With a good digital strategy, participation of sales people, and the right ecommerce platform, manufacturers and distributors can overcome their struggles and grow with digital commerce.

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Karie Daudt

B2BecNews recently published survey results that illustrate that ecommerce sales are a very small part of the big picture for many B2B sellers. In a survey of more than 65 B2B sellers on their ecommerce business operations and user expectations, it found that ecommerce sales represent a small part of total sales for many sellers. For 51.4% of sellers, ecommerce represents 10% or less of all sales.

I’d like to start by doing a deep dive into this data and then, most importantly, give you some actionable ways to evaluate your organization’s situation, increase website conversions, and improve that percentage.

There was a lot of great data provided in the survey B2BecNews conducted, but I’d like to focus on the finding that 51.4% of B2B sellers, whether in manufacturing or distribution, operate ecommerce sites that are bringing in less than 10% of their sales. Honestly, these results don’t surprise me at all. If you’re one of the B2B companies that falls into this category, where ecommerce represents less than 10% of your total revenue, the good news is that you’re not alone. The bad news is that you probably don’t want to be in that category. Ecommerce is a major investment and should be yielding a much higher return than 10% of your revenue.

Why are so many B2B organizations behind with ecommerce?

If you look at the data about B2B customers’ expectations, you see that a high number of them want the ability to self-serve. These expectations have a direct impact on why companies invest in ecommerce, and no matter what technology you base your ecommerce on, it’s going to be an investment, right? I’ll talk more about technology later, because you really do get out of an eCommerce platform what you put into it, but I want to start with why you should care.

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As the market continues to evolve, your customers will want to interact with your brand digitally until they’re ready to interact face to face. Building a solid commerce foundation within your business is critical. It has to work.

A lot of companies in the B2B space begin an ecommerce initiative focusing on their existing customers. It’s very common for B2B companies to start there, and I believe that is probably responsible for a portion of the companies that fall within that 51.4%—it’s just the stage they-‘re at within their digital transformation journey.

However, as companies get that foundation built, they should very quickly start t expanding the capabilities of their digital commerce platform to be able to focus on engaging new customers, growing business with existing customers through cross-selling and upselling, offering promotions, and using any other ways their platform enables them to drive conversions.

3 ways to increase B2B ecommerce adoption

1. Lay the Strategic Groundwork

Aside from companies who are in the early stages of their journey, the main reason companies fail at digital commerce is because they didn’t make it a strategic priority within their organization. Keep in mind that ecommerce is not something you just try out, it is an investment in your future success. When companies don’t look at ecommerce as a strategic initiative and fail to focus on getting their leadership and other stakeholders invested, involved, and on the same page, it’s not going to work.

I hear this from companies all the time, “We tried ecommerce, it didn’t work for our market,” and “Our customers don’t like ecommerce, they’re not going to use it.” The reality is that maybe they don’t today, but, sooner or later, they will. If you wait until they’re ready, it’s going to be too late. You want to get the foundation in place today.

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So how do you make ecommerce a strategic initiative? It’s really about getting stakeholders across your organization—your leadership team, your sales leaders, maybe your CEO—involved and start looking at how this impacts your business.

Remember, it’s about thinking differently. Think about how your customers interact with your business from the outside in. It’s not an inside-out approach. You need to understand what your customers are asking for today and what they will be asking for down the road. If they’re not using your current ecommerce site, it’s probably for a reason. In order to fix what’s broken, you have to make digital commerce a strategic priority.

Making ecommerce a strategic initiative also means looking at your internal processes. A lot of your processes were probably designed to deal with people—to manage people issues. So how can you automate those processes? How can you rethink those situations to make the experience better?

For example, in B2B, a lot of the customers who are engaging with your ecommerce site probably have a contract. What if their contract is in place, but they haven’t made an online purchase from you yet? If it takes 7 to 10 days for them to be approved and on-boarded to buy online, they’re not going to buy online. Making sure your on-boarding process is timely and frictionless, and then looking for ways to engage your customers and keep them engaged, is very important to the success of your overall ecommerce initiative.

2. Engage Your Sales Organization

Successful adoption of an ecommerce initiative is going to require some change management throughout your organization. You especially need your sales team to be behind this. I’ve talked to so many companies whose sales people have said, “I’m not going to get behind this ecommerce initiative because it’s intended to replace me.” It’s not intended to replace your sales people. It’s intended to augment them—to support them and help them be more successful. It’s designed to take some of those low-value customer tasks off their plates so they can focus on really helping the customer succeed, which is what the role of sales is all about.

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You need to do your part in reassuring and supporting your sales team. I’ve heard executives ask, “Why should I pay my sales staff if they didn’t help with this order?” The reality is that even with an effective ecommerce site in place, your sales people are still a crucial part of the process. They’re meeting with your customers and providing the face of your organization. If you want them to help you on-board your customers to your ecommerce site, they’ll need to feel confident and comfortable that the experience their customers will have with the site will match the level of service they would provide face to face.

If they’re not getting compensated for sales coming through ecommerce, you need to go to bat for them. They need to be on board. If they’re not, you need to find out why. Support from sales is critical to the success of ecommerce.

3. Implement the Right Technology for Your Needs

The third reason I often see B2B ecommerce initiatives fail is the technology itself. If you selected a solution that is not able to handle your complex catalogs, multi-tier pricing, inventory across multiple warehouses, or any of the other complexities that come with B2B, your ecommerce site will not provide the benefits you need.

If the user experience does not meet the expectations of the various roles involved in your buyer journey, they will bypass it, which means they will either be contacting your sales and customer service teams directly or moving on to a competitor with a better ecommerce site. Maybe the researcher is struggling to find what they need because your search functionality is not up to par, or your SEO efforts are lacking. Or maybe the product descriptions and images are missing or lacking detail.

It could be because your technology is not capable of doing those things. Some of the more basic, entry-level eCcommerce platforms are not designed to support those B2B complexities. If you’re in that situation, it may be time to really evaluate the capabilities of your current platform and compare them to what your organization truly needs.

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When you invest in ecommerce, it’s not just about putting up a website. It’s about the future of your business. What would you invest in a physical location, or expanding into a new area? There are lots of investments you make to grow your business and you need to think of your digital channel as one of these. So look at your technology and how you are currently using it.

  • Are you using your platform to market to existing customers?
  • Are you doing promotions?
  • Are you doing cross-selling and upselling?
  • Are you enabling your customers to do what they need to do?
  • Are you making it about them?

It might be that your technology is part of the problem. Maybe it’s the platform itself, or maybe it’s just the way it was implemented. In order for you to really know, you need to assess what you’re trying to accomplish and evaluate whether your platform is aligned with your goals. A disconnect between the two can negatively impact your customer experience and cause them to look elsewhere. If they’re not buying from you, they’re buying from someone else, so your investment in—and commitment to—getting this right is really important.

Karie Daudt has more than two decades of experience in digital commerce, management, and business development in the manufacturing and distribution industry. As Senior Commerce Consultant at Perficient Digital, she helps clients identify problems and works to align them with the right technology solution to fit their needs.

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