Business-to-business e-commerce is growing strongly even after the e-commerce development peak caused by the pandemic. B2B e-commerce often involves issues and complexities that do not affect consumer e-commerce. Even the partial transfer of an existing business to an online store requires rethinking business models, skilled communication and determined change management in order to succeed.

In this blog post, we go through the process and various steps involved in moving to a B2B online store. The process is not the same for all businesses, but most of these themes will cross the path of e-commerce at some point.


I. Define business goals for B2B e-commerce

There is a need to set clear business goals for B2B e-commerce. Moving the old business model to the digital environment often works at best adequately, so it’s worth starting your online business as if from a clean slate.

Examples of goals for B2B e-commerce include:

  • Automation of sales of standardised products or services (= more time for salespeople to handle sales of complex or large deliveries)
  • Cost-effective testing of sales of new product or service packages
  • Sales of value-added services or value-added products to existing customers (support and maintenance services, extensions and modifications)
  • Enabling recurring orders for the customer through a self-service channel (e.g., ordering recurring services, replacement parts, and consumables)

II. Find out the real customer need

With business goals clear, it's time to research customers' needs even more closely. Narrow down the business needs that can be sold through an online store and expose it to the right customers and their needs as quickly as possible.

According to Steve Blank, no plan will survive a first encounter with a client – it is essential to have the notes ready when the first encounter takes place. Good tools for finding out customer needs include, for example, service design, business design, user-oriented design and, for example, prototyping.

As customer understanding grows, the top and most important requirements of B2B e-commerce become more precise.


III. Model business profitability

Once the business goal and customer needs have been determined, it is possible to start calculating the real profitability of an online store. Tools such as Business Model Canvas or Business Model Navigator can be used as tools in this step. A knowledgeable advisor is able to help model the true costs and revenue streams of e-commerce.

After this step, it should be clear what kind of investment in e-commerce systems is possible and what the payback period is for them. At the same time, study how e-commerce is marketed and how customer acquisition is being renewed.

At the end of the third stage, it is good to make a final enlightened decision and commit the management of the company behind it: yes, we are moving towards e-commerce and these are the expectations we set for it.


IV. Start communication and change management

Before designing an e-commerce concept or interface, it is a good idea to start managing the company's internal change towards e-commerce. A new sales channel may seem like a great opportunity for one and a change that threatens your own job for another. It is therefore important to communicate within the organisation at the earliest possible stage at least the following:

  • Why start an online store?
  • What will change with the launch of the online store?
  • What does change mean in practice in the daily lives of different people?
  • When will the change take place?
  • How can I get involved in making a change?

V. Design an online store

At this point, the online store takes shape first at the idea level and later also as a concrete user interface. The online store design phase includes the following steps:

  • Design of e-commerce processes
  • Background system integration planning
  • Technical design and specification
  • Technology and partner choices
  • User interface design
  • Visual design

The prototype implemented at the end of the design phase is a good tool for testing the online store and gathering feedback from customers. The prototype can also be utilised in internal communication and as a change management tool.


VI. Implement the online store

The implementation project with the selected partner relies heavily on the decisions made about the technology and partner during the online store design phase.

During the implementation project, it will be possible to choose whether to develop the online store using agile methods or a more traditional waterfall model. The advantage of agile development is a more flexible approach to the change needs that arise during the project. The benefit of a traditional waterfall model with the right partner can be better predictability of budget and schedule.


VII. Publish and develop further

The B2B online store should be launched once the core functionalities selected for the first version have been implemented and tested. The scope of the first version should be kept light, as an invaluable source of information will be made available immediately after the release to guide further development: genuine, purchasing customers.

After the launch, customer understanding can be accumulated with the help of analytics and by conducting traditional customer interviews. In addition to business objectives, the work lists for the further development of the online store should be strongly based on customer needs.

Further development work can be roughly divided into three categories that should be directed within one development team:

  • Customer acquisition: marketing and advertising
  • Reporting: sales reports and e-commerce analytics
  • Design and implementation: design and technical implementation of new functionalities


IIX. Online Store Development Team

At the latest in the further development phase, it is advisable to form a permanent team for the development of the online store. The size of the team varies depending on the size of the business and some of the roles may be “guest stars” to be utilised as needed – however, it is essential that all the needs described are met.

Role Description
E-commerce Product Owner

Owner of an e-commerce entity in a customer company. Decision-making and budgetary authority in e-commerce development work. Manages the priority of the development list, typically reports to the business director or CEO in his organisation.

E-commerce Marketing Manager

E-commerce marketing authority. Working for a client or alternatively a partner. Responsible for the success of online store customer acquisition and the marketing and advertising budget.

Lead Designer

A person who leads e-commerce design work. Responsible for the design work of the online store user experience as a whole.

Leading E-commerce Developer

Leading software developer for the e-commerce development team, who is also responsible for the architecture and integration design of the online store solution.


A person in a support role who assists in the interpretation and reporting of analytics related to e-commerce. Works closely with the design and technical development team.

Digital Strategist / Digital Marketing Expert

A person who designs and implements digital advertising and marketing for e-commerce. Works closely with designers, software developers, and the product owner and marketing manager.


Setting up a B2B e-commerce business and the steps involved can seem like a large and complex whole – but often it starts out with a fairly light and agile model. However, it is essential to consider all the necessary aspects.

Want to discuss more about setting up a B2B online store and the steps involved? 

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Samuli Hokkanen avatar