digital commerce market will continue to change and evolve: B2B firms face ever-evolving customer expectations in the digital space, including omnichannel, personalization and deeper discoverability. So, how can B2B players achieve the digital maturity needed to move faster in creating frictionless experiences that capture market share? 

The unlimited flexibility and agility of composable commerce enable B2B players to respond to changing buyer expectations AND achieve digital maturity faster. It’s clear that tackling constant change is at the top of the agenda of B2B business and technology leaders, and composable commerce is the way to do it. 

If composable is already on your radar, it’s important to sift through the noise when evaluating vendors. Here, we compiled the vital factors to consider and questions to ask about strategy, functionality, costs, timing and implementation, so you’re ready to select the right vendor to bring your composable future to life. 

1. Vision and strategy

A vendor’s long-term vision and near-term product roadmap are crucial elements to consider, as well as how much focus the vendor dedicates to a B2B-specific offering, from strategy and existing features to staff and expertise. Dig deeper to find out the current situation and the strategy behind the vendor’s partner ecosystem, and whether implementation partners are qualified to deliver composable implementations.

Questions you should ask:

  • What’s the vendor’s vision for a B2B digital commerce solution?
  • How clear and valuable is the vendor’s product roadmap? Does it serve the specific needs of B2B?
  • How B2B-focused is the vendor?
  • What’s the strategy with implementation partners in composable environments?

2. Costs and timing

Evaluate the elements of total costs of ownership (TCO) of the vendor, like the pricing model and the average implementation by the size of the project. Metrics such as the average contract deal size, as well as the average setup and integration costs (when implemented directly or via an implementation partner) will give you vital information to evaluate whether the potential vendor is in line with your budget and can fulfill your timeline requirements. 

Questions you should ask:

  • What’s the average setup and integration cost for composable commerce?
  • Is the pricing based on annual licenses or performance-/usage-based?
  • What are the pricing plans?
  • Can pricing be customized to your needs?
  • How long, on average, does it take to implement a standard B2B solution (directly or via an implementation partner)?

3. Underlying composable commerce infrastructure

Get to know if the infrastructure under the hood of potential vendors is really aligned with composable principles, including:

  • Component-based: Identify if the vendor’s architecture provides independent and interchangeable components (“best-of-breed”) to meet the unique needs of your business. A component-based solution means you can add or swap components at any time and without vendor lock-in. 

  • Cloud-native SaaS: By leveraging the scalability and resilience of cloud computing with providers such as Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services (AWS), B2Bs unlock elastic cloud access for automatic auto-scaling to manage online capacity and ensure performance. 

  • Technology-agnostic: A true composable architecture doesn’t require specific programming languages and certifications, and isn’t tied to proprietary infrastructure. Your engineering team has the freedom to code, monitor and manage applications according to your company’s needs. 

  • Multi-tenant and versionless architecture: Ensure you’re not going to be trapped on old versions that require forced updates and upgrades. 

  • Security: Make sure potential vendors comply with key regulations and how customer data is handled. Holistically evaluate the security ecosystem, including compliance, performance management, physical, network and platform security, and more. 

Last, but certainly not least, evaluate if the vendor follows the principles of MACH® as the technical backbone of composable commerce, which include microservices, API-first, headless and cloud-native solutions. As a further step, you may want to check providers that are certified by the MACH Alliance, an independent advocacy group spearheading these modern principles in digital commerce and beyond. 

Questions you should ask:

  • Can the vendor support a component-based/best-of-breed approach?
  • Does the vendor provide cloud-native architecture?
  • What’s the largest number of daily sales transactions the vendor can process?
  • How can the vendor scale traffic?
  • How many SKUs can the vendor handle per second?
  • What are the scale and performance limits a vendor can support?
  • How technology-agnostic is the vendor’s architecture?
  • Is the solution provided versionless or does it require mandatory updates/upgrades?
  • What’s the security framework provided by the vendor?
  • What security and regulatory compliance certifications does the vendor have?
  • How frequently are releases and updates performed by the vendor?
  • Does the vendor follow the principles of MACH in their architecture?

Functionality and data

It’s time to get down to the specifics! The first step is to dig deeper into high-level capabilities, such as the ability to support multiple business models (B2B, B2C, D2C, B2B2C) on one commerce platform, how your company can model and leverage data, and how robust, flexible and configurable the product modeling capabilities are. The purpose of doing this is to evaluate the vendor’s extensibility and customizability. 

The next chunk of this “functionality audit” is to understand the out-of-the-box product features for B2B, such as an advanced product catalog, the ability to handle large orders, reordering and order scheduling, etc. Here’s an overview of what to consider throughout the buyer journey:

Essential B2B commerce features across the buyer journey

Another dimension you should consider is omnichannel sales. After all, omnichannel commerce is the strategy behind winning B2B firms, helping improve market share by at least 10% annually. The commerce vendor must enable you to serve your customers online and offline, as well as equip sales reps with the right information at the right time to close deals faster. 

Questions you should ask:

    High-level capabilities

  • How does the vendor enable customization and extensibility?
  • How flexible is the data model?
  • Can the vendor create and modify workflows, e.g., quote management?
  • How can the master data source (product, inventory and customer data) be managed across the entire organization?
  • Does the vendor require vendor updates or is the solution versionless?
  • Out-of-the-box features

  • What are the B2B-specific features provided natively by the commerce vendor, e.g., PIM/product catalog, search, promotions, approval flows, etc.?
  • Can the vendor provide CMS and/or frontend capabilities to create digital storefronts?
  • Can the vendor support sales in a company-owned and/or operated marketplace?
  • Omnichannel

  • How does the vendor support omnichannel sales?
  • How can buyers search and find what they need across millions of SKUs?
  • Can the sales rep order on behalf of, co-manage and review orders of their customers?
  • How does the vendor enable sales reps to be an integral part of digital commerce initiatives?

5. Integrations

A commerce vendor may not have all the functionalities out-of-the-box (and some functionalities simply don’t belong in a commerce engine!), but it should provide the means to unlock those features from best-of-breed solutions seamlessly. The ability to integrate, activate and extend the capabilities of the system is absolutely essential to support B2B firms in unlocking the full potential of digital commerce — and that's where the API-first approach shines through. 

A particularly important integration from the B2B perspective is the ERP system: You can extend an API to your backend ERP integration without affecting the rest of your infrastructure, enabling a seamless sync with the commerce system. 

Consider whether the vendor can provide a true best-of-breed strategy, free of vendor lock-in, that enables your business to integrate services that best meet its requirements. Get to know the pre-built integrations and accelerators available that will speed up your composable implementation. Lastly, evaluate how comprehensive and easily accessible the API documentation is, as well as how easily business users (e.g., marketers, content managers, etc.) can manage integrations in a no-code/low-code interface. 

Questions you should ask:

  • Can the vendor support a best-of-breed approach for your business?
  • Does the vendor provide a marketplace for best-of-breed solutions/partners?
  • What are the pre-built integrations that the vendor can provide?
  • Is the vendor an API-first system?
  • What are the integration/connection options with your ERP system (if ERP integration is needed)?
  • How complete and easily accessible is the technical documentation?
  • Can the vendor provide no-code/low-code business tooling for non-technical teams to manage functionalities and integrations?

6. Implementation models

To complete your evaluation, it’s time to check what kinds of implementation models are available. Consider how your company can actually go composable and whether an incremental approach with the strangler pattern is supported. The ability to create prototypes, minimum viable products (MVPs) and proofs-of-concept (POCs) helps many companies in the process of adopting composable commerce to try out components and experiment freely, without disrupting their existing infrastructure.

Choosing the right implementation partner is also vital for many B2Bs going composable, and you should dive deeper into the partner ecosystem of potential vendors. Get to know not only the strategy (as mentioned earlier) but also the existing partners available for implementation in your region and whether they are B2B-focused. Double-check the track record of partners experienced in composable implementations and their use of best practices to speed up time to market. 

Accelerators are also a great way to speed up your implementation, so consider that as well! 

Questions you should ask:

  • What migration/replatforming/deployment options does the vendor offer (e.g., Big Bang/Greenfield, Strangler Pattern)?
  • Does your company have the ability to create MVPs/POCs/prototypes with ease?
  • Does the vendor provide a free trial?
  • How many implementation partners does the vendor have at your disposal?
  • Are there partners specifically to serve the needs of B2B?
  • Does the vendor have accelerators focused on B2B implementations?

Choosing a B2B digital commerce vendor made easy

You don’t have to spend months evaluating your future digital commerce vendor. Not only do these questions help to create a shortlist of potential vendors, but you can also refer to independent research by leading analysts, such as the B2B Paradigm Combine, to get in-depth clarity on vendors’ capabilities that best match your business needs. 

To find out more about relevant criteria for B2B organizations and what vendors are better equipped to fulfill those needs, download the 2023 Paradigm B2B Combine Digital Solutions for B2B for Enterprise and Mid-Market — and learn how commercetools Composable Commerce for B2B performed in each category. 

Julia Rabkin
Julia Rabkin
Senior B2B Product Expert, commercetools

Julia is a Senior B2B Product Expert at commercetools. With over a decade of experience across product and marketing teams in the tech world, she is an expert at creating innovative, customer-first strategies, and excelling in cross-functional growth & GTM initiatives.

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