In the second of a series of excerpts from his book, “Billion Dollar B2B Ecommerce,” Brian Beck asserts there is a proven business case for B2B ecommerce and that executives must either embrace it or fall behind.

In an excerpt from his new book “Billion Dollar B2B Ecommerce,” industry expert and Enceiba Managing Partner Brian Beck describes how B2B businesses have historically been stuck in the throes of inaction on digital transformation, and why the time has come for leadership to act.  This is an excerpt from Chapter 2, “The Leadership Imperative.” This is one of a series of the book’s excerpts reprinted with permission by Digital Commerce 360 | B2B News.

Confronting the Brutal Reality of Your Organization

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Brian Beck

In the B2B world, many manufacturers, brands, and distributors are struck with organizational inertia. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a common mindset—even if not expressed—of divisional and executive leadership. Whether they realize it or not, companies are tied down and limited by their processes and traditional ways of doing business, and in some ways are victims of their own historical success. Traditional selling channels—the direct sales force (outside and inside), distribution and resale partners, telesales, catalog, and other methods—have driven many companies to tremendous revenue and profit levels in their categories. These legacy selling channels will continue to be an important part of the buyer-seller relationship in B2B industries.

However, the world has changed.

While these companies are living in collective inertia, customers’ expectations have dramatically shifted. Today’s B2B customers expect to have a buyer-focused experience, informed by the retail purchases they make in their own personal lives as consumers. And the fact of the matter is that this purchasing experience has either shifted directly to, or is heavily influenced by, digital platforms. As younger professionals come into the workforce, “digital native” is no longer a name for a category of buyers; it is every single individual that B2B organizations interact with.

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Good leaders combine data with excellent intuition and situational awareness to make smart decisions. If you are a leader in a B2B organization, here are a few facts you need to know about digital behavior of business buyers as of this writing:

  • 69 percent of buyers say they want omnichannel and multichannel services.
  • 67 percent of B2B purchases are influenced by digital channels.
  • 61 percent of all B2B purchases start with online research.
  • 62 percent of B2B buyers say they use only digital content to research and narrow down a vendor list.
  • 58 percent of B2B industrial manufacturer purchasers start the buying journey with an online product search.
  • B2B buyers who engaged digitally with a business before making a purchase are 2x–8x more likely to purchase again from that business.

If you are selling products to businesses, these trends are impacting you whether you realize it or not. What should you do about it? In this world of shifting customer expectations and digital centricity, it actually starts with a simple concept: leadership.

In my work with B2B firms, I often cite the seminal business book Good to Great by Jim Collins. This excellent work documents tactics that some of the most successful companies in history have used to exceed their peers in terms of growing enterprise value. One of my favorite parts of this book is Collins’ constant cry to leaders to “confront the brutal reality” of their situation and act. The facts above highlight a brutal reality that many executives continue to ignore at their own peril. Why? Change is not easy, and particularly difficult when a business continues to perform at somewhat acceptable levels through traditional sales channels. It is even harder to confront change when the change agent (in this case, the digital and Ecommerce expectations of business buyers) is completely unfamiliar to the executive-in-charge. The result is inaction driven by a combination of fear and not knowing where to start. The “brutal reality” is that ignoring digital transformation is not sustainable, and that customers are forcing change. But here’s the good news: Companies that are listening are being massively rewarded. Why shouldn’t your company be one of them?

Executives who believe that there is not enough return on investment (“ROI”) data on B2B Ecommerce available are mistaken. The truth is that the business case for B2B Ecommerce has been made; B2C has proven processes and methods, with proven margins, the majority of which can be applied to B2B. As we will discuss later in this book, the business case for digital transformation is clear and crosses multiple aspects of business performance—from incremental revenue and identifying new customer segments to improved competitive positioning and large efficiency gains. B2B executives should not be asking, “Should we commit to a digital transformation?” They should be asking, “How do we make this change happen?”

It bears repeating that digital transformation isn’t only about opening an Ecommerce store. It is not about hiring an intern to manage your web site. True transformation comes from looking at the organization, both its processes and people, and figuring out how to evolve the entire operation towards a sustainable future. It means making digital a central part of every aspect in how the organization functions, with the focus being on making it easier, better, and faster to serve the customer. Successful change is incremental, more evolutionary than revolutionary. However, the process can be uncomfortable for the organization. Intestinal fortitude is required! Leaders will have their skills and talents tested.

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Brian Beck is managing partner of Enceiba, a firm that helps companies sell through Amazon Business and Amazon.com. “Billion Dollar B2B Ecommerce” lays out a blueprint for how B2B companies can address their technology and business operations to thrive in the digital world. Beck is offering a complimentary “virtual book tour.” Follow him on LinkedIn. 

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