Forrester estimates that B2B eCommerce will top $1.1 trillion and account for 12.1% of all B2B sales in the US by 2020. While the opportunity is big for everyone involved, there are quite a number of challenges across management, technology and people in getting a B2B ecommerce project approved. And if you are one of them who believes B2B eCommerce is beneficial for your organization and wants to champion it, here are few tips on how to get over the challenges.
Build your business case: Define why you want to go for B2B eCommerce – How will the revenue landscape change over time? What will be the impact on channel partners and the internal sales team? Will it cannibalize channel revenue and how will you manage it? After you’ve figured out the above questions, build a case which has a clear objective and how you will go about achieving it.
Management buy-in: Once you have the business case, it is time to evangelize among top management and see if you can convince them to agree upon it. It is normal to expect that the initial reactions may not be in favor of this initiative. Objections could be raised relating to budget constraints, lack of resources to execute the project, the viability of selling in-person vis-a-vis selling online, questions of priority, compatibility with the existing sales strategy, jeopardizing of existing channels etc. Your business case should include answers to all possible objections and what will be the payback time for the required investment and how this initiative will help in the long term.
And since there are inherent complexities in implementing and managing a B2B eCommerce project, avoid taking a Big-bang approach. Split things into smaller initiatives so it is easier for you to get acceptance, execute and then scale.
Channel Harmony: The biggest challenge around B2B eCommerce program is channel conflict. You could have resistance from both the internal sales team and channel partners like distributors and resellers. While you may embrace it, internal sales team may see it as loss of income for them. Your distributors could be worried that you may sell directly to resellers or retailers or even do a direct-to-buyers. These are genuine concerns and needs to be discussed openly with sales team and channel partners.
You will have to educate your sales team that B2B eCommerce is inevitable because not every customer wants to call a sales person for product enquiry. Competitors are providing 24/7 consumer class application for order management and online portals do provide greater visibility for the company and its products.
And if you are planning for a direct-to-buyer channel, you will have to talk to existing channel partners and find a mid-path to guard their revenue. There are multiple ways to do this, targeting a niche segment of customers, which the channel partners are not targeting today, selling at a price point which is slightly higher than what your channel partner would charge, targeting geographies where you don’t have channel partners to avoid conflict etc. are a few of them.
Execution: Finally, you need to work with your IT and marketing team to conceptualize business requirements, build the system and launch. Collaborate with marketing to manage inbound traffic and to find ways to connect with your customers online. Work with the IT team to enable integration with CRM, Warehouse, ERP and several other systems for seamless functioning of your B2B eCommerce system.