B2B ecommerce has exploded to become a major force in the US Economy, and an exciting new selling channel in many traditional industries. Forrester Research reports that the B2B ecommerce market totaled $889 billion in 2017. By 2020, that number is projected to eclipse $1.2 trillion. B2B ecommerce has quietly grown to surpass the size of the more visible B2C ecommerce marketplace, today accounting for 2.5 the volume of B2C online purchases. While surprising to many people, the fact is that selling fasteners, medical equipment, electrical components, and other business-specific products online dwarfs the volume of shoes, make-up, and music to consumers via the Internet.
Recognizing this volume, more and more manufacturers and distributors in traditional industries are launching B2B ecommerce efforts. Unfortunately, many companies don’t do their due diligence ahead of launching an ecommerce initiative. This results in less than optimal ecommerce platform deployments, ineffectively structured organizations, and missed opportunities - which all create inefficiencies and stifle growth.
By understanding these common mistakes, you can avoid the common pitfalls associated with implementing B2B ecommerce. With this in mind, let’s look at three of the most common mistakes companies make when implementing B2B ecommerce—and what you can do to avoid them.
Mistake #1: Failing to Define Your Requirements in Detail
All too often, I see companies fail to put in the time required to create a thorough set of requirements for their ecommerce system, grounded in a solid understanding of business objectives. In doing so, these firms drastically increase the likelihood they will choose the wrong platform —which prevents them from being able to take full advantage of their ecommerce opportunity.
Taking the plunge into ecommerce for the first time is an extremely time-consuming process. The last thing you want to do is have to replatform shortly after launching because you made the wrong choice to begin with.
Because so much is at stake, it is imperative that you choose the right platform the first time—one you can live with for five to ten years, or even longer. The only way you can ensure this is done correctly is by extensively documenting your requirements up front. Be sure to include information about features, workflows, pricing, contract support, flexibility, integrations, and more.
Your company is not likely an expert in ecommerce, so choosing the right platform from the start can be a tricky and taxing process. Because of that, many companies outsource these responsibilities to companies that are experts in the space. Yes, this requires additional upfront investment and time, but the ROI and risk reduction make it worthwhile.
Mistake #2: Underestimating the Importance of the User Experience
I have observed that B2B companies tend to have a nasty habit of putting up ecommerce storefronts that are difficult-to-use, bolt-ons to their existing ERP (Enteprise Resource Planning) systems, and simply expecting orders to come flowing in. When they don’t, they either blame their customers or figure that ecommerce won’t work for them.
They’re wrong on both counts.
When implementing an ecommerce system, it’s critical to focus on the user experience (UX). Today’s B2B buyer expects the digital user experience to make their jobs’ easier, and reflect consumer-like online shopping experiences. If the UX is poorly executed and the resulting web site is difficult to use, how can you expect customers to actually use it?
Keep in mind that business buyers’ expectations are set by their personal experiences in buying from the most advanced ecommerce sites in the world. Retailers like Amazon continue to set the bar extremely high for online retailers—which includes your company, whether you like it or not. While B2B web sites must accommodate B2B buying workflows and nuances such as customer-specific pricing, custom catalogs, and payment on credit terms, the foundational elements of a B2C web site are also critical to incorporate. If your site search, navigation, product details, listing pages, shopping cart, and checkout aren’t optimized to meet the standards of modern online buyers, your ecommerce site will not be effective.
Invest heavily in building a desirable UX, and customers will keep coming back.
Mistake #3: Neglecting to Involve Your Sales Team
Your sales team is nervous. They hear the word “ecommerce” and they think competition and lost commissions.
Fear isn’t warranted in the vast majority of cases. However, many B2B ecommerce replatforming efforts are launched without input from the sales team—at least when it comes to planning and implementation. As a result, a large amount of value is left on the table, and sales teams will fight against adoption of ecommerce among your customer base once you have launched your site.
In reality, ecommerce is a force multiplier for the sales team by allowing associates to spend more time on strategic issues with key accounts. An effective ecommerce web site eliminates time spent on low value, routine tasks such as entering orders or answering order status questions. And, if sales team members are commissioned for sales made to their accounts via ecommerce, economic incentives are aligned as well.
Don’t keep your ecommerce replatforming initiative isolated to a few top executives or driven solely by the marketing team. Instead, use your sales team strategically. Real value unlocks are available when selling channels are in sync, and getting the sales team involved early in defining your requirements and setting objectives will enhance your return when you launch.
Benefits of Successful Replatforming
The B2B ecommerce market is growing bigger every day. Frost and Sullivan projects that 27% of all B2B transactions will be conducted online by 2020. Think about what this type of sales penetration could mean for your business. Not only are sales transacted via ecommerce more efficient to process, but they often occur at higher gross margins. Online sales also frequently represent incremental revenue – either via increased share of wallet from your existing customers or from new customers.
Capturing these results for your company requires significant investment of internal and external resources. However, real return on investment exists for companies that diligently plan for and execute on this opportunity. Do it right, and you’ll be eating your piece of the pie in the near future.