There are plenty of thought pieces out there that review the relationship between customer expectations and subscriptions, with a common argument stating that it's hard to set up subscription-based sales.
With all due respect to those who came before, we don’t agree that subscription sales need to be difficult. For many B2B organizations, subscription selling isn’t only possible, it’s downright feasible – provided you’re able to put a little work into a new sales channel.
The concept of subscription products and reordering isn’t new, but it’s more common in B2C than B2B. Big retailers like Amazon and small Direct-to-Consumer startups have built their businesses on the concept of simple, no-hassle orders, and while many of the same concepts apply in B2B, we all know that B2B evolves at its own pace.
We’ve heard it time and again. B2B companies that sell customized products often believe they have no need for any type of subscription-based reorder system. The products are suited to each application; there’s no room for repeatability.
But are these customized products all that you sell? After all, even custom-tailored machinery and products tend to have component parts that need replacement over time. A laptop will eventually need a new battery. A car engine will need new air filters. You get the idea.
Companies often neglect this aspect of sales and focus most on their high margin, flagship items. Why worry about a $5 profit from a refrigerator condenser coil when the fridge itself earns us $500?
The logic is understandable – but in our view, this is a mistake. Companies that think this way don’t see their websites as the value capture tools they are. B2C-centric retailers understand this and have made simple order/reorder processes a key aspect of their user experiences. B2B, on the other hand, has lagged behind with a heavier focus on an in-person, high-touch sales process.
In other words, few B2B companies have established processes to reorder products on their sites, which presents an opportunity for retailers interested in expanding.
Businesses of all kinds rely on supplies, materials, and component parts to deliver their own products – and inevitably, these materials run out.
Companies can tap into this need by setting up easy-reorder and subscription capabilities on their websites.
Even companies that sell unique, personalized products to other businesses may find opportunities to set up subscription-based reorders.
The current B2B market doesn’t favor simple reorders of essential components – which creates opportunities for retailers hoping to create more competitive customer experiences.
Another common sticking point we hear from business customers is the perceived hassle of setting up subscription functions on their websites. “We don’t sell much online; we don’t want a full eCommerce build.”
And on that score, we agree. There’s no need to set up an entire, full-stack eCommerce website just for the sake of selling subscription-based products. Fortunately, you won’t need to. The great thing about a system like this is that it’s built on the data you already have in your customer relationship management (CRM) software.
For most of your customers, you likely have plenty of insight about their accounts, past orders, ongoing inventory needs, and so on. A web-based reordering system taps into this data and presents it to the customer through an account subscription portal.
Within this portal, customers can view their order histories, most commonly ordered items, and other account information all on their own. And when they’re ready to buy, they can set up custom order schedules for various products, duplicate past orders if desired, and confirm the shipment – all without needing to speak to a sales rep.
Of course, there will be some work to do on your platform’s frontend to set up this system. This is why flexible solutions like headless platforms are growing so popular – the process of working with a decoupled front/backend, calling for data via API and building the order flow can be more straightforward than an entire platform build. Headless platforms may come with out of the box layouts to make this process even easier. But even without a headless platform, you won’t need an entire eCommerce setup to run this system.
The bulk of the work will come when you have enough customer data to play with. You’ll need to determine for each customer which purchases get made, which are most common, and which make sense for them to buy online. In short, you’ll narrow the product set based on customer behavior data.
This is a great place to begin. Determine the starter products or accessories that could be related, and establish them in your reordering/subscription buying system. Keep product relationships in mind and map replenishment items to primary purchases. From here, you can incorporate each customer’s behavior data. How often does each customer order these supplies? When do they typically need service?
But again, remember that these decisions are all based on the existing customer data, so you’ll need a way to pull this data on each product set you’ve identified. And beyond that, you’ll need to decide how the suggested products will be recommended to your customers. Will it be through the customer portal? Email marketing? Or some other channel?
It sounds like a lot of decisions to make up front, but you won’t need to set up any complicated algorithms or formulas to make it work. You just need to use a smarter IT architecture that lets you better utilize the data you’ve already captured.
In this way, you can set up your website to generate subscription revenue over time – even if you aren’t eCommerce focused.
Subscription-based reorders don’t require a full eCommerce build; they can be managed through your existing interface and strategic use of APIs.
Customer data and order history is the foundational element of your reordering system.
Use this data to develop patterns and strategies for which products will be needed from each customer. You can start small - don’t get overly complicated or analytical when building a reordering strategy.
Headless architecture is the easiest way to see these goals met – consider the benefits of working with a more flexible eCommerce platform architecture as you build out your website assets.
Aside from the obvious boosts to revenue, a reordering system can provide big benefits to your business across the board.
At its core, it’s a customer experience issue. B2C companies have long known the value of a simple, frictionless experience for both new and reordered products. And though B2B may lag behind here, the same rules apply. It’s not a stretch to imagine how a seamless reorder process can support more positive customer relationships. The less work you ask of them, the more likely it is they’ll grant you their business. This is particularly true for existing customers already doing business with your brand.
And on that note, keep in mind that you don’t need to be new-customer focused all the time to get a good return on your eCommerce investment. There’s plenty of value in prioritizing your existing customers, particularly with respect to the costs of new business acquisition. A stronger focus on your existing relationships just makes sense.
Additionally, you can free up your sales team when you bring these smaller sales online. It’s no secret that sales staff tend to prioritize the bigger, high value sales, with less interest in the incremental add-ons and replenishment orders. When you automate these low-cost transactions, your sales staff will have more time to dedicate to these higher-profit transactions. Plus, your customers may appreciate the option to handle things off the phone. (Contrary to belief, not all B2B buyers want to speak to an agent. At least, not for simple supplies. These days, many are fine with a more hands-off process for basic ordering).
The initial setup will take some work – but when it’s up, you’ll have a hands-off way to sell to customers that requires little input from your staff. That’s a benefit that pays dividends over time.
Reordering processes provide a simple, frictionless way for customers to get the products they need without the hassle of high-touch sales.
With more focus on your existing relationships, you’ll boost customer loyalty and improve the long-term viability of each contract.
Hands-off orders free up your sales team to focus more on high profit transactions rather than low profit customer service issues.
Reorders aren’t just about capturing revenue. They’re about providing a first-rate experience for customers, one where they have complete confidence that you’ll be behind them. For B2B purchases of products with complicated features that need replacement or requirement supplies, this confidence can go a long way in securing an ongoing relationship with your brand.
Consider how your own approach might be adapted to integrate reorder features for your products. Just about any company can do it – but if you need help with the details, contact us at Slatwall and we can help you plan your implementation.