By D. Douglas Graham
From a strategy perspective, B2B e-commerce is more about enhancing existing trading partnerships than it is about attracting new business. The stated mission of B2C web business ( i.e Amazon.com) is to churn sales. Conversely, B2B e-commerce sites sell product with a primary strategic objective of providing existing customers with additional online value-add services. This is a simple concept not so simply achieved, because pulling it off requires a merger of applications and total commitment on the part of everyone with a stake in the organization.
“B2C Websites sell, B2B sites service and sell,” explained Suchit Bachalli, president, North America, Unilog Content Solutions. “B2B e-commerce is a complicated business because along with providing real time price and availability data, a high functioning business website blends multiple functions in the service of efficiency, and customer satisfaction. This is fundamental to successful business web trade, and vital to the more important goal of value-enhancing customer relationships.”
We live in a technology landscape increasingly reliant on interconnected systems. In such an ecosystem, all applications are mutually-conversant—ERP, CRM, warehousing, and accounting all working together to ensure customers enjoy a smooth ride attributable to brilliant service.
“Successful e-commerce requires more than just a great website. It needs to tightly integrate with enterprise-wide systems such as CRM, order and inventory management, and fulfillment capabilities,” said WESCO Distribution Vice President of e-commerce, Dale Kendall. “Generally, B2B lags behind B2C in e-commerce sophistication. But competitive pressure, customer demand, and demographic shifts are driving broad investment in many B2B distributions. The next three to five years will be both transformative and disruptive for B2B e-commerce, with some players making significant strides as laggards lose share.”
The payback of integrated e-commerce for wholesale distributors is generous, and often arrives in forms varied and unexpected. But cutting purchase orders and installing new software will not guarantee success. Nor is it enough to encourage e-commerce thinking up and down the corporate ladder. Right now the hot topic among e-commerce pundits is “digital consciousness,” the idea that everyone on the team—from warehouse workers to salespeople—must be brought aboard a process of total digital transformation. It is through this metamorphosis that e-commerce experts claim the blue sky promises of Internet business will become reality, but the road to transformation is long and winding.
“The goal should be to create a multi-channeled, digitally-transformed organization,” said Linda Taddonio, chief e-commerce strategy officer for Insite Software. “There’s a lot of talk about this right now, but getting the job done isn’t easy as it calls for broad-based commitment and adoption. A few companies have managed it, and by becoming digital leaders have ratcheted up their value proposition. Everyone will have to follow their lead sooner or later, but it’ll be a while before we all wake up to a digitally transformed world.”
Selling Digital Transformation
A company embarked on digital transformation must consider how it will communicate changes to employees, trading partners, and customers. One of the most effective approaches is using promotional messaging for each audience segment.
“You have to message continuously, stressing benefits that apply to each user group,” noted Sheila Hernandez, vice president of marketing for Summit Electric Supply. “It won’t help your cause to promote the mobile paybacks of e-commerce to someone who spends his workday behind a desk. One size does not fit all, which is why tailoring your outreach to your audience is a must. There are many ways to roll out your message to employees, customers, and stakeholders. Some examples include e-newsletters, social media, video promotions, email marketing, and websites. Most important is making the message meaningful to each targeted group.”
Education will do much to grow support; so will rewards, as incentive is a language understood and appreciated by all. Build a customer incentive plan to jumpstart website conversation, and share the wealth with the sales force with bonuses and prizes for bringing customers online. Equip outside sales reps with video presentations and teaching tools evangelizing the virtues of e-commerce and digital transformation to customers not yet warm to the idea. Offer customer discounts for e-commerce, and referral fees for introducing other customers to the concept. Stream continuously on the dividends paid by doing business online. Finally, promote and perform e-commerce very well, bearing in mind that B2Cs have a jump on you, and some may already be selling your customers.
“B2Cs provide distributors with an opportunity to sell discontinued or excess items easily,” explained Brent Halverson, CEO of ecmarket. “If someone Googles a part number, there’s a good chance it will appear as an Amazon or eBay link first. B2Cs have an e-commerce edge. You have to be up to their standard if you hope to compete with them, and be ready to offer an Amazon-like experience when customers arrive at your door.”
Why Customers Buy
Customers new to e-commerce soon learn to appreciate the benefits of shopping, and buying online. The information available on a well-constructed business website is virtually unlimited. Images are many, each one clear and detailed. In-depth descriptions are also provided, along with charts, specs, and other relevant material. E-commerce also allows for easy cross-referencing, makes research a snap, and business processes much easier. Credit approval, contact management and other functions are simplified, and transpire with lightning speed and efficiency.
“E-commerce offers great advantages to both buyers and sellers,” Taddonio added. “Assuming you have the core set of integrated digital systems and good product content, order value can jump as high as 100 percent. Digital transformation value-enhances staggeringly all aspects of your operation, including most certainly the quality of your service offering. It’s all about quality, bottom line, and that’s a good thing for everyone.”
Graham is a St. Louis-based freelance writer. Reach him at 314-394-0371.
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