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The Five Essential Elements of Successful B2B Platforms

The best B2B platforms for manufacturers seamlessly integrate legacy and new technologies and include these five integration elements.

March 2, 2022

4 Min Read
B2B Post-It on top of dollars
Image courtesy of Alamy/Stepan Popov

Alex Sayyah

The technological mix required for plastics manufacturers to create an efficient and effective e-commerce platform can seem indecipherable to the uninitiated . . . until you compare it with the complex challenge of surviving in a competitive marketplace without one.

Today, virtually every commercial activity is at least partially dependent on B2B exchanges, or order transactions between businesses. And most B2B transactions, at their base, are e-commerce interactions. How many plastics companies today are using handwritten invoices and snail mail, for example, to purchase or sell resin and other materials?

The proof is in the numbers. By 2023, around 17% of B2B sales in the United States will be generated online, a jump from 13% in 2019, according to Statista. Domestic B2B e-commerce sales are expected to swell to $1.8 trillion by 2023, compared to $1.2 trillion last year. These trends are directly impacting plastics markets. Consider, for example, that sales of plastic packaging for e-commerce are expected to enjoy a compound annual growth rate of more than 17% between 2021 and 2026.

So how should plastics manufacturers respond? They should make smart and substantial investments in B2B infrastructure that help integrate business platforms and operations across long distances, snarled supply chains, and multiple jurisdictions. Today, these simpler, more cost-effective, and efficient paths for integrated systems are easier to deploy than ever.

The days of mix-and-match solutions are gone

There was a time when manufacturers could get by without a streamlined, fully integrated, personalized, and optimally automated software system for inter-company communications or contacts with customers and supply-chain partners. Instead, they deployed a hodgepodge of formats, protocols, and technologies. Before the coronavirus pandemic, that approach often worked, more or less. Those days are long gone.

Amid higher fuel costs, shipping disruptions, and whatever new supply chain challenges emerge next – think the force majeures in 2020 after the double whammy of the pandemic and Hurricane Laura in Louisiana and Texas – plastics manufactures need to avoid unforced errors at all costs, while also improving their resilience. Obstacles stemming from incompatible or outdated software and protocols, in particular, make purchasing processes slower, less reliable, and more prone to error. Instead, manufacturers need B2B solutions that seamlessly integrate and often automatically communicate with different systems and applications.

In short, manufacturers who don’t update their legacy systems risk becoming legacy companies and tumbling into obsolescence in an increasingly fast-paced environment. This is not the time to ride out new challenges with an outdated system. 

The five must-have elements

While some manufacturers attempt to integrate B2B and e-commerce systems internally, those efforts require substantial IT expertise. Even in the best-case scenarios, they can be costly and time-consuming. Regardless of how plastics companies approach the new world of e-commerce, they ought to keep in mind these five main elements:

  • Integrating legacy technologies. The best B2B platforms don’t simply replace old systems with new ones. Legacy systems, such as ERPs, CRMs, and SCMs, can contain years or maybe even decades of valuable data. Manufacturers should seek out a platform that leverages cloud-based technologies to bridge the gaps between legacy technologies and new digital systems and applications.

  • Scalability. Whatever system is put in place, it must grow and accommodate change as quickly as the company grows. That means plastics companies should be able to add new features, new users, and other integrations, as needed. Equally important, these expansions must be easy and fast. They can’t require costly transitions or overly depend on specific individuals in an organization.

  • Future flexibility. It is essential that new B2B e-commerce solutions and order management platforms be flexible enough to accommodate updated software, new data sources, and a variety of devices such as computers, smartphones, and tablets, including their future versions. Machines, systems, and processes change. So must platforms.

  • Automation. Automating processes gives companies immediate efficiencies by reducing errors, pushing down costs, and increasing worker productivity. Automated systems can dramatically reduce the lag time for acquiring parts and raw materials by communicating with vendors, ordering, and expediting payment and delivery. A plastics manufacturer that implements an optimized B2B software platform can reduce purchase times to weeks or even days by instantly exchanging information with vendors about the availability and pricing of materials, for example.

  • Integrating multiple data types. A modern integration solution should not be limited to text, but also be able to interpret, organize, and communicate using an array of data types that include video, audio, graphics, and more. It should also be able to manage large amounts of data, and quickly access information stored in any part of the company. 

If that sounds complicated, that’s because it is. 

If there is one thing the challenges of the last two years have taught businesses, however, it’s that flexibility and adaptability are the keys not only to surviving but thriving. The key to success is leveraging innovation to stay ahead of the competition.

Finding the right partner to help navigate these processes is the first step to making it simpler and less expensive to navigate the complexities of unpredictable markets, modern-day B2B transactions, and all that comes with it.


About the author

Alex Sayyah is CEO of Aleran Software. He is a member of the advisory boards of ConvrtX and VYZR Technologies and is the former senior vice president of business development and sales for Transdev North America, as well as the former senior vice president of marketing, sales, and customer acquisition for UpSwapIt.

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