The world of ecommerce continues to change at lightning speed. According to the Office of National Statistics, in 2017 in Great Britain, 77% of adults had bought goods or services online in the last 12 months.
This trend has spilled over into B2B, with companies finding that their customers now expect the same seamless buying experience that B2C offers – according to Forrester/Internet Retailer B2B Buyer research, 53% of these buyers will make half or more of their work purchases online by 2018, and 74% say buying from a website is just more convenient. It therefore makes perfect sense for organisations to move from an offline-only sales model to a hybrid of offline and online and perhaps online-only.
However, B2B business practices have been built up over many years supported by legacy systems and often out-dated ways of working have become so established that this results in a B2B ecommerce opportunity that remains largely untapped. Taking a B2B business online can be 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 merchants 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 our website in our 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 can work as search-engine friendly catalogues that generate leads for offline sales but converting to a fully functional B2B online ordering portal is the logical next step.
A fully transactional ecommerce website for customers who have pre-existing relationships with account managers can offer an easy way to re-order and buy and can tailor functionality dependent upon the customer or job role.
Do we know our online pricing strategy?
If your organisation uses a pricing structure that has evolved through organic growth you are likely to have customers who have complex specific pricing agreements. Replicating a unique set of contracts online requires a platform that supports specific product pricing and discount negotiation otherwise you will be severely limited to groups of customers who all have standard pricing.
Is our sales team fully engaged?
Offline sales teams often view ecommerce as a compromised alternative that don’t take into account the skills they have developed over years of hard work. If sales are predominantly order takers, then self-serve websites will be seen to threaten their role. It is therefore important that sales and the ecommerce site works together to empower your sales team and not replace them.
A new eCommerce website can enhance the sales process 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 can consume a salespersons’ work day.
What other information do we need to 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 other systems, such as your ERP, inventory management, and Product Information Management systems. In order to provide a full omni-channel customer experience and up to date information you will need a solution that offers order management and integrates well with other systems.
SEO – what’s the opportunity?
You may well already have a website 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, how can you optimise sales? One of the benefits of building a strategic ecommerce site is to increase the visibility of your brand through your product catalogue as it gets 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 and price. Original and useful content is important and use descriptions that bring the product to life and differentiate them for customers, and do not rely on just product IDs.
eCommerce is connected to every level of your business, so its impact is significant. It’s not like Accounting or Warehouse management that primarily exist to support one function of the organisation. It’s worth engaging experts to help you in the early stages of a new or revitalised B2B ecommerce project, to help you develop your strategic roadmap. The future of B2B business is tied to the success of ecommerce so it is critical to get this right from the very beginning. The faster you move your business online, the more successful you will be in attracting the next generation of buyers – and they are the ones who will grow your business fastest.
Brian Green is director of EMEA, Magento