Just a few years ago, research found that 48% of companies now conduct 50-74% of all corporate purchases online. Further, 23% of companies do 75% or more of their purchasing online.
While it’s clear that B2B buyers want to make purchases online, many manufacturers, distributors and others have been slow to adopt eCommerce initiatives.
Part of the problem is that shifting to an online sales model isn’t any easy transition. It can require an entire overhaul in how you conduct business. And, without the right mindset and strategy, your digital transformation might not be fully realized.
To help get you started, our quick guide focuses on five key areas that are key to any successful eCommerce initiative.
- Getting buy-in from stakeholders
- Appointing an eCommerce leader
- Choosing the right eCommerce platform and partner
- Integrating your systems
- Focusing on an end-to-end customer experience
And, when done right, it will fuel your sales and future-proof your business. If you still need convincing, check out our 10 Advantages of B2B eCommerce Selling.
The time is now to build and execute an eCommerce initiative. Because the longer you wait, the harder it’ll be to catch up.
1. Getting Buy-in from Key Stakeholders
Before you start any eCommerce initiative, you have to ask and answer a simple question.
Do all your major stakeholders believe selling online is the way to increase revenue, create efficiencies for you and your customers and is an investment in the future of your business?
And, one of the most common reasons B2B organizations fail at it is because they lacked total buy-in from their organization from the start.
A digital transformation isn’t easy and doesn’t happen overnight. It will affect every department in some way. So, it’s critical that all involved are on-board of why you’re doing it and what the possibilities are.
Otherwise, you won’t be on the same page or working towards the same goals, which puts your project at risk for failure or never materializing into an experience that matters for your customers.
At this point, a key stakeholder to include is your sales teams. At first, they might object out of fear of becoming obsolete, or diminished credit (or pay) for sales.
The truth? When educated on eCommerce, a website can be used to their advantage to sell larger order to more customers in less time. Follow these techniques to ensure your sales team is ready for a digital transformation.
2. Appointing a Dedicated eCommerce Resource
When planning for your project, you should have a dedicated decision-maker to oversee the project and its progress.
Too often leaders underestimate a project and brush it off “as just a new website.” And, they don’t dedicate enough resources to it.
But, a digital transformation is way more than that. To transform to an online sales model, you’ll need to implement and change your technology, processes, and training your employees for it. You’ll also work with multiple partners and vendors to make your vision a reality.
This type of transformation will require someone’s full attention to oversee, manage, and ensure your project stays on track.
Further, an eCommerce initiative is a long-term investment for your business. It’s not something you implement once and then never think much about again. You’ll continue to grow your eCommerce team over time to ensure your site continues to evolve with your needs.
3. Choosing Your eCommerce Platform and Partner
One of the initial, big decisions to make is what eCommerce platform to use. This is a critical piece of infrastructure that determines the type of intuitive experiences you can build.
Luckily, there’s now all types of platforms available that can support B2B operations well. You can build custom, leverage a B2B SaaS platform, or repurpose a B2C-first platform.
As you compare platforms, the main areas you want to focus on are:
- Functionality: What’s your must-have capabilities to meet your buyer needs? B2B operations are complex and the platform needs to support them.
- Responsive Design: It’s now table stakes for your site to render well across different devices like smartphones and tablets.
- Self-Service: Buyers should have control to manage their account as they need.
- Customer-specific pricing: Having the ability to list pricing and product selection by customer
- Payment options: Having flexible payment options that B2B buyers are used to like partial payment or purchasing against a terms account
- Product data: The ability to organize, connect, and list your complex catalogs as rich product listings is crucial.
- Integration: How well is the platform able to integrate into your other critical systems like an ERP or supplier databases
An eCommerce partner like an agency can help you choose the right platform based on your strategy and their expertise. Then, they’ll help you implement and customize the platform.
Use this guide to help you understand and research different eCommerce platforms for B2B.
4. Integrating Your Systems
How will online orders impact your accounting and operational processes? How will you fulfill online orders through a backend system like an ERP?
Your eCommerce platform will be a new critical endpoint in your technology ecosystem — adding to your ERP/accounting, order management, warehouse management, POS, 3PL or supplier databases.
Each of these systems holds important data for your organization and must be shared among the rest of them. Data automation between your system is what what leads to critical processes like:
- Publishing product listings online
- Displaying accurate inventory availability
- Enabling customer-specific pricing online
- Create accounts for buyers
- Automating order processing and fulfillment for efficiency
- Providing order and shipment details for a buyers account online
- Sending timely marketing emails
Automation is how you ensure a seamless buying experience from start to finish. And, automation is achieved through system integration.
It’s best practice to consider your integration needs while you’re choosing and implementing your eCommerce platform. It’ll guide how your platform is set up and ensures you’re ready to handle your must-have processes from the start.
Read about how B2B seller Godecker’s used integration to increase customer satisfaction as they grew their web presence.
5. Focusing on Customer Experience
Lastly, it’s important to never lose sight of your buyer needs or expectations throughout your eCommerce project. Your decision making (both strategically and technically) should always focus on what’s best for the buyer.
A good customer experience comes down to anticipating your buyer’s needs and then any friction points that might come up.
How do they research products? How do they compare products and brands? How do they want to pay online? How do you quickly and accurately fulfill their order? What’s the easiest way to complete a repurchase or check order status?
As you answer those questions, you’ll start to understand how your website should support their purchasing journey. All of these parts of your website and content will play a part in the experience:
- Site navigation / site search
- Check out process
- Account management
- Product listings
- Product reviews
- Landing pages (from paid ads or other marketing channels)
- Email marketing
- Return policies
Mapping out your buyer’s journey is part of your overall content marketing strategy, which can you read more extensively about here: B2B Content Marketing Guide.
Here’s some examples of B2B companies getting user experience right: 7 Innovative B2B eCommerce Sites
Are you ready for a digital transformation?
The B2B landscape is changing. Your buyers’ needs are evolving. Either you rise to meet their expectations, or face getting left behind.
And, while undertaking such a project seems overwhelming, you can be successful through the right preparation and strategy. You just need to get started!