by Dan Conboy
eCommerce is often talked about in terms of consumer brands, yet it's also a massive opportunity for B2B businesses too.
Ultimately the buyers in businesses are consumers. Their personal buying behaviour and expectations have been shaped and changed through the revolution in consumer eCommerce, so it's not surprising that they'd prefer to ditch the ordering by phone, fax and email in favour of online ordering that gives them the instant information and access that they have in their personal lives.
For businesses, the benefits are there. Acquiring new customers, higher margins, using intelligent marketing to drive repeat orders and delivering an enhanced customer experience are all clear advantages than can be derived from implementing online ordering for your business customers.
However, like all business change, it needs to be carefully considered, so here are five questions to ask yourself first.
1. Will I upset anyone?
Traditional business-to-business commerce has worked in the same way for many years. This often meant networks of distributors and possibly defined territorial sales areas.
eCommerce disrupts these traditional boundaries, so if you have an existing sales network like this, you’ll need to carefully consider how your eCommerce strategy will be developed in order to avoid upsetting your existing trade customers.
If these channels account for a significant proportion of your business revenue, then a consultative approach will be essential. However, if these networks aren’t currently delivering the results you want, whether that be financial, brand or supply, then eCommerce could be a significant asset to help you directly connect with your customer.
If you have an existing network and don’t wish to engage with selling directly to consumers, then an alternative and increasingly popular model is to utilise eCommerce to sell directly to your existing, and new, business customers. This means you can benefit from greater efficiencies, reach and delivering enhanced customer convenience without the risk of disrupting your existing business revenue model.
2. Will online ordering integrate with our existing systems?
As a B2B business, you’ll probably already have a range of existing systems, whether these be finance, stock control or distribution. When adding eCommerce into the mix, you want to ensure that your online channels have a way to interface with your existing functions. Often this requires integrations, whereas sometimes it can involve replacing older systems with newer ones.
If you’re looking to integrate, then you’ll need to define a plan as to how this will happen. Many newer systems use protocols like APIs in order to facilitate data transfer; this is particularly common for cloud based SAAS packages like Xero. This can make integration much more straight forward and cost effective, allowing you to leverage the benefits of having unified and combined information.
On the other hand, if you have a wide range of older legacy systems, then integration will need to be more carefully considered and will probably require the input of a specialist partner. The nature of your systems will determine the approach to integrations.
Some companies are tempted to not connect the dots and integrate their systems. Whilst this might be OK in the short term when order numbers are low, as orders scale it can become a concern as the various systems don’t interface, thereby presenting additional manual tasks and the risk of issues such as overselling and inaccurate financial records.
3. Do we have a digital marketing strategy?
Whether you’re looking to sell directly to consumers or trade, you’ll need to have a plan by which to raise awareness of your online store so customers can start to place orders with you. The audience you’re trying to reach will determine the approach you take, and you should think carefully about your audiences, what matters to them, the marketing channels they are likely to engage with and how you will measure success.
Our blog contains a wide range of useful articles which can help you to create an effective digital marketing strategy.
4. Do we have the right people?
Resourcing is a key issue and is often where businesses hit problems because they don’t have the right expertise to deliver success.
Firstly, you need people in the business who understand digital and have the vision to develop an effective eCommerce strategy. Without the vision and leadership, it’s unlikely you’ll fully leverage the potential benefits. Secondly, you need ongoing resource to make sure you are regularly updating your website and action your effective digital marketing plan.
Businesses can resource their requirements in-house, but it can be expensive and difficult to source the right talent. Alternatively, you can hire a specialist agency like Statement who can help you at every step of the way, from defining an initial strategy through to the design and development of your website and the management of ongoing digital marketing activity. Increasingly, we see a hybrid model, where businesses will have a core team of staff who can look after day to day requirements, with external eCommerce and digital marketing experts being brought in to fill resource/skills gaps.
5. How will we measure success?
Finally, it’s important to measure your success and ensure you have the appropriate framework to track your results. When planning an eCommerce strategy, think about your revenue, order and customer acquisition goals. This should then inform your marketing plan. The great advantage of digital is that almost everything is trackable, so you can easily test, measure and refine your activity to work towards the best results.
Having clear KPIs, routines to track results and an iterative approach to digital marketing will help you to ensure that you obtain the best return on investment. It’s also important to remember that if this is your first foray into eCommerce then you need to be realistic about the speed of your results; it could take months to achieve success, or it could take years. This will very much depend on your market, resources and how much of a priority eCommerce is to your business’ future.
eCommerce for B2B businesses has the ability to transform companies in the same way as it has for B2C firms. But it has to be carefully considered and implemented with a plan, the right team and the right measurements for success. When done well, and if the circumstances are appropriate, the business benefits can be significant.