To succeed in B2B e-commerce, stay close to your customers and skip ivory tower thinking, says B2B Next speaker Jesse Lazarus, chief process and innovation officer for Kravet Inc.

Jesse Lazarus, chief process and innovation officer, Kravet Inc.

“It’s incredibly important to resist assuming you already know what your customers want and need,” says B2B Next speaker Jesse Lazarus, chief process and innovation officer for Kravet Inc., a century-old supplier of high-end home furnishings to the interior design trade.

Lazarus will speak on how to best connect B2B buyers with the content that drives sales at B2B Next, the conference and exhibition to launch in Chicago September 24-26 as a joint project of noted B2B e-commerce analyst Andy Hoar and Vertical Web Media, the publisher of B2BecNews. In his session, “Operating a 21st Century, Content-Driven B2B Commerce Platform,” he’ll address how to prioritize types of content within the commerce platform and how to identify the system features and functions that support them best.

In an interview with B2BecNews, Lazarus emphasized the value of listening to customer feedback in addition to relying on analytics data.  “The more direct the input from your customer base, the better,” he said.

Q: Can you share an example of how this advice affected B2B e-commerce?

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Lazarus: For our new site design we gathered quite a bit of customer feedback through surveys, focus research, and some field studies. We were migrating from a home-grown e-commerce solution that delivered a lot of great functionality, so we also had a lot of analytics to use in our design process. There were some functions that we did not see high-volume use of when looking at aggregate data, but that we did hear about in our customer research.

To meet internal deadlines we decided to add some of these functions after going live, hedging towards guidance from the analytics and away from the customer point of view.

At launch we had a great reception to the new site, but persistent comments about two missing functionalitiesboth items that we had decided to develop later based on the analytics data. In reviewing we realized that while at an aggregate those functions did not get high traffic, it was our power users that used them most often, which we had heard in the customer research. A little context with the data set would have told us originally to listen to the customer feedback.

Q: What is driving B2B companies to expand online?

Lazarus: This is just a result of evolutionary change in the way customers want to buy. Suppliers need to bring the threshold to the customer, rather than waiting for that customer to come to the supplier. B2B buyers are consumers in their own right, and their desire for service and availability is shaped by the digital environment where they do their own private shopping. The playing field has shifted to where customers dictate where their shopping interface needs to exist, and that need may change based on whatever their current situation issometimes online, sometimes in person, and other times over the phone/email/chat.

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Q: What are some of the biggest challenges?

Lazarus: Digitally, the challenge can be about building a front end that can provide not only content but also simple functionality where the website can deliver both education and ease of shopping. Depending on the business model and industry the other challenges can vary greatly, anything from dealing with overlap of a physical sales organization or incorporating complex pricing arrangements defined by the customer, to pivoting a traditional contact center for online help as well as more standard phone/email support inquiries.

Q: What are the biggest gains online companies are realizing?

When price and general availability are generally equal from multiple suppliers, the company with the lowest barrier to entry (for buyers) is going to win the salethis is where a great online presence can become a differentiator. I also think the natural extension of having a great online presence is that it expands your marketplace. It’s not only about servicing customers better, but also acquiring customers that the physical sales channels may not have been able to reach.

Q: What is the biggest thing B2B companies still need to realize about e-commerce?

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Lazarus: That it is not going away! We are rapidly approaching a time (if not already there) where a good percentage of B2B buyers are digital natives, or on the cusp of that segment. Their expectation is that online commerce will exist, and purchasing decisions will be made based on that functionality being available.

Q: What is your most valuable piece of advice for B2B companies looking to introduce online sales or increase them? 

Lazarus: It has to be all about the customer experiencethe site design, the functionality available, etc., all have to be determined by customer needs. This is a continuous improvement initiativecustomer needs will constantly evolve, and part of the online plan has to be about how to continue to expand the experience and keep delivering to the user’s expectations.

Registration for B2B Next is open. The conference features:

  • 38 Sessions
  • 44 Speakers
  • 28 Exhibitors
  • 9 Networking Events

Learn more at B2BNext.net.

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Sign up for a complimentary subscription to B2BecNews, a newsletter published four times a week with coverage of technology and business trends in the growing B2B e-commerce industry. B2BecNews is owned by Vertical Web Media LLC, which also publishes DigitalCommerce360.com, Internet Retailer and Internet Health Management.

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