Contributed by Brian Beck of Enceiba
It should be no secret to anyone that B2B buyer behaviors have dramatically changed, particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Consider, for example, that more than 75 percent of both buyers and sellers now say they prefer digital and remote human interaction to face-to-face buying processes.
In fact, Gartner predicts that almost 80 percent of all B2B transactions will take place online by 2025. There is just no going back at this point.
But for B2B sellers playing catchup, it is essential to make sure you are taking the right approach and not just rushing to market with a half-baked solution. Launching a successful B2B Ecommerce operation takes more than just throwing up a website and hoping buyers start using it. Ecommerce is a significant, transformative investment, and mistakes can be extremely costly. And, as the old adage goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
In my experience, there are five mistakes that I see B2B firms making over and over. This isn’t about technology, it is more about process and business strategy. We talked about this a bit on Building Materials Marketing Unboxed. Now, let’s take a closer look at each of these common errors.
Mistake #1: Failing to gain leadership alignment and support
In my book, “Billion Dollar B2B Ecommerce”, (yes, a shameless plug), I talk about a concept I call the leadership imperative. It is the title of Chapter 2, and, simply put, this principle states that your Ecommerce efforts will fail if the leadership in your organization is not 100 percent behind digital transformation. This can cost enormous loss of time and competitive advantage, and also peoples’ jobs.
As I mentioned earlier, Ecommerce isn’t just about setting up a website. It is about making sure every part of the organization is connected and aligned to deliver an Ecommerce experience that meets—or exceeds—customer expectations for online shopping. The truth is that Amazon has generally shaped what most buyers expect from an Ecommerce site (yes, even in B2B).
Achieving a comparable experience is only possible when leadership fully embraces Ecommerce. Why? Because it requires people to change how they do their jobs – across many functions in the organization (fulfillment, inventory management, supply chain, finance, IT, and more!) Change is uncomfortable. Change requires leadership.
To provide just one example, many B2B companies sell in bulk. But Ecommerce orders tend to be smaller and need to be shipped more quickly than larger, high quantity orders. In the warehouse, this may require a new picking system, a new packing line, changes in warehouse operations or set up, new shipping processes, and even new carriers. It requires people to think differently about the speed in which they process orders.
Without leadership driving from the top, these changes – which are already extremely difficult – will be impossible.
Mistake #2: Thinking of Ecommerce as an IT project or just as a sales support function
Too often, I see B2B firms relegating the entire responsibility of Ecommerce to their IT department, or just seeing it as an online catalogue to be used by their sales staff or a small portion of their customer base that the sales team doesn’t have time to service. Both of these approaches are, simply put, wrong.
A successful Ecommerce site requires a broad set of functionalities, and by putting it solely in the hands of IT, you will likely miss a lot of key functionalities needed. This is not a critique of the IT function. However, left to their own devices, IT tends to develop the system in a silo, without customer and business strategy input. This in turn can lead to a fast and efficient Ecommerce system that customers do not use because it doesn’t meet their needs. A cross-functional effort led by business units in collaboration with IT is critical for success. And the customer must be at the center of the effort.
The most successful deployments I’ve seen have cross-functional steering committees—marketing, sales, finance, IT, etc., complete with representation across the business at the senior level. Think about it this way: Should your CIO to be in charge of sales? Of course not!
Mistake #3: Failing to align the sales team
One area that often feels threatened or rankled by Ecommerce initiatives are sales departments. It makes sense, given concerns about being replaced. Even more than revenue diversion, sales teams can feel threatened by the perceived loss of the physical relationship with the customer. But perception is greater than reality, and the sales team becomes Ecommerce’s greatest cheerleader as they realize the considerable benefits it can bring to them. The key is to get the sales team involved early. If you fail to align this department with digital initiatives, they can undermine Ecommerce efforts.
The sales team is your primary touchpoint with customers. Get them on board early. They need to view Ecommerce as complementary to their daily tasks. And you need to show them how Ecommerce will enhance and enable their efforts. The most successful deployments I’ve seen always involve sales from very beginning and – importantly - align their compensation with Ecommerce sales.
Mistake #4: Not planning for post-launch adoption
The concept of “Build and they will come” in B2B Ecommerce is total bunk. I regularly hear about new initiatives only achieving 2 – 3 percent Ecommerce penetration (to total sales), when the expectation was much higher. Meanwhile, peer companies are capturing 30 or 40 percent sales from digital channels.
Why is this?
Frequently, this has to do with the post-launch adoption plan – or lack thereof. Launching a new Ecommerce site requires a well-thought out and deliberate marketing plan to introduce it to both internal and external audiences. You need to drive awareness that the site exists, and training is also important. This effort can incorporate educational videos, developing internal and external advocates, and meeting directly with customers to show them how to use your new site. You need to demonstrate the benefits of using the site, in terms your buyers understand. How does the Ecommerce site make their jobs easier? Set up the customer for success in the Ecommerce system from the start by pre-populating their information into the system. Setting up a proactive plan prior to launch will help you achieve success after you are live.
Mistake #5: Rushing through platform selection just to get to market quickly
Successful Ecommerce implementations take time, with most successful deployments taking anywhere from 4 – 12 months. What makes rollouts successful is focusing closely on what the site really needs to do and putting the customer’s need at the center of the effort.
The good news is that many features of B2B Ecommerce have become commoditized and are commonly available in software platforms at a lower cost than in the past. However, there remain many unique aspects in the B2B purchasing workflow that need to be accommodated by sellers, such as contract-based pricing and complex product configurations delivered in customer-specific catalogs. Compatible parts and accessories need to be made available, which requires customization and knowledge of the customer. Understanding these processes take time and should be carefully documented to match requirements against the capabilities of commercially available Ecommerce platforms.
My advice – take your time on the platform selection process, and you will find a solution that you can live with for 5 to 10 years or more. When selection is rushed for the sake of simply getting into the market more quickly, this frequently causes lack of customer adoption post launch and can lead to a near term re-platforming in just 2 or 3 years. This is a highly disruptive situation that costs you more in the longer term.
And a Bonus Mistake to Avoid: Failure to adopt B2C-like experiences
As mentioned earlier, B2B buyers are B2C buyers in their personal lives, and have come to expect consumer-like Ecommerce experiences. Much of this is driven by Amazon’s success in the retail market (though the marketplace’s B2B penetration is increasing rapidly as well!) When B2B sites don’t adopt elements of the B2C experience, customers get frustrated and take their business elsewhere.
By way of an example, some B2B websites will fail to enable common site search and navigation features, and instead require customers to enter a part number as the only way to find the product they are seeking. Question for you - when was the last time you searched for something on Amazon by its SKU number? I’m guessing you never have. So why would any business expect its buyers to do this on their own website? Please acknowledge with me that the green-screen ERP plug “portal” masquerading as a world-class Ecommerce experience is DEAD. You must emulate the best practices of B2C in many areas for success in B2B Ecommerce.
Avoid these six mistakes and you will be off to a great start on your B2B Ecommerce effort! And if you need help figuring out your customer’s Ecommerce needs, I’m happy to chat!
About the Contributor: Brian Beck is 20+ year veteran of the Ecommerce field, having served as the digital executive at multiple leading brands. He is the author of “Billion Dollar B2B Ecommerce”, the industry’s first comprehensive book on digital transformation for B2B manufacturers and distributors. He also serves as the Managing Partner at Enceiba, the industry’s only B2B-focused Amazon strategy and execution agency, and is a Managing Partner at Master B2B, a debate-style thought leadership series centered on key issues in digital commerce for B2B companies.
Editor's Note: This article comes to us courtesy of the Contributor above. The opinions expressed therein are not necessarily our own at ManoByte's, nor have we been paid by the Contributor to publish this article. We find the contributor's perspective in the Building Materials Manufacturing space interesting and are happy to share their perspective with you all too.
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