Many of the points involved in consumer-centric technology discussions have suddenly emerged among business professionals. This is perhaps most prominently exemplified by trends like bring your own device, but typically consumer-focused priorities have emerged in other areas of business as well. For instance, in B2C eCommerce, there is a great deal of attention paid to customer experiences and personalization, and these elements have become increasingly important in the B2B arena.
Businesses venturing into eCommerce
The first challenge that many companies face is developing an eCommerce presence in the first place. Organizations in the B2B arena may either lack widespread support for selling online or lack the time to implement technology solutions such as B2B integration software. As a recent Manufacturing.net article noted, business decision makers do not always see the value of engaging in B2B ecommerce.
"Some scoff at the idea that a procurement person might abandon manufacturer A in favor of B simply because A doesn't have an eCommerce presence," Manufacturing.net Managing Editor Joel Hans wrote, highlighting comments from Insite's Linda Taddonio. "Oftentimes, people prefer the simplicity of searching through a catalog online and making the purchase necessary rather than listen to a sales pitch or deal with an extensive manual process, particularly if they're also strapped for time."
According to Taddonio, many distributors have already initiated the changes required to make eCommerce a bigger part of an overall business strategy. This can include significant organizational evolutions as well as widespread technology upgrades. For instance, Insite hired 300 new employees to handle the new load brought on by eCommerce. However, before any investments are made, it is important that organizations take steps to minimize the chance of disruption. This means that all key stakeholders should understand business goals and be on board with the shift toward eCommerce.
The second hurdle to make it past is time-to-deployment. For organizations that have not launched similar initiatives before, it can take several years to get the infrastructure in place and all the systems up and running. Taddonio highlighted the value of third-party IT services, which could bring the time line down to several months.
A successful implementation process can open the door to other opportunities by streamlining processes that would otherwise be time consuming and labor intensive. Furthermore, adopting a multi-faceted solution such as IBM Sterling can provide far-reaching benefits. For example, exploring ecommerce opportunities will likely force organizations to reconsider supply chain management solutions. Since many business processes will have to adjust to leverage the new channel anyway, it may become easier to see where improvements can be made in ordering, inventory management or customer engagement.
Ultimately, the value of all of this disruption will be the ability to offer convenience to customers while also being agile enough to respond to new demands. As with any business decision, it is critical to set goals in order to measure progress. Taddonio suggested that a reasonable goal would be to have 20 to 30 percent of all orders being made online within 12 to 18 months of the transition.
Another lesson that B2B eCommerce companies can learn from their B2C counterparts is the value in connecting initiatives across various, formerly disparate channels. With the proliferation of mobile devices and growing popularity of social media, this has long been a focus for businesses targeting consumers. However, Kees de Vos, chief customer officer at Hybris, recently suggested that B2B brands could become omnichannel as well.
"With the user experience becoming more fundamental to the adoption and success of B2B commerce sites, organizations are now starting to embrace an omnichannel strategy, which enables customers to interact with their business brand at every level, across all touchpoints and all channels," de Vos wrote. "The objective is to deliver a consistent, relevant and contextual experience for the customer and this puts more onus on the organisation to plan and manage customer conversions across all channels simultaneously."
In a B2B context, this means that organizations must connect strategies that govern their direct sales teams and offline product catalogues with the online component of their business. As de Vos noted, this gives customers a choice of their preferred engagement channel. It is also critical to ensure timeliness regardless of which method a customer uses to contact the brand. For example, features such as website live chat may be particularly valuable for those connecting online.
Just as a consumer audience wants convenience, business decision makers value streamlined payment processes and easy access to information. Online store navigation must be intuitive, while the back-end infrastructure that supports transactions must have built-in reliability to ensure that customers can get the products or services they want in a timely manner.
"The good news is that done well, omnichannel cuts through the complexity and cost of doing business, while making the enterprise a customer-focused and responsive organization that has a 360 degree view of its customers," de Vos wrote.