Q&A: Barry Litwin, CEO of billion-dollar industrial distributor Systemax Inc., shares some of his views on the critical trends in B2B ecommerce. He will give a morning keynote at Digital Commerce 360’s June 17 online event, "Breaking the Barriers to B2B Ecommerce Success.”

Barry Litwin, CEO of industrial distributor Systemax Inc., will give a morning keynote at Digital Commerce 360’s June 17 online event, “Breaking the Barriers to B2B Ecommerce Success.”

Systemax, which does more than $1billion in annual sales, processes more than half of its customer orders through ecommerce. It operates multiple ecommerce sites including the flagship GlobalIndustrial.com.

BarryLitwin-Systemax

Barry Litwin

In this Q&A interview, Litwin, a veteran ecommerce executive with a history in both B2B and retail commerce, shares some of his views on the critical trends in B2B ecommerce.

Our focus is on our continuous improvement to take the friction out of the customer’s end-to-end process, trying to digitize all aspects of the full customer journey.

DC360: What is driving B2B companies like Systemax to expand online?

Litwin: There are mainly two developments here. It’s always about the customer, and how they want to conduct business going forward is much more online. Buyers want great customer service, and online makes it a lot easier to address customers’ preferences.

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And there’s a massive shift in online adoption, especially during COVID-19 in overall commerce. B2B buyers are consumers who also buy from Walmart and other online merchants, and more companies are increasing investment in ecommerce. Systemax is tripling down on our investment to make our ecommerce sites more attractive to customers.

DC360: What are the biggest internal and/or external barriers?

Litwin: Channel conflict and required capital expenditures. You have to build an ecommerce presence and market it as well.

Some internal B2B salespeople may still see the web as competitive. To get more reps on board, any customer sale assigned to a rep has to be commissioned, regardless of the sales channel it comes through, including EDI, phone or online. That’s a big one.

Hear more from Barry Litwin on the trends in B2B ecommerce at our live-streamed event – Breaking the Barriers to B2B Ecommerce Success – on June 17th. Register Today!

More subtly, when a rep is concerned about the web competing with them, it may be time to ask the rep if they see themselves as someone involved in processing orders or in demand creation. CEOs want reps who are involved in demand creation. For most industrial suppliers, if you’re building a great experience, have great technology and the right people, you’ll do very well. You have to make sure you have the right expertise on board and the right technology stack.

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DC360: What are the chief gains you’re realizing?

Litwin: For us, it’s our focus on our continuous improvement to take the friction out of the customer’s end-to-end process, trying to digitize all aspects of the full customer journey, keeping the customer aware of where they are in the delivery process and billing and payment. And providing customer service throughout the customer journey. If we see a customer exiting a landing page, it might be time to interact with the customer with live chat, improve the search process, do anything we can to help.

DC360: Regarding COVID-19, what is the biggest adaption your company has made?

Litwin:  The swing to remote office work, now doing it for a year. We learned organizations can be fairly effective even driving new initiatives and projects through Zoom and execute every day. But we lost some of the culture, the hallway conversation. Now we’re figuring out how to bring people back week-to-week for two or three days on a rotational basis.

DC360: What existing trends will the pandemic accelerate?

Litwin: People’s increased reliance on ecommerce has been huge, curbside pickup has been huge in the consumer space. In B2B, we might see more of a lasting trend in a will-call service like buy online, pick up at a distribution center.

DC360: What post-pandemic needs will become opportunities?

Litwin: The office of the future is still being determined, but trends in office layout may be more like a WeWork environment where workers plug into the office environment. There will be new opportunities for distributors of items like cleaning and janitorial products to help the flow of product resources to where they are needed. We will differentiate by providing products and informative web content to help customers solve problems, and we’ll provide subject matter experts who can jump on a call or live chat with a customer.

Sign up for a complimentary subscription to Digital Commerce 360 B2B News, published 4x/week, covering technology and business trends in the growing B2B ecommerce industry. Contact editor Paul Demery at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @pdemery.

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