Intershop Insights

Five Critical Lessons For B2B Digital Transformation

As many B2C retailers and now emerging B2B players know an eCommerce business requires constant attention and a $ spend to go with it.  The processes and skills to run a successful B2B operation in digital commerce is highly dependent on ready access to savvy eCommerce talent and a scalable technical architecture that can grow with your business aspirations and related sales. When laying down a blueprint for a B2B e-commerce business, companies need to acknowledge their will be new and important processes to put in place or you will face failure. Next challenge is do you know what they are? Then the human capital you need to attach to those new processes is in most cases a struggle for B2B organisations.

If you are considering to take on a B2B e-commerce initiative then give yourself time to understand the road map, prioritise your needs, acquire an expert service provider who gets digital business building and let your B2B experience start moving in small steps. Like any transformational piece of work, you have ever done it is the change management piece as much as the technology choice that can cause problems if not addressed in a planned manner. Going forward with smaller steps in a controlled well-managed section of the business stops a lot of “white noise”, misinformation and allows you to set expectations more clearly with stakeholders. These sorts of initiatives affect the status quo in your organisation so be conscious of your communication strategy and issue management processes to avoid the project derailing.

At the end of the day, the focus of your B2B transformation is about making your customer’s job easier and staging an implementation of your B2B project that continually nurtures and enhances that relationship is the core of B2B success.  Set out below are the learnings of success that come from our networks and our own direct efforts in the digital commerce space.

1) In B2B you must first understand and innovate on what is going to make the Customer’s job easier when engaging with you and build your plan around that.

B2B customers and how they do what they do. Get out and go visit them and work out what you could do online to make them more efficient in their job.   Efficiency and productivity gains for your B2B customer when transacting online with you is paramount to retain them, lowering your operating costs and growing sales. What gets exciting for you as a B2B partner is when you start fleshing out and finding clear opportunities to service your B2B customers and creating tools and features that no one else has thought of specifically for them. These custom improvements build “lock-in” type relationships with your B2B customers. It drives and incentivises them to come back to your site, and often. They will buy and spend more. It will build loyalty. Being their favoured B2B partner will give you the platform and profile to continuously talk about new products and categories.

It is from these insights that you can build a more comprehensive and business benefits focussed overall plan.

2) Don’t let your B2B project become a technology junket that gets stuck on perpetual curation of the brand experience, the excessive pursuit of features and functionality and crippling integration focussed $ spends.

As mentioned your B2B success begins with a plan of what your customer wants and then marrying that to a matched plan that gives a clear idea of the connected revenue and growth potential. And from that set about achieving early wins with B2B customers to build stakeholder confidence.  The technology decision is important but remember one key fact that foremost you are a customer-centric company with product/service solutions for your customer’s needs. You do not need to be famous for technology development and support.   Given your likely immaturity in the B2B space ensure you choose a solution provider that delivers already a function rich solution and a proper development  and testing environment for your preferred platform.  Nothing breeds concern more than failed releases of software into production. Perhaps consider those digital partners that offer you a SaaS model whereby you avoid costly licence fees and are assured of being always eligible to proceed to upgrade to latest versions of the software in a planned and cost effective manner.

3) Ownership of Outcomes Is Critical

You cannot expect your B2B e-commerce project to deliver business benefits without sorting process ownership out top down. For a start, the human capital hiring decisions and the external service provider engagement are analyses for which the final choices will impact the entire corporation and customers. Existing processes will also have to be modified and new ones introduced e.g. Mobile, SEO, Product Information, Promotions…. Etc  and even the project organisation itself all need ownership/resource allocation and accountability all nailed.

Much of the tension from the co. leadership stems from the reality of needing to engage resources well before you see revenue generation, particularly if the B2B channel to customers is very new for you. You need passion and strong management resolve from the company leadership team to get the outcomes everyone wants and this includes the Board. The investment in B2B is simply strategic and pervasive and is a reality that all wholesaler and brand manufacturing businesses are having to contend. It is a longer term view and a view the longer you leave it the more behind you are going to get.

4) B2C Models Can Be a Starting Point

Your B2B customer at home is a B2C consumer and the brand experience they will expect at work as your B2B customer cannot be much different if you want their eyeballs on your site.  So when thinking how to organise for B2B a lot can be taken and turned from B2C e-commerce organisational models to provide a comprehensive framework to engineer your process and resource requirements from. Yes things have to change for B2B and cover off things like:

  • Roles and Rights Management
  • Sales force enablement
  • Workflows for purchasing
  • Web content management
  • Complex Product information and pricing models
  • Order Management

Integrated touch points for omnichannel commerce (e.g. mobile, in-store, pick up, ‘will call’, access to Contact Centre).

Your eCommerce organisational design for B2B will need to evolve along with the value and revenue dependencies created by B2B eCommerce and this new talent needs to be meshed and collaborations formed with your legacy environment product specialists.

5) Don’t get to caught up in a B2B build track record as the most important decision criteria for Talent.

When you’re looking to acquire talent for your new B2B unit, don’t overlook professionals who only have a B2C background. As most important of all these sources of talent already have e-commerce experience and skill sets. While B2B talent is in short supply “cocktail” these people and providers with the existing  product knowledge team already in-house on your payroll.

Acquiring experienced retail e-commerce professionals provides a way for B2B organisations to get a capability together that comes with intensive experience in digital commerce, online marketing, content management, mobility, video, Social and a raft of another plug in and core e-commerce technologies and competencies. However, the shortfall will be product IP and the different selling and customer engagement models of B2B.

The process to build a best practice B2B commerce platform is mission critical. It may not happen quickly but to get the transformation underway and to start gathering and implementing improvements to make your customer’s job easier is the path to more sales, customer retention and providing a great experience online.

The quicker you make your B2B eCommerce blueprint a reality the quicker you will deliver the business benefits.

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