Manufacturer Gloveman Supplies has learned how to make its B2B e-commerce site more valuable to its customers—while also making its own operations more efficient.

Chloë Thomas, Founder, eCommerceMasterPlan.com

Gloveman Supplies Ltd. is a United Kingdom-based manufacturer and supplier of gloves and consumables to the healthcare industry and beyond, with a turnover of 6.5m British pounds (US$9.1 million). They’ve been operating for more than 12 years, and started their B2B e-commerce journey in 2012.

A few key pieces of day-to-day functionality make the Gloveman VIP website pretty much unique to each customer.

They are a “traditional” (if we can call it that!) business consumables supply company and the core sales team is a call center of 14, rather than a road-based sales team.

Going e-commerce

In recent years, Gloveman launched business-to-consumer and business-to-business e-commerce sites on separate platforms.

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They launched the B2C site in order to serve the customer who was happy to pay retail prices, and didn’t qualify for a B2B account. Launching a B2C site has increased sales, and let them tap into a high-margin sector while capitalizing on the systems they already have set up—customer service, warehouse, etc.

The B2B site—“Gloveman VIP”—was initially launched to offer customers something they couldn’t get from the competition: to gain a competitive advantage. Unfortunately, the initial launch just didn’t work because the first web design agency couldn’t get the integration into Sage financial management software working properly.

Since the second site, with working Sage integration, has gone live, they’re finally starting to realize the benefits of e-commerce for serving their B2B customers.

Why the Integration With Sage Was the Number One Critical Success Factor

Gloveman’s 3,000 customers each have their own negotiated price list, and approved 30-day credit limits.

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Credit card payment is possible on the website; customers can pay for their order as they place it, or settle invoices via the website. However, the majority of Gloveman’s customers use the website to place orders that they settle once the invoice is raised.

That means it’s essential that the website has access to the same account information that the call center operative has:

  • What’s the customer’s credit limit? Do they have any credit left, or do they need to pay some invoices before they can order more?
  • When do those invoices go out?
  • If an invoice is overdue by 45 days, don’t let them order anything else.
  • The correct price list per customer.
  • Any delivery charge agreements for that customer.

If this integration isn’t foolproof, then it simply makes the website full of loopholes and the potential creator of huge risks.

It also means that, if the customer is on credit-stop, an order can be placed, but won’t be shipped until older invoices are cleared. So, Gloveman still gets the order, and it doesn’t go to the competition.

Website as Account Management Hub

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Now that the Sage integration is foolproof, it’s made a host of extra functionality possible on the website so that the customer is in total control of their account.

As well as being able to place orders via the website (by spreadsheet upload as well as by the normal e-commerce “add to basket” method), each customer can access their full account history (all orders they have ever placed, not only those placed via the website).

  • They can see the status of all invoices, and pay them;
  • They can see how much credit they have remaining;
  • They can see their previous orders, and use them to create new orders.

While some B2B businesses keep their biggest customers off the website, for Gloveman the biggest customers are the ones who get the most from the e-commerce experience because of the account management hub.

For example, for a care agency with their head office in London, but 80 offices around the U.K., GSL can set up the site so that all the offices can place their orders. But those orders don’t get processed until the head office signs them off (or amends or cancels them). With the whole process managed by the Gloveman VIP site, and with both the head office and each office having full view of the status of each order, it all makes things much easier for the B2B customer’s team.

A Unique Site for Each B2B Customer

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Above we’ve seen how the account management hub can be customized to better serve the customer, but customization of a B2B site doesn’t stop there.

A few key pieces of day-to-day functionality mean that the whole Gloveman VIP website can be pretty much unique to each customer:

  • Each customer has their own product price list (yes, one price list per customer);
  • Customers can have exclusive access to products (e.g., products that aren’t kept in stock and have slower delivery speeds);
  • Each customer can have a unique product selection to order from;
  • Customers can have their own delivery price structure. (Normally it’s based on post code and spending over a minimum amount results in free delivery. But if a customer has negotiated a different rate, that can be set in the website too).

So, each B2B customer can have a completely personalized website experience.

The Challenge of Migration

For the last two years the website has been live and the message to customers has been: ‘It’s there if you want it’. Gloveman hasn’t been actively encouraging customers to switch. During this time, 20% of their customers have converted to using the website.

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Increasing that number is something the whole Gloveman team is now actively engaged in, because the efficiency savings to the business are so great.

These are some of the tactics they’re using to increase the uptake:

  • A carrot for the team: Incentivizing the sales team to migrate customers; alongside sales, it’s part of their key daily targets.
  • A stick for the customers: Announcing that statements will no longer be sent by post (invoices will still be posted). Customers must now provide an email address to which statements can be sent, and are encouraged to use the website’s account management hub to manage their account status.
  • A carrot for the customers: Actively educating the customers about the benefits, and talking them through the process. E.g., for the customer who still faxes in a printout of their spreadsheet order, Gloveman guides them through how to submit it online, and explains the benefits (that the online process automatically checks everything in an order, confirms if a product is in-stock, confirms price and delivery time, and that the customer will get the goods more quickly).

Overall for Gloveman, the website is there to add value to the company and its products.

It’s a tool that’s not a replacement for a sales team. Gloveman does not anticipate cutting their sales team even if every single customer migrates to the online offering.

Chloë Thomas is an e-commerce expert focused on marketing and the founder of the resource site eCommerceMasterPlan.com. This report was adapted from her book, “B2B eCommerce MasterPlan: How to Make Wholesale eCommerce a Key Part of your Business to Business Sales Growth,” which is available as a Kindle e-book, Audible audiobook and paperback.

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