While most people in a B2B organization don’t think of ecommerce as the digital team does, ecommerce needs collaboration across departments to succeed, says Steve Max, director of ecommerce at TE Connectivity.
With sales of $14 billion globally last year, Switzerland-based electronics component manufacturer TE Connectivity is well established as a supplier among enterprise-scale companies. But in a bid to expand sales among smaller and mid-sized customers, the manufacturer of sensors and related products is turning to ecommerce. In 2018 it launched the online TE Store, after 18 months of research, development and testing to make sure the site and its functions were bullet-proof.
“We have seen initial success with the launch of e-commerce in the United States in 2018 and we are working now to provide this option to our European customers this year,” Max says.
Max will speak on a panel at the 2019 B2B Next Conference and Exhibition to be held Sept. 30-Oct. 2 in Chicago, entitled The Manufacturing 300: Measuring the Top B2B Ecommerce Leaders in Manufacturing. In an interview with B2BecNews, he shared from experience what he found to be the most useful elements in turning the company’s vision for commerce into reality.
Q: What is driving B2B companies like TE Connectivity to expand online?
Max: Our customers are demanding it. In our case, design engineers often start their journey on the internet. We felt it was our responsibility to create a space in which they could conduct product research, compare pricing and availability and then have the option to make a purchase right then and there. People don’t want to have to call, email or chat. This isn’t a new revelation for e-commerce as a whole, but B2B manufacturers increasingly are realizing that it applies to their customers as well. We believe our online store opens up new doors to the hundreds of thousands of smaller and medium-sized customers whose businesses could benefit from our technology and capabilities.
Q: What are the biggest challenges?
Max: Some of the biggest challenges we faced while launching the TE Store were talent, product selection and internal change management.
It’s hard to find the right people. You need to find a good balance of external recruiting and developing internal talent. We made sure to not only build a strong center team with direct oversight of the TE Store, but we also created an extended team to be advocates for digital in all areas of our organization.
But one of the underestimated challenges is determining which products to put online, particularly when you offer custom products or many variants of a core product. It’s hard, but it’s an exercise that drives focus on what you really want to sell – and make money on.
Regarding change management, oftentimes you find the way your company does business is based on manual workarounds or information that is in a few people’s heads. You need to understand those processes to replicate them with a digital solution, and you need people to believe in digital if you want them to spend time helping you understand those processes. How you manage change is critical to achieving that.
Steve Max, Director, Global Digital Commerce
Q: What are the chief gains you’re realizing?
Max: We’re getting to know TE customers even better. Digital allows us more visibility into our customers’ behavior and enables us to quantify touch points with our customers that we didn’t have in the past. We’re able to gain new learnings to challenge past assumptions, and that creates opportunity.
Q: What is the biggest thing B2B companies still need to realize about ecommerce?
Max: Long-term, it’s not an option to not support your customers digitally. The technology piece is easy, relative to the other internal change management and business process changes needed. How you do business needs to change.
Q: From what you’ve learned yourself – What is your most valuable piece of advice for B2B companies looking to add online sales or increase them?
Max: Communicate and collaborate with every level of your organization. Most people in your organization aren’t spending a lot of time thinking about the digital customer experience like your digital team is. You need those people’s support to be successful. Spend the time to communicate your vision, explain the value of digital, listen to their point of view and learn how your company sells to and services customers.
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