After a pandemic-induced rush to ecommerce, wholesale distributors are now competing in a crowded marketplace of suppliers—all of which have an equally good (if not similar) online presence. And the faster this business-to-business channel approaches the 2027 forecast of US$20.9 trillion in sales opportunity, the more critical the need to differentiate and stand out.
But one thing is still clear: capturing a significant part of the market calls for prioritizing continuous innovation that addresses four critical B2B customer trends:
- Increasing customer interest in new offerings, such as value-added services that range from light manufacturing and kitting to product consulting and aftermarket support;
- Rising demand for a broader range of products with accelerated delivery and more shipping options;
- Expanding desire to collaborate with product experts and purchase complete solutions for specific business needs, such as designing a layout of an office renovation and providing materials to cover every phase of the project;
- Growing preference toward suppliers that demonstrate social accountability and environmental responsibility by transparently tracking, tracing, and monitoring goods along the end-to-end supply chain.
Optimizing Differentiation in a Crowded Commerce Landscape
So, what are your plans for your post-pandemic webshop? Do you view it as your primary sales channel for the future, or as a supplement to your outlet, warehouse, or other in-person customer experience? Better yet, will you evolve it into a thriving marketplace that B2B customers can access through their go-to procurement networks?
Here’s the good news: there are no wrong answers to these questions, just poorly laid plans. When the strategy is clear and well-defined, you can think about every incremental progression—step by step and milestone after milestone—to realize the ultimate ecommerce vision uniquely created for the business.
One best practice that has been proven successful is building a business road map with a detailed outline of activities and business capabilities required at specific times. TESSCO Technologies followed this approach to redesign its customer experience for a virtual marketplace with a smooth purchasing experience and access to product information for more than 65,000 embedded stock-keeping units. The value-added technology distributor, manufacturer, and solutions provider tapped the expertise of solution consultants to gradually transform through a greenfield implementation of a modern ERP and an ecommerce site overhaul with a cloud commerce solution.
Moving Forward: How to Build a Road Map for B2B Commerce
With so many options for creating a self-differentiating business model in the B2B marketplace, distributors need to consider what their customers want and how to earn their trust. One way to accomplish this is to create a road map designed to seek and value customer feedback and check performance metrics including conversion, cart abandonment, order value, and volume of webshop transactions.
By taking a three-prong approach to building this road map for B2B commerce, you can plan and deliver the products, services, and experiences needed to keep customers engaged, connected, and, above all, loyal.
1-Define your strategic goals
The first step is to reimagine your distribution business in the context of your customers’ current and future needs and preferences. Then, you can plan how to simplify your commerce operation with optimization and intelligent automation, freeing up resources to focus on more
strategic business transformation programs or revenue streams.
When crafting these strategic goals for your B2B commerce road map, three fundamental principles should be observed:
- Existing business processes must be optimized to achieve greater productivity and performance.
- Current business processes must be extended wherever a new source of value is created.
- The value chain, business model, or culture must be transformed to build a better future.
By following these tenets, you can decide in which direction to evolve your webshop. For example, you could:
- Optimize the existing offering: Turn the webshop into your primary sales channel.
- Extend your webshop: Create new services, such as a customer engagement platform with various self-services embedded.
- Innovate an entirely new business model: Open the webshop to partners to extend your assortment and go direct to the consumer with a business-to-consumer webshop.
2-Develop an operational plan with required business capabilities
After the first step, suppose you decide to make your webshop your primary sales channel. Now, you should consider which business capabilities—such as capacity, materials, and expertise—are needed to operate core functions of the ecommerce experience.
In this case, product content must be well-managed, which can be challenging when your inventory contains hundreds of thousands of SKUs. A subject-precise, yet descriptive, product description should be attached to each item. Additionally, digital assets, such as technical guides, pictures, and demo videos, can be included in the online catalog entry.
The webshop also requires a search function that delivers relevant results. Buyers should browse through the site freely by using keywords or filter options that sort by product category, characteristics, and manufacturer and brand name. Furthermore, applying SEO practices can help ensure products listed in the webshop rank higher in everyday search engines, such as Google.
You can give your customers a B2C-like experience with personalized content based on customer segmentation that considers factors, such as browsing history and past purchases. By using artificial intelligence, relevant product recommendations can be generated to up-sell or cross-sell products.
Additionally, the webshop should offer a frictionless buying experience. This includes a fast and easy checkout process that minimizes cart abandonment, encourages competitive quoting early in the customer journey, and provides reliable information on product availability and delivery timelines. The site should also be mobile-friendly and allow customers to leave behind comments and reviews on the products they purchase.
To round out the commerce experience, you can embed responsive self-services throughout the user experience before, during, and after the purchase. They include product FAQs, order-tracking, access to invoices and past orders, and contact with sales representatives who can answer specific questions.
3-Optimize the existing ecommerce offering
After you have defined the business capabilities for the webshop, conduct a comprehensive review of the current ecommerce platform to identify pain points, improvement areas, and potential solutions. Then you can begin to build an actionable road map by prioritizing desired capabilities, defining underlying functions to support them, and setting a time frame to realize them.
For example, a distributor interested in providing self-service access to invoices would break down that capability into critical functions. They include searching for invoice numbers, generating an invoice list with sorting, enabling access authorization and data protection, and granting the ability to open, save, and print the invoice as a PDF. Each task is then mapped against required technologies to enable it.
Delivering Value Faster as a Go-To Supplier
The whole process of specifying strategic goals and priorities, turning them into an actionable plan, and finally realizing them is an exercise that requires a strong focus on the customer experience. And by following that mindset when developing a road map, you can position your distribution business to become the go-to supplier in the market segment.
Susanne Adam is a principal solution manager for wholesale distribution with business operations software provider SAP SE. She has worked with client companies on customer engagement strategy and various projects in the wholesale and retail industry. Follow her on Twitter @susanneadam3.Favorite