Are B2B companies that haven’t embraced eCommerce missing anything significant? To find out if eCommerce is a necessity or just hyped for B2B, we teamed up with Brian Beck, one of the most trusted B2B eCommerce advisors in the USA and Europe, for an interview.
In ‘PART 1 and 2’ of our three-part article series, Brian explained the compelling reasons for B2B companies to invest in eCommerce and its many benefits.
In ‘PART 3’, he gave away the ‘secret sauce’ to ensure success in a B2B eCommerce initiative and concluded with how B2B will evolve better than B2C in the future. If you are planning to build your eCommerce roadmap, here’s some expert advice you should not be missing. Read on.
How can B2B companies prepare for eCommerce?
Several factors need to be taken into consideration for a successful eCommerce implementation. B2B companies looking to build a digital presence should consider the following first steps in the journey:
- Gaining leadership buy-in
- Getting your customers involved
- Aligning the sales team
- Building the technology foundation
Leadership buy-in is the very first step in a B2B eCommerce initiative. The leaders and decision-makers at your firm will have to embrace the inconveniences, investments, and discomfort an eCommerce initiative inevitably will bring. Management must look beyond these near-term concerns and recognize the long-term business necessity of transforming the management, selling, operations, and customer experience to a digital-first approach. And in forming the team to lead the digital effort, B2B companies must provide sufficient authority and executive management visibility to the digital team to communicate to the entire company that eCommerce is a serious effort.
Involve your customers
A B2B eCommerce website is more than just a transactional portal. Companies must look to simplify and eliminate friction from the experiences of existing customers while accommodating prospective customers who begin their journey from the research stage. The most successful eCommerce and digital transformation rollouts always include the heavy involvement of customers. Know who your customers are, discover what they expect from your digital experience, and learn how they want to interact with your brand online – then weave your digital experience around it at every stage of development.
Align sales teams and other parts of the organization with the digital effort
Many B2B companies maintain sizable physical sales teams. If the sales team is not fully aligned with what you want to achieve through eCommerce, digital initiatives are likely to fail. Sales teams will consider the eCommerce channel a competitor. They will resist and fight digital adoption, as they might think that it is an alternative to traditional selling methods and destined to replace them. On the contrary, eCommerce will be a sales team’s best friend when done right. As described earlier, digital tools can help sales teams with intelligence on buying behavior and provide real-time data to deepen the effectiveness of in-person sales interactions.
A foundation of the right technology
The fourth step is finding the right technology to power your eCommerce operation. Identify the platform based on your business criteria determined by your customers and organizational structure. When choosing an agency partner, look at factors such as relevant industry experience, platform expertise, certifications, niche market segments served, existing clientele, development approach, and so on.
The success story of Illumina – Involving customers and preparing the entire organization for eCommerce
Brian told us about another case study in his book, a life sciences company called Illumina. This is one of the most inspiring eCommerce success stories in an unlikely industry and one that helps spotlight the importance of organizational alignment and involving customers throughout the planning and implementation process.
Illumina is a $3 billion biotechnology company that manufactures equipment used by research and healthcare institutions across the globe for advanced DNA sequencing. If you ever used a service like 23 and Me to process your genes and determine your genetic make up, the process was likely completed on an Illumina machine. This might sound like an unlikely candidate for eCommerce, but the company pulled off an enormously successful digital transformation initiative by following best practices in organizational alignment and customer-centricity.
Illumina, which launched its revamped B2B eCommerce storefront in 2017, interviewed its existing customers in every phase of strategic planning. Right from setting the requirements on what the site needed to do, how its customers wanted to use digital capabilities, identifying essential features, and prioritizing the most important elements of the system. The Illumina team also worked hard to align the organization’s sales, marketing, IT, finance, and other departments around the digital transformation effort. This included communicating goals for the eCommerce effort and including cross-functional teams in the planning, requirements-setting, testing, and rollout process. It also, importantly, included shared commissions for the sales team on eCommerce sales (on named/assigned accounts), which ensured the sales team members were encouraging customers to leverage online capabilities.
Now the company is getting more than half of its revenue, amounting to more than $1 billion per year, from eCommerce channels. Digital commerce has helped Illumina capture a significant incremental share of wallet from their customers and provides opportunities to reach out to new customers at a lower cost. A win-win for all!
Takeaway – It doesn’t matter if you have an amazing website. If you don’t have the alignment of the teams and customers and your leadership isn’t behind it, don’t even bother starting!
Will B2B eCommerce evolve on its own or will it continue to lag behind B2C?
While B2B is larger in terms of sheer eCommerce revenue volumes than B2C, it has historically lagged behind B2C in terms of providing a world-class digital customer experience. Well, this is changing quickly! We learned from Brian that B2B could go far beyond just enabling a quick transaction.
Because of the very nature of B2B, companies operating in this sector have deep relationships with their buyers. B2B is built on deep relationships, and sellers typically maintain an intimate knowledge of the customers’ businesses. In contrast, consumers in the B2C market are fickle. Sellers (retailers and brands) struggle to understand their preferences and must use vague signals to decipher buyer intentions. Switching brands in the B2C landscape is fun and a game, and eCommerce is more about the adventure of shopping.
Not so in B2B. In this market, sellers can add considerable value to their buyers by helping them improve their own business by leveraging digital tools. Once a seller has the foundational items of eCommerce in place, advanced tools such as Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) can be deployed to add value to customers and deepen loyalty in all new ways. These efforts can also create entirely new revenue streams for sellers. A great example of this is Bosch, another case study in Brian’s book.
Bosch – Enabling customers with new value added services, and benefitting in the process
Robert Bosch, or Bosch, a centuries-old German multinational engineering and technology company, is a company that invested early in the foundational elements necessary for eCommerce. With these elements in place, the company was looking to find new ways to add value to customers. A significant portion of the company’s customers are construction firms building large commercial and residential developments. Bosch saw an opportunity.
One of the largest cost centers for construction companies is labor, and labor productivity is key to delivering profitable projects. Leaning on decades of working with these firms and the resulting knowledge of its customers’ pain points, Bosch recognized an opportunity to help its customers to match the labor in the field to the equipment they needed to most effectively complete projects. And thus, the Bluehound Asset Tracking system was born. This Bluetooth-based system is built into Bosch tools and enables the company’s customers to effectively track the location of all equipment in real-time and match equipment to labor in a way that maximizes efficiency. As a result, Bosch’s customers have been able to reduce costs and become more efficient in how they deliver their services. Bosch has unlocked a new revenue stream for itself in the process. Another win-win all around.
However, eCommerce and digital transformation are where this all started. Without a solid foundation in place, none of this would’ve been possible.
llumina – Leveraging data to improve product offerings
In another example that Brian shared of IoT in action, Illumina released a dashboard, the ‘My Illumina Dashboard,’ which integrates technology into the company’s equipment that enables the company to measure the effectiveness of experiments run on their machines in the field. The company then provides researchers using Illumina equipment inside labs with recommendations on how to improve their research, including what consumables (sold by Illumina!) to utilize to enhance outcomes.
This all sounds space age and futuristic, but it is happening today and is evidence that B2B is evolving on its own path, leapfrogging B2C retail eCommerce in many ways.
Takeaway – The next step in B2B eCommerce is about enhancing customers’ businesses in new ways and unlocking new revenue and profit streams for sellers. Digitalization provides enormous opportunities to evolve and create differentiation, but the foundations of eCommerce are a critical prerequisite.
B2B eCommerce is no longer an option. It is a mandate, and those who are still not thinking of eCommerce are losing ground. While planning for your eCommerce roadmap, put the customer first. Involve your customers throughout your planning phase and weave your eCommerce around it. And be sure to align your internal teams. Buyers now expect a friction-free eCommerce experience, and those that deliver are winning. Your time is now!