B2B eCommerce represents a US $12.2 trillion market opportunity, which is over 6 times the size of B2C. While online B2B selling has been around for decades, buyers’ shopping preferences are changing and fueling the rapid growth of B2B eCommerce. Buyers now want to shop mostly online, instead of through sales reps. The challenge is that they expect online experiences not far from B2C.
How do you meet these new demands? For many sellers, it means a complete digital transformation of your organization. Online sites are no longer simple portals for existing customers, but a necessary channel to generate revenue among current and prospective buyers.
A digital transformation can seem overwhelming at first. When just starting out, here’s what your organization should be thinking about.
7 Questions to Answer Before Selling Online
Look at these questions to see what you should be focusing on before selling online.
Are all stakeholders bought into a digital transformation?
First and foremost, are all the major stakeholders at your organization bought into selling online as a way to generate revenue? Going from sales rep taking orders manually to a fully integrated online channel is not a small feat. It affects all departments in some way. Therefore, you must have buy in from all stakeholders. Time and time again we see drawn out and unrealized eCommerce projects because not everyone in the organization was ready to undergo a true transformation.
Can we dedicate an internal resource to this right now?
For an eCommerce project to be successful, you need to have a dedicated team or resource on it. B2B operations are often complex. Your new eCommerce site isn’t going to happen overnight, especially if you want it to be impactful. eCommerce project can take anywhere from 3 to 6+ months. You’ll need to manage multiple partners throughout the project and ensure all are aligned on the same goals. The communication alone between internal and external resources requires someone’s full attention.
How we do prep our sales team for a digital transformation?
Implementing an eCommerce site will change the way you do business. It will alter how many of your employees work, especially your sales team. However, your sales reps shouldn’t fear that an online site replaces them or damages customer relationships. Instead, when your sales team is educated on it, eCommerce can be used to their advantage. It can help them sell larger orders to more customers in less time. It’s important to include your sales team throughout the eCommerce build, both for their education and their insight into buyers’ needs. After all, your sales reps are the most connected to your customers today.
(You will need to consider how your online site could change payment plans or commission rates as well.)
What should the customer journey look like online?
In every eCommerce initiative, it’s integral to think about the customer journey online. How will buyers find products they’re looking for? What does the check out flow need to be? How do you ensure certain customers see specific price lists? How does a buyer place reorders or find customer support? What’s the online mobile experience look like?
It’s helpful to map out a typical customer journey of a buyer purchasing from you online. Thinking ahead like this ensures you build a website that meets their needs and makes purchasing from you as convenient as possible.
What eCommerce platform should we use?
Mapping your customer journey can lead to insights into what capabilities or functionality that your platform needs. In turn, you can use this information to evaluate the different eCommerce platforms available. Luckily, eCommerce software has matured to offer capable solutions for B2B over the last few years, while keeping B2C-like experiences. When comparing B2B eCommerce platforms, you’ll want to consider budget, functionality, self-service tools, product catalog management, and integration options.
What other systems do we need to integrate with our eCommerce platform?
Introducing an eCommerce platform adds complexity to your operations. You’ll most likely already use an ERP. How will you input online orders into your ERP for fulfillment? You’ll need to consider how these two systems will integrate. Without integration, you’ll be stuck manually moving data like online order and inventory counts between them.
At the start of your eCommerce project, you need to ask about how the eCommerce platform integrates into your other systems. What data movement or processes can be automated? How does each platform need to be set up to accommodate for automation? Integration plays a vital role in ensuring your operations remain smooth, even after adding new sales channels and processes.
How should we prep our data for selling online?
Before selling online, you should evaluate the state of your data, especially your product catalog. Product information management is one of the biggest challenges for B2B merchants. It can easily get out of hand when you’re dealing with thousands of products and multiple catalogs from different suppliers. It’s tough to normalize your product data to make it customer-ready for your site. Product data plays a vital part in your SEO, site navigation, product listings, and integration into your ERP. So, it’s not something you want to overlook. When not taken care of, it can cause headaches and setbacks throughout your eCommerce initiative.
Selecting Your Partners to Sell Online
Preparing for a digital transformation is a big undertaking. It takes some time up front to think through your initiative and what areas need the most attention. Along the way, you’ll work with several partners like your eCommerce vendor, web and design agency, integration partner, and more. It’s important to select partners that work well together and are aligned to your overall goals.
nChannel empowers retailers and wholesalers with integration tools to sync data and automate processes between their eCommerce, ERP, POS and 3PL systems from inventory synchronization and order fulfillment to supply chain management.
About the Author: Jillian Hufford joined nChannel as their Marketing Strategist and Partner Manager. Using both her writing and analytic skills, she assists the Marketing and Sales teams. Jillian performs competitor market research, provides analysis of key sales metrics, and writes informative posts on multichannel commerce trends.