There has been somewhat of a reluctance to look down the road and see what the new generation of B2B buyers want. However, it has become apparent in the past couple years the importance of having some sort of digital purchasing experience for your buyers.
What this doesn’t mean is that you need to set up something like Amazon to be competitive. Far from it. Stop thinking in terms of creating an “Amazon-like experience”. Simplify why buyers are flocking to Amazon Business and it comes down to because the site works. Too many B2B eCommerce sites just don’t get the job done.
Amazon Business is hyper-focused on the things buyers care about, namely helping to do their job easier. THAT is what makes them a success. If you are able to make your buyers job easier online then improving current relationships and opening the doors to new growth opportunities will quickly follow. Your sales people will be less busy focusing on taking small orders, and have more time to provide value in complex growth opportunities. Support staff will find themselves with less phone calls because your site can provide information to common questions, thus allowing for quicker and better service all around. While this idea sounds good in theory and is easy to understand, building this type of foundation can become complex.
At Echidna, we have helped numerous B2B companies break down the complexity. Watch the video to listen our clients and Echidna CEO, Mike Pierce discuss and then keep reading about key B2B digital commerce challenges and solutions.
If the only relationship you hold is face to face, the odds are it will become more and more difficult to maintain. You have to find a way to take that relationship and move at least some of it into the digital space. eCommerce and the business for this generation and going forward are the same thing- in many cases eCommerce is the business. eBusiness.
While eCommerce simply refers to the buying and selling online, the eBusiness encompasses all online business- the inventory, job postings, email communications, overall customer data, etc.
Having solid customer relationships is not a defensible position to hold off on digital commerce anymore because these relationships are more easily broken, usually because of strong eBusiness capabilities from a competitor or simply lack thereof on your part.
We understand many companies are in a position where they have held the same structure for 10, 20, even 50+ years. The disruption of changing that foundation can seem overwhelming, but your business is going to be disrupted either way. By a competitor, by Amazon Business or other marketplace, or by your own company simply falling too far behind. You can take the narrative and disrupt it yourself by implementing digital change.
Digital represents a way to diversify your portfolio and be differentiated. Think of it as a way to make it better to learn and buy your products. Take what your salespeople do, which at the core is educate on features and benefits for every product and make that easy to shop online and your buyers will respond.
For example, Echidna’s client Jessup Manufacturing has been a leader in adhesive coated and laminated materials and photoluminescent films and sheets for over 65 years. Having a web storefront since 2009, by 2018 they realized what was once sufficient now constrained their ability to grow and also support their current customers (both distributors and consumers). This led to the Echidna team leading their new eCommerce technology implementation, and updating system integrations, user experience, and ongoing continual innovation.
Since their digital transformation, their new site is now a cornerstone of their business; unifying all of Jessup’s digital tools into a powerful instrument for growth. The company has experienced a 150% growth in conversion and 300% increase in transactions.
The majority of buyers today prefer digital centric capabilities in their purchasing journey. While many B2B companies have processes to ensure a positive experience around phone support and in-person sales support, they lack processes around online ordering. Can a buyer perform 3-4 clicks and be able to confidently get what they need?
Having strong search capabilities is key to a strong user experience. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most overlooked. Consider implementing a smart search and guided navigation feature to create a more efficient and scalable search management within the shopping experience.
Being able to present often complex products in a way that is easy to understand what the features and benefits are can be difficult in many B2B scenarios. More education is often necessary. For example, a buyer is looking at two widgets. What is the big difference? How is performance impacted if they purchase one over the other? Keep this in mind when creating your content, both written, graphics, and video.
Another important aspect of the user experience is personalization. In B2C this means knowing what the consumer is searching for, what they like, and what they ultimately purchase. This can be harder for B2B because buyers within a single company will often have varying needs which are tied to their department, location, or project. So when creating B2B personas you need to think outside the B2C box because they won’t be the same questions.
Lastly, don’t discount the checkout experience. This is where many B2B companies fail to simplify and lose the final conversion. It’s important to make these key tasks as simple as possible to keep the buyer engaged. Several easy to implement checkout UX tips are:
Connecting operations should be at the forefront when considering eCommerce, but is unfortunately a big piece that B2B struggles with. Taking the time to take an integrated approach to eCommerce can save a lot of time, money, and headaches down the road.
For most B2B companies, the ERP is the source of truth. With so many operations living in the ERP system, you need to make sure you have access to the digital commerce side of things in order to align and have a holistic view of the whole business.
When eCommerce and ERP are integrated, data can move seamlessly between the systems and they can operate symbiotically. For example, orders can be instantaneously sent from eCommerce to the ERP, and inventory updates can be automatically sent from the ERP to the eCommerce system. Master product data and customer-specific pricing can also be pulled from the ERP into your eCommerce site or portals. A tight integration between systems can also facilitate a closer connection to your customers and build more trustworthy relationships.
When eCommerce ERP integration is optimized for B2B sites, customers are empowered with complete, reliable self-service capabilities to place their own orders and access their account information whenever needed.
Furthermore, using a product information management (PIM) system allows the business to provide even more detailed product specifications in your online sales portal. This is a huge advantage for B2B web stores because the PIM system can enrich ERP product data through categorization and product data unification. Then, this data can then be used in your digital storefront, so that product pages provide complete and comprehensive data - including detailed images, video, and even downloads.
These are just two examples of the benefits of having deep system to system integration with your eCommerce. CRM, OMS, and other important business systems should all be integrated in order to create a true digital business platform. Connecting these disparate systems removes the need for human intervention, decreases errors, and increases the flexibility and usability of your applications. This kind of connected platform, unifying processes and applications to analyze results more quickly, allows your business to maximize productivity and get ahead of the competition.
For example, Halco Technologies partnered with Echidna to update their eCommerce /eBusiness capabilities. During the replatform of their eCommerce technology, the Echidna team also provided a complete integration between the new eCommerce platform and their Epicor Eclipse ERP system to provide the key capabilities to support their continuing innovation. B2B customers now have access to real-time pricing and availability, along with order and invoice display.
Read the Halco Technologies Press Release
In general, B2B has been a fast follower when it comes to digital commerce. Many companies want to see another business adopt it first and then get pulled into it, but approach is part of the problem- your company trying to mimic another company or be “as good as” won’t gain a competitive edge and it could likely be too late by the time to join as others will be exponentially more digitally mature.
While you don’t need an army of consultants and agencies, you do need experts by your side. From considering cultural shifts, processes, values, the team at Echidna takes the time to truly understand your business and demystify B2B digital commerce challenges. Contact us to discuss your digital commerce goals and learn how you can go beyond simply digitizing your existing business to thinking forward and becoming a digital-first company to meet current and future buyers needs.