After launching its B2B ecommerce site two years ago, IBT Industrial realized it had left out features that appeal to new, digital-first customers. Now it has learned from that experience and is posting strong online sales growth while engaging more buyers. Carin Sampson, IBT’s head of human resources, marketing and ecommerce, will speak on ecommerce strategies at EnvisionB2B 2023 in June in Chicago.

Maintaining and nurturing customer relationships, especially among new customers, is one of the biggest challenges facing B2B suppliers in the digital age.

IBT Industrial Solutions — an industrial products distributor for factories and warehouses in such industries as manufacturing, food processing, packaging, bottling, and power generation — realized the need to deliver more personalized online buying experiences to its customers after it launched a B2B ecommerce site two years ago.

The growth through our digital channel is outpacing growth in traditional sales channels.
Carin Sampson, vice president, human resources and marketing
IBT Industrial Solutions
CarinSampson_IBT Industrial Solutions

Carin Sampson, vice president, human resources and marketing, IBT Industrial Solutions

IBT learned that its online customers fall into two distinct categories: legacy customers who transitioned to digital purchasing and digital-first customers who have long preferred the online channel and started doing business with IBT after its website launched. Each customer segment has its own needs when it comes to ecommerce and uses the company’s website differently when purchasing.

For example, legacy customers will search for products ranging from industrial motors and metalworking tools to safety equipment and janitorial supplies by part numbers. In contrast, digital-first customers will search by keywords.


Helping customers manage their overall buying process

At the same time, legacy customers tend to view IBT’s website as a self-service purchasing tool, but digital-first customers expect the site to help them better manage their overall buying processes. The latter often want to reorder products in one click and access and print past orders and invoices.

But IBT realized it developed its ecommerce site primarily to service the needs of its legacy customers, which led to lower conversions rates and sales among digital-first buyers.

“Our site was set up to support legacy customers, which is why we did not have as much success with digital-first customers,” says Carin Sampson, who leads IBT’s ecommerce strategy in her role as vice president of human resources and marketing. “We had a group of beta testers that we tailored the site to, but we didn’t turn the lessons learned from that group into something more scalable for a broader audience.”

IBT worked with digital agency Xngage to deploy and modify its new ecommerce site on software from Optimizely.


IBT generates about $200 million in sales annually through its ecommerce site. Since launching the site, it has started a personalization strategy that makes its site search more dynamic, leveraging buyers’ online purchasing behavior for product recommendations and personalized videos and marketing messages.

To improve its site search, IBT is looking at adding artificial intelligence capabilities that predict a customer’s keyword search term, then displays relevant results. This capability is expected to reduce friction during search and the purchasing experience.

Applying AI to personalized videos

On the product recommendations side, IBT plans to begin leveraging past customer purchasing data to recommend relevant products and brands. The company is also looking at applications that will allow it to track a newer buyer’s behavior on the site to make product recommendations, as opposed to relying on the buyer’s past online purchasing history, which may be thin or nonexistent.

The idea for adding personalized videos grew from research IBT conducted into how artificial intelligence can improve personalization.


“AI is something I follow, and there are lot of innovative ways it is being used — and personalized videos are one of them,” Sampson says. “There are companies that produce personalized videos using AI, and our aim is to explore this space and experiment with how we can use personalized videos to engage customers.”

Key to making its personalization strategy work will be integrating new personalization engines and tools to its ecommerce platform. As part of its personalization strategy, IBT is upgrading its enterprise resource planning system to help improve data flow between the ERP software and IBT’s ecommerce platform.

“Our legacy ERP predates APIs, and that’s where the complexity with integration comes in,” says Sampson, who adds the company’s ecommerce platform integrates easily with its product information management (PIM) system. “For us, it’s about the tech stack, not one app.”

Making the buyer’s job easier

Once IBT completely installs its new ERP system, Sampson says the company will be able to make relevant product recommendations for each customer, whatever their interests.


In addition, IBT is looking to add predictive analytics to forecast what products customers are likely to buy, helping IBT to achieve the right balance in its catalog. The company has more than 2 million SKUs in its ERP system.

“Right now, we can get data on what a customer buys and how often, but we can’t predict what they are likely to buy,” Sampson says. “That is a capability we want to pull into the personalization mix.”

Having predictive capabilities will also open the door for IBT to proactively reach out to customers. For example, the distributor plans to use customer purchasing histories to identify products that are regularly reordered and at what intervals, so it can send reminders to customers when the time to place a reorder is approaching.

“Customers care about convenience and proactive service, whether it be a reminder to reorder a product or predictive maintenance,” says Sampson. “Providing convenience makes the customer’s job easier.”


Steady increases in ecommerce sales

Overall, ecommerce sales for the company are showing steady growth. During the first few months of 2023, ecommerce sales grew about 20% compared with the same period a year earlier. This growth comes after ecommerce sales more than doubled in 2022 over 2021.

“The growth through our digital channel is outpacing growth in traditional sales channels,” Sampson says.

Another area where IBT is improving the buying experience is by reducing the number of products in its online catalog in favor of higher-quality products buyers want.

“Initially, we focused on quantity, but we have found we would have benefitted more with a ‘less is more’ approach first,” Sampson says. “Having built our site for existing customers, we now know we need to provide features that appeal to digital-first customers if we are to build strong relationships with them.”


Carin Sampson, vice president of human resources and marketing, IBT Industrial Solutions, will speak at the EnvisionB2B 2023 Conference & Exhibition on integrating ERP and ecommerce technology and building resilient supply chains.

Peter Lucas is a Digital Commerce 360 contributing editor covering B2B digital commerce technology and strategy.

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