Leading up to the 2020 B2B Next conference, to be held virtually Sept. 29-30, Digital Commerce 360 is catching up with some of the event’s speakers to discuss the decisions they are making about B2B ecommerce, how they see its future and how they’re pivoting in response to COVID-19.
Here, Sustainable Supply President and CEO Brian Fricano, who will speak on the Sept. 29 panel “Top 10 Gripes of Online B2B Buyers: What They Wish Sellers Knew,” talks with DC360 about how B2B companies grow by selling online.
DC360B2B: What is driving B2B companies like Sustainable Supply to expand online?
Fricano: When we launched our company in 2009, we only sold online, so the concept of selling online has been in our DNA since the beginning. What initially drove us to start an online B2B company are the same reasons why many businesses are expanding online today. Selling online allows us to reach our customers 24 hours a day, many of whom are trade professionals who research and purchase products after normal business hours. It has also allowed us to greatly expand our physical and virtual product offering, position our company as an industry leader, and deliver on what matters most to our customers.
DC360B2B: What are your biggest internal or and external barriers?
Fricano: Some of our biggest internal and external challenges we face as a digital-first company are the result of the limitations of our manufacturers, wholesalers, and B2B trading partners. Many have not yet adopted basic order automation processes like EDI, real-time inventory feeds, and product content syndication. This results in more internal manual processes and less efficiency in our supply chain.
DC360B2B: What are the chief gains you’re realizing?
Fricano: We’ve been growing our online sales by double digits over the past 11 years, even with the emergence of Amazon Business and dozens of other multibillion-dollar competitors. Customer acquisition is the chief gain we have realized, as we’ve acquired almost 100% of our customers via our websites.
DC360B2B: From your own experience—What is the most valuable piece of advice you have on how to launch online B2B sales or increase them?
Fricano: You have to think like a start-up again, adapt quickly, and be prepared for the unexpected—this is a challenge for many large, traditional distributors and manufacturers. Don’t get lured in by all of the tech flash, sizzle, and industry buzzwords. Some of the most basic and least “sexy” strategies and tactics will yield the biggest results. The journey can be overwhelming and crushing, and smart companies know when to outsource and/or acquire a competitor to help them accelerate their online sales.
DC360B2B: Regarding COVID-19, what is the biggest adaption your company has made?
Fricano: Over the past few months, we’ve shifted a lot of our business to supplying products that are helping businesses stay open and reopen vs. the typical MRO (maintenance, repair and operations) and construction supplies we normally provide. Historically, our company never really moved a lot of volume of “non-green” cleaning supplies prior to the COVID-19 crisis. However, we quickly realized these products would be in high demand for our customers, so we began stocking truckloads of disinfectants, wipes, sanitizers, and other PPE, personal protective equipment. In general, we have increased our stocking positions significantly while reducing our drop shipments to better service our customers.
DC360B2B: What existing trends will the pandemic accelerate?
Fricano: B2B online retail is here to stay and has never been more important for both buyers and sellers.
DC360B2B: What new ideas will become trends?
Fricano: Incorporating the B2B salesperson into the online buying process, remote working, and, perhaps, the rethinking of “just in time” inventory.
DC360B2B: What post-pandemic needs will become opportunities?
Fricano: The increased focus on cleaning and sanitation supplies, touch-free restrooms, social distancing, and employee/customer safety will offer many manufacturers and distributors opportunities to be relevant to their customers in the post-pandemic world.
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