For manufacturers who’ve relied on phone/fax/email ordering for decades, the switch to ecommerce is daunting. That’s why it’s imperative to define your ecommerce leader and align all departments with this person’s vision.

George Anderson

George Anderson

The manufacturing industry has been slow to adopt new customer-facing technologies. Phone, fax, and email ordering have served manufacturers well for years, and longtime customers are familiar with these ordering methods. However, with the business-to-business ecommerce market hitting $1 trillion a year early, the shift to digital is accelerating.

Manufacturers who want to enter the ecommerce market must answer a critical question: “Who owns our new B2B ecommerce project?”

It’s tempting to task an existing business department or silo with responsibility for ecommerce success. Typically, we see web shop ownership assigned to IT or the marketing department. And while ecommerce will absolutely affect these departments (and more), neither one has enough perspective to drive ecommerce success across the entire organization.

That’s why manufacturers must define an ecommerce leader who has the perspective to align all departments with a vision of e-business success.

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The perspective of the ecommerce leader

The role of the ecommerce leader is different from legacy roles in the manufacturing industry. The ecommerce leader functions on the business side, rather than the IT side, but the role requires a larger perspective than marketing alone—because ecommerce will change processes across all departments. Here’s how the ecommerce leader must bring perspective and vision to all organizational silos affected by ecommerce:

  • Sales—Self-service ordering may disrupt your sales team’s relationships with existing customers. Who has the perspective to work with sales professionals from the very beginning to craft a plan which everyone can get behind?
  • Customer Service—If your ecommerce solution displays real-time enterprise resource planning data for inventory, contract pricing, shipping information, and more, it will reduce the phone/fax/email burden on your customer service department. Who has the perspective to align customer service with new initiatives that will support the ecommerce business?
  • IT—If your ecommerce solution doesn’t integrate to your ERP software in real time, it will increase the workload for IT. Batch updates between ERP and ecommerce will be unavoidable, and IT will have to debug the entire ecommerce stack when something breaks. (In contrast, a full-stack ecommerce solution with real-time ERP integration reduces the workload for your IT team.) Who has the perspective to select an ecommerce platform that makes life easy for IT?
  • Marketing—Your marketing team most likely wants a slick, mobile-friendly, Amazon-style user experience, or UX. Who can blame them? We’ve all come to expect great UX when buying online. But who has the perspective to marry that Amazon-style UX to the real-time integration that works best for customers and IT?
  • Finance—With self-service ordering comes self-service payments, whether through credit/debit cards, ACH transfer, e-check, or another common method. Who has the perspective to understand workflows in your Finance department, get their feedback, and incorporate it into the B2B ecommerce plan?

Acting on the voice of the customer

With this global view of the organization, the ecommerce leader must provide a vision for ecommerce—and a roadmap on how to make the transformation a success. Since that roadmap will include changes to workflows at all the departments listed above, it’s also critical that department leaders align their teams with the ecommerce leader’s vision.

But what does that look like at a typical manufacturer? What change should the ecommerce leader advocate?

The ecommerce leader acts as the voice of the customer to all internal departments.

This represents a shift for manufacturers. Historically, they haven’t had to think too much about the customer experience they created, whether that customer was a dealer, distributor, or other entity in the supply chain. However, with the launch of B2B ecommerce, manufacturers launch a new product in addition to all others. That product is their customer experience, whether the customer is B2B or B2C.

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Someone must guide that transformation of customer experience. Someone has to step in with the voice of the customer and say, “That process won’t work for me because it’s too difficult,” or, “I can’t make the decision to buy without real-time inventory availability, so this technology won’t work.”

That person is the ecommerce leader.

Measuring success from Day 1

While it’s essential for the ecommerce leader to act as the voice of the customer, advocating for customer experience across the organization, that alone isn’t enough. The ecommerce leader must also define the metrics of ecommerce success—both at a high level, and at the level of each individual department. Only the ecommerce leader has the perspective to measure the contribution which each department must make to ecommerce success.

Of course, the ecommerce leader must have a plan that goes beyond launching ecommerce. While getting the platform off the ground is plenty of work in itself, the real race doesn’t even start until the platform is live. The ecommerce leader must continue to measure success and lead the organization down the evolving path of ecommerce.

Acting as the voice of the customer, defining metrics, and making changes where necessary, the ecommerce leader has the power to drive real business value from ecommerce. That’s why it’s essential for manufacturers to define this role and align their organization around the perspective of the ecommerce leader.

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George Anderson is the communications manager at Corevist Inc., a company that offers Corevist Commerce, an SAP-integrated B2B e-commerce platform. He has published articles and guest blogs on many business topics and writes science fiction on the side. Connect with him on Twitter orLinkedIn.

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