For many B2B companies, growing sales online must start with a new attitude, says B2B Next speaker Marc Kermisch, CIO and vice president, Red Wing Shoe Company.

Marc Kermisch

Beyond new technology and process change, gaining buy-in throughout the organization can be a hurdle in building out e-commerce at legacy-bound B2B companies, says Marc Kermisch, chief information officer at Red Wing Shoe Co. Inc., who will speak at B2B Next, to be held in Chicago September 24-26. In a panel on “Perfecting the Most Important Pitch of All: To Your C-Suite,” Kermisch will discuss how to encourage a change in a company’s mindset.

In a recent interview with B2BecNews, Kermisch, who also is vice president of The Garage, Red Wing’s innovation center, discussed the opportunity in digital commerce for manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors—and managing change to support it.

Q: What is driving companies like Red Wing to expand online in B2B commerce?

Kermisch:  While our customers are demanding that we open up this channel for them, it also allows us to create a tighter relationship with our customers. For example, through mobile/online experiences we are able to collect valuable insights through their browsing, enabling us to create a more complete composite of who our customers are. We can customize the shopping experience, cross-sell and upsell through product recommendations and provide guided product discovery and deeper access to product information, including training and product videos.


Combining e-commerce with online service capabilities, we also can create transparency with our customers in ways that would be difficult through traditional selling and service methods. Through B2B e-commerce, we can not only provide the ability to purchase online, but give customers insight to available inventory, shipping status, billing/invoice details and access to our customer experience teams and related issues we may be collaborating on.

Instead of thinking about the enablement of B2B e-commerce as a threat to how you do business, think about how it can enable your organization to shift from processing orders to helping solve your customers’ problems.
Marc Kermisch, CIO and vice president, The Garage
Red Wing Shoe Company

Q:  What are some of the biggest challenges?

Kermisch:  Legacy systems and processes increase the costs and barriers to enabling B2B e-commerce. There is also the challenge of managing the organizational change and gaining the buy-in of the whole organization, from front-line sales and service employees to management. Each level has to embrace new ways of doing business with our customers.

Instead of thinking about the enablement of B2B e-commerce as a threat to how you do business, think about how it can enable your organization to shift from processing orders to helping solve your customers’ problems.


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

Kermisch:  B2B e-commerce isn’t about the technology or enabling the capability to purchase online. It is truly about changing how you interact and enable your customers to transact from end to end. Your sales, service and fulfillment organizations will have to change to provide the right level of service via the online channels as the more traditional sales channel. Ensuring your back-office capabilities are able to meet the demands of e-commerce is just as important as building a strong e-commerce storefront.

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

Kermisch:  B2B e-commerce brings the promise of easing the friction points in doing business with your customers. However, technology can’t replace the experience of interacting with a live person. Ensuring that the technology that is enabled is complementary to the service that your customers are used to is important. You can’t just replace the human touch with technology.


Q:  From your own experience, is there an example of how following this piece of advice—or even, initially not following it—affects B2B e-commerce?  

Kermisch: Our customers have been used to being able to pick up the phone and call their salesperson, local store, or our customer service line. As we enabled technology to automate key components such as invoicing and billing, we quickly found that our customer data was deficient. We learned that our support organizations had inserted manual steps in our old process to make up for deficiencies in data in our systems. So we have had to put a concerted effort into connecting with our customers, validating that our systems have the correct billing and customer contact information.

We also learned of gaps in the product information we needed to flow to our commerce platforms. We had data in multiple systems that sometimes didn’t match on how we positioned and sold the products. In order to ensure an accurate product catalog and price lists, we had to clean up our product data and bridge systems to get a full composite of each product.

As you enable new technology and business processes, you can’t underestimate the importance of data quality and master data management. You need to inspect the data required to support your technology transformation and get out ahead of your data quality issues.


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