Even in the most conservative B2B sectors, the realization has penetrated: e-commerce is not something you do.
Your business customers expect more and more the convenience they know from consumer stores such as Coolblue or Zalando.
But when ordering an essential machine or engine component, there is a little more to it than when buying a t-shirt.
You do not just do e-commerce.
How do you ensure the right mix of online self-service and old-fashioned customized advice? Which place do you give an e-commerce team within your organization? Who introduces relevant product information and how do you as a management effectively manage a digital transformation?
In short: How to make B2B digital commerce a success?
Herbert Pesch (owner of B2B digital agency Evident ) and Roelof Swiers (manager of the Benelux e-commerce platform Intershop ) organized a series of expert panels around 2017 with online business managers from well-known Dutch B2B companies (including Technische Unie, Mediq, ZAMRO, AkzoNobel, etc.). Royal Brinkman, Bavaria and STIHO).
You can read the most important conclusions from the experts in this article.
We do e-commerce as a B2B company
# 1 Describe your products as relevant as possible
Did you, as a consumer, order a wrong size or color t-shirt online? No problem: you send it back for free and in no time you will find the outfit that you would like to have on your doormat.
That is of course a completely different story when you as a company need a specific engine part for your ship in the interior of Brazil. Every day of delay costs you bins with money.
Every day of delay means loss of revenue / Source: Unsplash
Specific and relevant product information is therefore also essential in B2B e-commerce. This for four different reasons:
- It gives you more direct sales via your B2B webshop.
- It ensures fewer returns.
- It ensures higher customer satisfaction.
- It also ensures more offline buyers.
That last point may require some extra explanation.
Customers who buy offline also do online research .
Combine this with a decline in brand loyalty in the B2B sector and the importance of extensive product information.
The why is now clear. But how do you handle it?
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The experts from the panel give 5 different tips:
Do research about what your customers want to know
Too little product information is a problem, but that is certainly too much. Therefore, do research on what your customers want to know specifically. Start with the information that 80% of your target group asks for.
What content do your customers want to see? Source: Shopify Plus
Get everyone on board
The customer survey also helps you convince internal stakeholders that this is not just a ‘project’ to enter information into the web shop. The customer (the king) specifically needs it.
Provide the right data infrastructure
In too many organizations, the relevant information is still fragmented across different departments or locations. Therefore, ensure a data infrastructure that includes all product information. If necessary, use industry-specific standards.
Determine who can enter product information best
The fact that you work with a central data storage does not mean that all information must also be entered at the head office. Research where (locally) the most knowledge is available and have the information entered there.
You are never done (because: customers expect more and more)
Do not underestimate how much time and effort costs optimizing your product information. It is a continually continuous process.
Your B2B customers will expect more and more from their online product information (live support, video tutorials, AR applications ). They are already accustomed to being an online shopping consumer.
# 2 Everyone in your organization with digital
E-commerce can not and must not be an island within your organization.
Even within the most conservative sectors, everyone must be aware of the importance of digitization.
Starting with the board, Fred van der Sluijs (e-business manager Rensa) remarks: “If you still have to convince the C-level, you are talking about organizations that no longer exist in three years’ time.”
How do you get everyone in your organization?
The experts give 6 different recommendations.
1) Get inspiration outside the door
Visit a relevant conference / Source: Hubspot
Digital B2B is evolving at lightning speed. A good way to become aware of this is to visit conferences and events relevant to managers. A business trip to China or Silicon Valley via innovative companies is also possible.
Make sure that you do not focus too much on the hype , but keep looking at what is relevant to your business now and in the near future.
2) Do not focus too much on ROI
A webshop does not automatically provide you with baking money tomorrow. That should not be the most important motivation.
It can be part of an omnichannel strategy, and in a broader sense of a necessary digital transformation (for example, where EDI and online B2B marketplaces also play a role).
Therefore, in your business case, make clear what the impact of digitization is, but do not focus too much on details and ROI. That way you leave room for adjustment in a constantly evolving environment.
3) Let your managers talk to your customers
Market research and customer research tell the story, but a face-to-face meeting helps convince. Facilitate a meeting between the important customers and managers about the impact of digitization: what are the wishes, pain and expectations?
4) Provide a vision that everyone understands
It must be crystal clear to everyone in your organization why you digitize and what the first steps are. So make sure you have a dot on the horizon as well as a concrete plan for the coming time.
5) Think with each department
The added value of an e-commerce platform for the company as a whole is not enough. “But what does it yield to me?” Different people will think at different departments.
Therefore, try to ask the following questions for each department:
‘How can digital help you or our customer?’ (Which data is relevant for example.) ‘What do you expect by digital to become more difficult?’
6) Avoid a digital island
Digital may not be an island within your organization / Source: Pexels
Finally, you never want to lose the connection between the e-commerce or digital team and the rest of the organization. Therefore, regularly work with e-commerce in another department and also ensure that you celebrate success together with other parts of the company.
# 3 What should you send to B2B e-commerce?
Every company has its own focus in the e-commerce KPIs .
- For example, Linde Gas measures how many customers use self-service online (which relieves the back office).
- Technische Unie pays special attention to slow-moving customers (and how to make them fan again).
What information do you want on your dashboard? Source: Intershop
Without focus, you run the risk of drowning in the data.
Royal Brinkman therefore chose OMTM (One Metric That Matters):
“Because everything is measurable online, we had too much steering information. That is why we have determined what the most important KPI is. In our case, that is the number of customers ordering online with a return pattern within 30 days ”
If you think that is too extreme, you can go for a limited list of KPIs. This is what the expert panel considers wise to monitor daily :
- Your customer satisfaction (NPS).
- Frequent shoppers.
- Conversion rate.
- Speed of the website.
- Relationship sales: online vs ERP vs offline.
- Customer lifetime value.
Dashboard for the management
Management is often already flooded with information. These are a number of ways to keep the management dashboard clear:
- Visualize the dashboard.
- Keep it at an onepager: forecast versus realized.
- Use icons and for example a traffic light system.
- Relate the KPIs to the business objectives.
- Add a short set of highlights in the form of a limited number of bullets. Mark the results with an explanation.
- Ensure that the underlying KPIs are available.
- Give the digital roadmap a place. Show how the progress is.
# 4 Build a successful e-commerce team
‘We were on an industrial estate’, says omnichannel manager Nanne Batelaan. “It’s not meant as a shit, but that’s not what digital native work wants.”
He therefore set up a separate internet agency on behalf of (among others) construction wholesaler STIHO called Sybrand’s Place.
Of course, the ping pong table should not be missed / Source: Sybrand’s Place
It characterizes the choice where B2B companies struggle: do we set up an e-commerce team internally , remotely , or in a mix form ?
Each has its own advantages and disadvantages:
With an internal team you can easily communicate with other departments, keep your corporate culture and you can put it relatively easily.
On the other hand, it is more difficult to bind talented (young) forces to you, and you may not show how important digital is as a management.
With an external team you can attract digital natives faster and you can leave more room for experiments with your own corporate culture.
On the other hand, there is a risk that you lose the bond with the parent company and because of less support also have less knowledge.
Tips for a successful e-commerce team
According to the experts, there are several ways to build the strongest possible e-commerce team:
# 1 Involve experts in the e-commerce ecosystem
This captain knows which parts you need / Source: Unsplash
B2B companies that start e-commerce do not yet have as much data available as webshops for consumers. Moreover, the number of customers is generally smaller than in the B2C industry.
However, an important treasure of data is in the minds of content experts within the company. Perhaps people who are already going to retire soon (with which the data will be lost!).
Dirk Jan Goudswaard from shipbuilder IHC mentions the example of old captains who know exactly which part you can use when another part is not in stock. Data you like to include in the suggestion module of your webshop.
# 2 The right characteristics when hiring your team
Who should you hire for your e-commerce team? Apart from intrinsic programming or marketing skills, according to Eric Croon (ZAMRO) there are three characteristics that you should look out for:
- Is there energy in it? (‘Do you see the’ sparkle in the eye ‘- do they have the perseverance to continuously improve?’)
- Can they be the best? (‘How steep is their learning curve?’)
- No assholes. (Egos do not fit in digital, you have to create an environment in which you can experiment without being punished.)
# 3 Create an agile culture
When you build a digital commerce channel, you do not have years of time. The market is changing too quickly for that. Implement an agile culture with which you can quickly experiment and fail.
# 4 A clear vision
What do you want to achieve with your online commerce channel? Are you going to do everything yourself or (partly) also use platforms from others. After all, not everyone can build their own Amazon.
# 5 Provide external developers
Acquiring knowledge is important. But sometimes you also want to speed up. At such a moment it is important that you can hire sufficient external capacity. This allows you to make larger adjustments on your platform.
Reading tip : 7 Powerful B2B Lead Generation Tips
# 5 Collaborate with sales
Not every seller is jumping at the idea of an extensive B2B webshop. ‘That will soon cost me my job’, he or she thinks.
And partly there is something in it of course.
Companies can use online sales channels to save on back office support and sales staff.
At the same time, there is little chance that customers will no longer want to talk to a consultant with full knowledge of the matters for complicated assignments.
Moreover, you can use the data from e-commerce to optimize your offline sales process .
These are 3 ways to involve sales more with online :
- Hold sessions with customers and sellers for the launch of your webshop. Have them view together what can be improved.
- Add turnover from existing customers via the webshop to the result of the regional sales team.
- Show how you can help sales employees with data from the webshop to give better advice or to sell more.
Reading tip: E-commerce Trends 2018
Conclusion: you digitize together
B2B companies that want to set up a successful digital commerce strategy must take into account all stakeholders.
Encounters between customers, vendors, management, developers and content experts are therefore vitally important for a successful launch of your online sales channels.
For example, you want to know which product information your customers need and who will take care of this within your organization.
The management formulates a digital commerce vision that is widely supported within the company.
You have a clear number of KPIs you want to send for the success of your webshop (eg returning customers within 1 month)
A successful e-commerce team lets you work agile , but at the same time keeps it sufficiently involved with the rest of your organization.
Let your offline sellers support online (and vice versa).
And when did a digital transformation succeed?
Eric Croon (ZAMRO) still has a tip: “When your own employees first go to the webshop and only then to the ERP, then you know that you’re doing a good job.”
Without good texts, no successful e-commerce.
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