The world of ecommerce continues to evolve. According to the Office of National Statistics, in 2017 in Great Britain, 77 per cent of adults had bought goods or services online in the last 12 months. Within this same time period more and more B2B companies are finding that their customers now expect the same seamless buying experience that B2C companies offer – according to Forrester/Internet Retailer B2B Buyer research, 53 per cent of these buyers will make half, if not more of their work purchases online by 2018, and 74 per cent say that they find buying from a website more convenient.
Because of these reasons, it makes perfect sense for many organisations to move from an offline-only sales model to online-only or a hybrid of the two.
However, B2B businesses are typically older, running on what they know and what has come before them. Their business practices have been built up over many years and these legacy systems and ways of working have become so established that this results in a B2B ecommerce opportunity that remains largely untapped. Taking a B2B business online is therefore a complex transition for any organisation and requires a thorough review of current practices and a strategic look at business goals. There are key questions companies need to ask before they begin the transition to move their sales-models online, in order for them to be fully prepared:
How important is your website in your sales process?
If your organisation uses highly customised pricing or you are bound by agreements with distributors, you may use your website as a catalogue of rich product content but don’t allow buyers to purchase goods online. These sites work best as search-engine friendly catalogues used to generate leads for offline sales. This is particularly useful if you have highly customised offline pricing, or you are already bound by agreements with distributors.
Other B2B sites are fully transactional, but only for logged-in users who have pre-existing relationships with account managers. These sites may even offer different levels of functionality depending on your customer group or job role.
Do you know your online pricing strategy?
If your organisation uses a pricing structure that has evolved through organic growth you are likely to have customers who have negotiated specific pricing agreements. For companies like this, replicating a complicated set of contracts online requires a platform that supports specific pricing otherwise it will be a nightmare. If this is the case, don’t show pricing until customers are logged in to their account. It’s also best encourage continuous monitoring and experimenting with your pricing strategy. Many companies fall foul of a ‘set and forget’ attitude which results in their online pricing strategy becoming entirely different to the prices offered by the sales teams.
Is your sales team fully engaged?
Most offline sales teams view ecommerce as an expensive alternative to the skills they have developed over years of hard work. Self-serve websites will only serve to threaten sales teams further if they are predominantly order takers, therefore it’s important that your ecommerce site works to empower your sales team and not replace them.
Instead, you should be able to explain to your teams that their new eCommerce website will enhance their jobs by giving them the time to nurture their existing relationships, cross sell and up-sell and spend more time looking for new opportunities by removing a lot of the time-intensive, repetitive tasks that used to consume their work day.
What other information should you consider?
In order to sell effectively online, your customers expect to see real-time inventory availability, pricing, and shipping information. In most cases, this data lives in one more other systems, such as your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), finance suite, or Product Information Management system. In order to provide up to date information you will need a solution that integrates well with other systems. It’s worth noting that according to Forrester, 70 per cent of ecommerce professionals plan to increase their technology budgets in the coming years, a strong recognition of the power of digital and delivering experiences that customers want.
SEO – how much does it matter to you?
You may well already have a site that works when someone searches for your company name but what about your products? You may have a useful site, but if no-one knows you’re there, where will your sales come from? One of the biggest reasons to build an ecommerce site in the first place is to get your product catalogue crawled and indexed by search engines like Google and Bing.
SEO helps buyers find your site, but you will need content that goes beyond product descriptions, images and price. Original and useful content is important and will be rewarded by search engines, they will also penalise any duplicated or misleading content so be warned. The best advice is to use descriptions that bring the product to life and differentiate them for customers, and do not rely on just product IDs.
On your marks, get set, GO!
eCommerce is connected to every level of your business, so it can appear daunting to even the most seasoned business owner. It’s not like Accounting or Warehouse management that primarily exist to support one function of the organisation. It’s worth considering engaging experts to help you in the early stages of a new or revitalised B2B ecommerce project, to help develop your strategic roadmap. It’s critical to get it right as the future of B2B business is tied to the success of ecommerce and the faster businesses move online the more successful they will be in attracting the next generation of buyers.
What’s more, B2B companies must think of digital commerce as not only an opportunity, but a strategic necessity in order to guarantee their survival.
Brian Green, Director of EMEA, Magento
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