It’s no secret that, today, B2B buyers expect the same easy experience in purchasing for their businesses that they have in making purchases as consumers on a top-flight B2C site. But the reasons manufacturers and distributors need to focus on growing their ecommerce business now go beyond just that comparison, says Jeff McRitchie, vice president of ecommerce at MyBinding.com, an online dealer of products for binding and lamination.
“A shift in demographics to a younger, more technologically savvy B2B buyer is putting a huge amount of pressure on traditional B2B companies to expand their online footprint,” says McRitchie, who will speak at B2B Next, to be held in Chicago September 30-October 2. “And online platforms and technologies offer significant opportunities for cost savings and revenue growth, if done well.”
In an October 1 panel discussion, “Make Repeat Buyers Your Best Customers,” McRitchie will talk about successful tactics in turning first-time buyers into regular customers, a key revenue driver as 20% of B2B online sellers get more than 50% of their sales from repeat buyers, according to data from B2BecNews.
McRitchie shared some of the strategic thinking that’s driving online growth at MyBinding.com in a recent interview.
Q: What is driving B2B companies like MyBinding to expand online?
McRitchie: Three major forces are pushing B2B companies online. B2B buyers are increasingly influenced by trends in their personal lives creating greater expectations for online experiences with their vendors. A shift in demographics to a younger, more technologically savvy B2B buyer is putting a huge amount of pressure on traditional B2B firms to expand their online footprint. And online platforms and technologies offer significant opportunities for cost savings and revenue growth if done well.
Q: What are the biggest challenges?
McRitchie: B2B companies often are plagued by complex systems, sales cycles, processes and organizational obstacles that can make the adoption and implementation of new technology difficult. Even when there is a clear vision for what needs to be accomplished the internal and external barriers, the cost and time required can seem daunting.
Finding the right talent, managing the projects well and spearheading projects high enough inside of organizations to get buy-in are all major obstacles that B2B online projects face. It can also be difficult for B2B companies to attract and retain the best ecommerce talent. The problems are more complex, and they really need the smartest people to help tackle them.
Q: What are the chief gains you’re realizing?
McRitchie: New customer acquisition, customer experience and our ability to serve smaller customers. The digital channels help us to acquire thousands of new customers and fill our pipeline with new opportunities that would not be available through traditional sales channels. They allow us to provide enhanced and personalized experiences with recommendations, and put a great deal of information into the hands of our customers. Likewise, the digital platforms allow us to serve smaller customers in a more self-service model that doesn’t fit well in our traditional sales organization.
Q: What is the biggest thing B2B companies still need to realize about ecommerce?
McRitchie: Ecommerce isn’t about implementing a piece of technology or keeping the sales team happy. It’s about meeting a customer need/desire. Too often, these projects get dealt with as large-scale technical improvements, which they certainly are. However, the real benefits are going to come through the improvements to customers’ lives and experiences, and these should be placed first. Removing the ecommerce strategy and ownership from the IT team is a great start to solving this issue.
Q: What is your most valuable piece of advice for B2B companies looking to add online sales or increase them?
McRitchie: The hardest battles and the biggest obstacles that you are going to face are likely going to be internal. Ecommerce is not only a threat to the status quo, but it often requires a fundamental reevaluation of your business model and go to market strategies. These things are difficult, and if you aren’t careful, stakeholders from inside the company won’t be onboard. Take the time to seriously look at the implications for channel conflict and ensure that you are ready and willing to move before you start. Sometimes it is better to find smaller iterative wins than to try and change the entire organization at once. Other times it is OK to simply say that a certain new technology or trend isn’t right for the organization at this time.
Q: Can you recall from your own experience an example of how following this piece of advice—or not following it—can affect B2B ecommerce?
McRitchie: Successfully navigating the complexity of ecommerce along with our sales organization has been the key to making ecommerce work for customer acquisition. This meant finding ways to overcome channel conflict with sales reps who felt they were competing with the website, such as developing a more uniform pricing structure so that pricing could be published online without alienating customers or sales reps.
It also meant adjusting our supply chain to become more lean and working with our accounting group to adjust credit policies to work with new customer groups. Any one of these problems can cripple B2B ecommerce strategy if alignment can’t be found.
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