While an ecommerce website can help B2B sellers attract new customers, it is equally as important, if not more so, for retaining existing customers, because it cuts the cost of acquiring new customers and eliminates the friction of placing orders via phone, fax or email. Without an ecommerce channel, B2B sellers risk losing existing customers to competitors that offer an ecommerce website.
But as industrial equipment manufacturer Blount International has come to realize, implementing an ecommerce website can be challenging. Home-grown websites, for example, can be costly to build from scratch, and out-of-the-box solutions can require extensive customization to meet individual buyers’ needs and connect to back-office enterprise resource planning systems. Both approaches increase the operational demands on the IT department.
Intent on launching an ecommerce website that it could integrate with its SAP system, Blount decided to go with a provider of cloud-based ecommerce platforms and avoid increasing the workload on its IT department. Blount manufactures industrial equipment and parts for
use in agriculture, forestry, and construction.
Getting control of product and customer data
“Our initial focus was to use ecommerce as a way to lock in existing customers as opposed to attracting new customers,” says Kevin Schneider, director of business systems for Blount. “We also wanted an ecommerce platform that integrated with our SAP ERP system as we rely heavily on the data in that system.”
Blount decided to work with Corevist Inc. to deploy Corevist Commerce, a managed, cloud-based platform, which is designed to be compatible with SAP. Because of that set-up, Blount’s IT staff did not have to take on the additional work of integrating an ecommerce platform into its SAP system.
In addition, Blount received an ecommerce platform that eliminates data duplication between its SAP and ecommerce platforms; changes made to business rules in its SAP system are automatically reflected in the Corevist platform. This ensures continuity in the customer experience, whether the buyer is purchasing online or through a sales representative, Schneider says.
For example, buyers placing an order online receive the same product, pricing and inventory information as they would if they ordered through a sales representative. For Blount’s IT staff, this means it needs to provide no additional data maintenance to the company’s ecommerce site beyond what they already do in their SAP system.
“We wanted to make sure our customers had the same experience whether ordering online or through a sales rep,” Schneider says.
Rolling out ecommerce in stages
In addition to having compatibility with its SAP system, Blount also wanted an ecommerce platform that could be rolled out in stages. Based on feedback from its distributors, many of which place orders through Blount’s electronic data interchange network, Blount opted to first offer a self-service, post-order care portal for its distributors in the United States placing orders via EDI. The goal, the company says, was to demonstrate the viability of ecommerce to its customers.
“Even with EDI as a digital sales channel, we still could not scale with service representatives the way we wanted,” Schneider says.
Once its customers became used to the order-tracking system, Blount added browsing and purchasing capabilities to the site. Next, it added language-specific storefronts for Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Blount developed the microsites to address the specific needs of foreign markets. For example, in Europe the company sells directly to dealers, which don’t have EDI connections, whereas in the U.S. it sells to distributors, Schneider says. In addition, Blount lists different SKUs for different international markets.
“When it comes to international markets, we have one brand, but need to adapt to the differences of each market,” says Schneider, who notes that each microsite has its own service team.
Going B2C to gain an edge in marketplaces
Since rolling out its ecommerce platform, Blount has seen its quarterly ecommerce revenue more than triple, its quarterly transaction volume more than double and its average order value increase 65%. The company has also begun moving into business-to-consumer ecommerce. While B2C sales growth has spiked significantly during the coronavirus pandemic, Schneider says the company is primarily using the retail channel to gather customer data that it can syndicate to marketplaces that sell its products, such as Amazon.
While Schneider expects much of the gains in B2C sales during the coronavirus pandemic to stay for the long term, he adds that the company’s focus on the B2C sales is really to tell stories about its products that can help sales in multiple channels, such as online marketplaces. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, B2C sales were growing more than 70% annually, Schneider adds.
Reflecting on Blount’s transition to B2B ecommerce, Schneider says the company is poised to meet the evolving challenges of the ecommerce age because it has full integration between its ecommerce platform and SAP system. “As an SAP shop, if you can’t integrate your ecommerce platform to the back-end, you’re going to have issues,” Schneider says.
Peter Lucas is a Highland Park, Illinois-based freelance journalist covering business and technology.
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