Even the most successful businesses hit a growth plateau at some point. When that happens, management has to look at the root cause to figure out a way to jump-start growth again.
Girisha Chandraraj, CEO of Elite Sportswear, the parent company for several brands of athletic apparel, faced such a challenge upon taking over the reins of the company in 2017.
At the time, one of Elite’s largest and most profitable brands was showing signs of slowing B2B sales growth, despite success in building sales on the B2C side of the business. After talking to managers at the brand, Chandraraj—a former head of digital operations at the multibillion-dollar business supplies industrial distributor Essendant—realized that corporate management needed to get involved at a more granular level to understand the problems causing the slowdown in B2B sales before the brand could address how to re-energize them.
“One of the things we realized from taking this deep dive at the corporate level was that the brand operated on momentum and really did not track customer behaviors on the B2B side,” Chandraraj said during a keynote address Wednesday at B2B Next 2020.
Taking an analytical approach to fixing problems
The deep dive into the brand operation’s inner working began with taking a data-driven, analytical approach to its business. That enabled Chandraraj and his management team to learn about changes in customer behavior and how competitors and changing market conditions were affecting the brand’s B2B business.
What management learned was that the brand had gradually shifted its focus over time to servicing and acquiring B2C customers, because B2B customers were harder to service and retain. “We realized the brand was not as in tune with the needs of B2B customers, which made it easier for competitors to poach them,” Chandraraj said.
Recognizing that B2B buyers care about the user experience when shopping digitally, Elite Sportswear began examining the friction points in the B2B buying experience.
“B2B buyers are more sensitive to friction than B2C customers, and we realized that friction in the user experience had an adverse effect on performance,” Chandraraj said.
Addressing pricing and checkout issues
The solution: Elite Sportswear reassigned staff to put the B2B sales team members most in-tune with the needs of B2B buyers in charge.
Among the improvements Elite made were upgrading its website technology infrastructure to better display complex contract pricing, which varies based on such criteria as different terms for different product categories. It also enhanced its online shopping cart to handle large volumes of SKUs and such requirements as multiple purchase-approvals by a buyer’s co-workers and supervisors.
In addition, Elite directed the brand’s B2B team to focus more on building strategies to win business from competitors.
“Convincing a prospect to switch suppliers is a challenge, but we felt that if we built out our sales team, they could drive home our value proposition by offering frictionless buying solutions,” Chandraraj said. “It meant re-building the sales and marketing team from the ground up, which was a big departure for the business, but we felt it was worth the investment, and one we plan to continue making going forward.”
The strategy proved effective as the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, which wreaked havoc on the supply chain, he added.
“In the current environment, buyers are more open to pitches from new suppliers, but the pitch has to be compelling,” Chandraraj said. “In this market, if you don’t fine tune your message, you miss an opportunity to take advantage of prospects that are willing to listen to what you have to say and the performance you can deliver.”
Peter Lucas is a Highland Park, Illinois-based freelance journalist covering business and technology.
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