Columbia Sportswear Company plans to kick up online business sales with its recently relaunched B2B site.

The manufacturer of outdoor and active wear projects 90% of its business orders will be processed online this year, up from 50% in 2015, Bryan Leach, B2B and sales application manager, said in an interview recently at the 2016 B2B Online conference in Chicago. He declines to provide sales or financial information. Columbia sells to some 3,000 business customers located across the globe. “The growth is coming from continued adoption of the site, and moving customers away from processing their sales orders through a customer service rep. We’re all about bringing the business online to self-service,” Leach said at a B2B online conference.

The manufacturer started selling online to businesses in 2009 through a proprietary e-commerce platform that Leach says did not load quickly. Web pages that featured a lot of images could take up to four seconds to load. “We knew every one-second delay in website loading time causes customer abandonment rates to increase 7 to 10%,” Leach said during the B2B Online conference presentation.

He says ColumbiaConnect.com’s subpar performance turned customers and sales reps away from using the site. “We have more than 200 sales reps. If they’re not utilizing the site, how are they going to evangelize it in the field?” Leach says.

In 2014, the manufacturer decided to revamp its B2B e-commerce site to make it easier for Columbia employees and customers to use. “We wanted to crawl before we walked before we ran,” Leach says. “We had already designed and developed an entire site and rolled it out with little involvement with our internal stakeholders. It didn’t meet the needs of our customer, so we decided to take a whole different approach.” This approach included gaining input from company employees, business customers and analyzing industry leaders’ online practices.

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Columbia’s internal sales team, joined by the marketing, IT, e-commerce and other departments, got together to hash out the company’s requirements for selling online, Leach says. Together, the team developed a list of features necessary for its B2B e-commerce business, including the ability to integrate with Columbia’s SAP SE enterprise resource planning, or ERP, system, and engage customers in a way that was clear. Columbia uses its ERP system to organize information on inventory, financial records and customer activity.

The company also identified its goals for the new e-commerce site as growing revenue, selling more to existing customers and attracting new customers. “E-commerce for us is about reducing operational expenses and redirecting customers away from all those different order entry and order management touchpoints to reduce the cost of sales,” Leach says.

Columbia then went out and interviewed its business customers to find out what their pain points were with the old ColumbiaConnect site and to get their views on what would constitute a best-in-class B2B e-commerce site. Business customers said a meaningful site experience was both personalized and included a lot of product images and content. They said important features would be 360-degree product images; computer-aided design, or CAD, drawings; and details concerning the item’s fit, weight and measurement. Columbia’s business buyers also wanted a more accurate search function, and information available on personal order history, pricing and shipping status.

The company’s third step in planning its new B2B e-commerce site was to analyze such online powerhouses as Amazon.com Inc., Staples Inc., Dell Inc. and others to familiarize itself with trends in e-commerce. “As the lines between B2B and B2C blur, and selling becomes more natural, we wanted to look at both models to see what’s popular,” Leach says.

In-house developers then began building the site in late 2014, and the new ColumbiaConnect.com launched in late 2015. Since the new site launched, online sales at ColumbiaConnect.com have grown 28%, average order value increased 52% and there was also a 92% decrease in the amount of time the site was down for maintenance, Leach says. “Back then, the site could’ve been down for as much as three hours, and today we’re down for about 5 minutes if we’re every down at all,” Leach says.

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It also now takes a fraction of a second to load product pages full of such rich, customer-requested content as 360-degree product images and CAD drawings. Once customers login to ColumbiaConnect.com, they can access personalized pricing, order history and shipping information. The site is also integrated with the company’s ERP system, which provides accurate updates on inventory and pricing. “Grab low-hanging fruit and iterate,” Leach says of Columbia’s relaunch. “It’s like the age-old adage, ‘Don’t boil the ocean.’ Identify your key requirements and then grow and proceed from there.”

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