The Growing Importance of B2B Ecommerce ERP Integrations

b2b_erp_integration

B2B buyers have high standards that are both complex and constantly evolving. However, one of their biggest demands is also the simplest. If your website says an item or service is in stock, they expect it to be in stock—and some of the biggest brands on the planet have struggled to deliver on that promise.

This is just one of many reasons why B2B companies of all sizes have turned to enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. ERPs help organizations manage day-to-day business activities such as accounting, procurement, project management, risk management and compliance, and supply chain operations.

While you could use an ERP as a standalone tool, businesses typically integrate their ERP to ecommerce platforms like Shopify that focus on creating customized buying experiences and streamlining the order process. Let’s unpack what a B2B ecommerce ERP integration looks like and how you can use one for your business.

What is a B2B ecommerce ERP integration?

A B2B ecommerce ERP integration is the process of connecting your ERP system to your ecommerce platform. When configured correctly, this integration unlocks several benefits, including seamless data flow, synchronization, and automation across different business functions.

ERPs have emerged as a top priority for B2B organizations of all sizes and across all industries. In a recent study by TechTarget and ComputerWeekly, 26% of respondents said that ERPs are one of their top software investment needs for 2023. Not surprisingly, Acumen Research projects that the global ERP market will grow from $53 billion to over $137 billion by 2032. 

Based on these figures, there’s a decent chance that you’re already using an ERP. But as customer needs continue to evolve, your B2B operation needs to explore new ways to consistently deliver a best-in-class online shopping experience—and that discussion begins by integrating your B2B ecommerce platform with your ERP.

Three ways to integrate your B2B ecommerce and ERP platforms

Connecting your ERP and B2B ecommerce platform is a straightforward process, until it isn’t. Integrating these two systems can get complicated as soon as you decide to integrate them—and in many cases, the hardest part of getting started is choosing the right way to connect them.

Many people would argue that ERP integrations begin and end with an API layer. Because APIs allow two platforms to share data in real time (most of the time), the discussion for most companies usually means using an ERP that has an API.

But there are a few edge cases that might lead you down a slightly different path. To help you make the right decision for your business, here are three of the most common ways that you can integrate your B2B ecommerce platform and your ERP. 

API-based data synchronizations

Much like a high-volume ecommerce operation, our conversation begins with a real-time integration via an API layer.

Today’s development teams tend to use a lot of APIs, and for good reason. Your ERP’s API gives developers a standardized way for other applications to interact with it. This makes it easier to extract data from your ERP and use it across your ecommerce platform in real time. 

Typically, API-based integrations between your ERP and B2B ecommerce platform are completed on a one- or two-way basis:

  • One-way integrations send data from your ecommerce platform to your ERP. For example, you might configure the integration to automatically send order data from your ecommerce platform to your ERP. Or you might choose to automatically send inventory updates from your ERP to your ecommerce platform. With the API approach, data gets pushed automatically between the application and the ecommerce environment, eliminating the need to match system data. 
  • Two-way integrations connect both of your systems and configure them to communicate with each other. If you make an update to your ecommerce system, it automatically updates in your ERP, and vice versa.

Scheduled data synchronization

As we alluded to earlier, there are a few reasons why you might not want to opt for a real-time ERP integration. While larger businesses have constantly changing accounting and warehouse management data, some B2B companies choose to sync data between their ERP and ecommerce platform on a regularly scheduled—but not real-time—basis. 

These scheduled data syncs are typically not used to update inventory and pricing data, which even emerging retailers use real-time data syncs to handle. However, B2B organizations with fewer internal development resources may choose to schedule some activities, such as changes to product descriptions. They can choose to do so via two options. Both of the following can handle large data transfers quickly, but they have a few distinct differences:

  • STFP servers give development teams increased file protection features that give them peace of mind during each data sync, including encryption, public key authentication, and host authentication. 
  • API data syncs are best known for giving businesses the most recent data across all connected platforms. APIs give development teams increased data visibility and flexibility to create custom actions and workflows.

Manual data synchronization

A majority of B2B businesses opt for a real-time or scheduled integration between their ERP and ecommerce platforms. But organizations that are looking to maximize their resources may opt to sync data across both platforms by uploading CSV files with critical data. 

Businesses with smaller data sets that don’t need to be updated frequently tend to opt for manual “integrations” between their ERP and ecommerce platform. However, they typically look at more automated integrations when their business grows. Manual uploads are not scalable and would eventually require you to hire one person to focus solely on maintaining the integration. Manual integrations also increase the likelihood of security and data integrity issues, which could have a dramatic and entirely avoidable impact on the end-user experience.

What are the benefits of a B2B ecommerce ERP integration?

The biggest benefits of integrating your ERP platform with your ecommerce platform aren’t obvious to your customers, who just expect to see accurate pricing and inventory data whenever they visit your website. However, there are also several back-end benefits to connecting these two systems that may make your internal developers jump for joy.

Here are just four benefits that you’ll gain from integrating your B2B ecommerce platform with your ERP. 

1. Real-time data

Access to real-time data has never been more essential for B2B businesses, many of whom are scrambling to create the omnichannel ecommerce experiences their customers crave. Business leaders across all industries agree that the key to success in an omnichannel B2B landscape is to integrate everything.

“Agility means we integrate seamlessly with marketing, sales and operations, with direct connections to customers, to create digital capabilities that bring together disparate data and create seamless experiences, regardless of the channel.” —Mark Mintz, Chief Information Officer, Charles River Laboratories

Integrating your B2B ecommerce platform and ERP gives you a unique level of access to real-time data that you need to respond to crises such as an increase in demand for your products, checkout failures, and order management breakdowns. By consolidating these platforms, you can speed up data collection and reduce the risk for discrepancies across isolated systems. Your ERP integration also allows teams across your organization to access critical data that informs things such as marketing campaigns and quarterly sales projections. 

2. Data accuracy and control

B2B companies have access to some of the most sophisticated business software we’ve ever seen. Somehow, the data at our disposal is good enough, at best.

Data integrity firm Precisely and Drexel University recently found that less than half of professionals rated their trust in internal data as “high” or “very high.” 

Without reliable data from all of your connected systems, it’s impossible for a B2B business to know if they’re out of stock or have too much inventory. One platform might tell you that your checkout experience is seamless, while the other is screaming for an update. No matter the situation, comparing two sets of data from two systems that aren’t connected is a great way to ruin your weekend plans.

Integrating your ERP and ecommerce systems gives you more control over the data that flows across both systems. When you update inventory numbers in your ERP, that update gets pushed to your ecommerce website. Integrating these two systems ensures that all data coming in and out of each one is accurate and up to date.

3. Improved customer experience

Online shoppers are more sophisticated than ever before. To meet their demands, retail merchants and B2B businesses alike are creating omnichannel experiences that enable customers to complete the checkout process on any device of their choice. This optionality is a huge benefit to buyers, but it makes data accuracy even more difficult for organizations. Integrating your ERP with your ecommerce platform allows you to deliver the same experience to your customers across all the channels on which you serve them. 

4. Reduced operational costs

We covered some of the manual ways that you can sync data between your ERP and ecommerce systems. While these are technically options, they are also time-consuming and expensive. Because manual data syncs are rife with accuracy and security pitfalls, they require internal resources to manage them. If you rely on manual integrations at scale, that may mean dedicating several people to tedious tasks such as CSV uploads and data entry. Integrating your ERP and B2B ecommerce platform may turn into a large project, but that’s nothing compared to the costs of “connecting” them manually.

What are the challenges of integrating an ERP with your ecommerce platform?

At this point in blog posts like this, writers warn you about all the pitfalls that should lead you not to do something. That’s not what we’re doing here. In fact, we believe ERPs are essential to all high-volume online retailers—and that integrating with an ecommerce platform like Shopify helps you keep up with the rapid pace of global evolution. 

That said, it’s not without its challenges. Here are just a few that you should be aware of when you connect your ERP to your ecommerce platform.

1. Data synchronization issues

Any engineer worth their salt understands that synchronizing data across multiple platforms isn’t simple. Getting it right usually requires a significant time investment to test, and test, and test the connection between your platforms to ensure data accuracy and speed. Even when you think you’ve gotten it right, something as simple as a poor internet connection or a single misconfigured setting could bring the entire synchronization to its knees.

There are several headwinds that may impact the connection between your B2B ecommerce platform and ERP. First, a few garden-variety data synchronization errors are likely to rear their ugly heads. Seemingly small issues such as missing data from required fields or pricing data in the “incorrect” format may sink your data synchronization. Beyond these annoying error messages, you’re also bound to experience changes in data structures across your organization and API updates that force you to reconfigure the integration between your B2B ecommerce platform and ERP. 

2. Evolving compliance and security requirements

Ecommerce is evolving at a rapid pace. So too are the complexities of ensuring compliance with the growing number of security requirements that B2B organizations are obligated to adhere by.

Here are just five new regulatory requirements that many B2B businesses need to keep on their radar:

  1. Cybersecurity Risk Management, Strategy, Governance, and Incident Disclosure by Public Companies
  2. Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) 2.0
  3. Executive Order 13984
  4. California Consumer Privacy Act (CPRA)
  5. American Data Privacy and Protection Act (ADPPA)

These requirements are difficult for any security team to understand and ensure compliance with. They also impact how you can use customer data across your ERP and B2B ecommerce platform—and more importantly, how you can share that data between both platforms. Be prepared to make wholesale changes to your data flows, synchronization schedule, and the type of data you collect whenever a new security policy seems imminent.

3. Data accuracy after migration

Once you’ve ensured that your ERP and B2B ecommerce platforms are talking to each other, the next step is to evaluate how accurately those two systems are sharing data. The most thoughtful integrations are still not immune to complicated relationships or dependencies. An incompatible format on just one field can create widespread misinterpretation across the entire data synchronization. 

A failed data synchronization can be costly. Last year, inaccurate data was the culprit of roughly $3 trillion in losses for businesses in the United States. The same report found that 40% of business objectives fail due to inaccurate data, which leads to more lost revenue.

To protect your B2B organization against these losses, development teams should prioritize tasks such as data cleansing and reconciliation procedures to data quality issues proactively. It’s just as critical to build out several validation steps and transformation rules that keep you from transferring flawed or duplicate data between your ERP and B2B ecommerce systems. 

Seize the opportunity with a more secure integration with Shopify

We’ve walked through what you might expect when you connect an ERP to your ecommerce platform. While these steps can empower you to seamlessly connect these two critical platforms, many options on the market require significant maintenance and potentially additional plugins to connect your ERP with your B2B ecommerce platform

This is just one of the many reasons Shopify recently launched its Global ERP Program, which allows select ERP partners to integrate directly with Shopify. To help B2B businesses adapt quickly and meet the demands of sophisticated customer bases, we are partnering directly with several solutions providers. 

Recently, Acumatica’s latest product update made it fully compatible with Shopify’s B2B commerce capabilities, giving businesses a seamless way to connect with Shopify. Acumatica worked closely with Shopify to ship several key features, including customer hierarchies and price lists for B2B buyers. This gives businesses a seamless unification between online sales and Acumatica’s backend fulfillment capabilities. 

Ready to get started? Learn more about our Global ERP Program.

FAQ on B2B ecommerce

Why ERP integration is important for B2B ecommerce?

B2B organizations across all industries are prioritizing their investments in ERP software. Integrating an ERP with your B2B ecommerce platform unlocks several benefits such as seamless data flow, synchronization, and automation across different business functions.

What are four examples of B2B ecommerce?

Last year, we published an extensive list of our favorite B2B ecommerce examples. Some of the standouts include Picky Bars, SwagUp, and Microfiber Wholesale.

What is an example of B2B integration?

Acumatica’s most recent product update is the first to be fully compatible with Shopify’s B2B commerce capabilities. Businesses that leverage Acumatica can connect with Shopify seamlessly and unlock key features such as customer hierarchies and price lists for B2B buyers.

What is B2B ecommerce?

B2B ecommerce describes how businesses market and sell products to each other online. B2B ecommerce transact through an online portal between manufacturers and wholesalers. In some cases, these transactions may occur between wholesalers and retailers.