Digital commerce is disrupting traditional B2B sales processes. While many experienced B2B salespersons still travel and rely on sales brochures to win sales, the rise of online shopping has forced a sea change in how B2B customers buy.
As more and more corporate customers begin to research and shop for products and services online, B2B sellers that respond fast can benefit from the new opportunity, while companies that delay in responding to the new needs of the customers stand to lose business.
So, it’s no surprise that most B2B organizations already have facilities for online shopping, or are planning to set them up.
According to a Forrester study conducted in May 2013,
a) 69% of B2B companies are planning to stop printing catalogs in next 5 years.
b) 62% feel that customer behavior changes dramatically once they start buying online.
c) 50% agree that their customers use B2C and B2B websites to buy for work, while 48% say that their customers use B2B versions of consumer sites to buy products and services.
d) Over 50% respondents agreed that their customers were using smartphones and tablets to research as well as buy products and services.
e) The Average Order Value from online sellers increases for companies the longer they sell online. 46% B2B companies selling online for 5 years say that their AOV from online sales is higher than offline buyers.
But transitioning from a when you prepare a roadmap for B2B digital sales enablement, you will run into several technical challenges. Let’s look at the most common problems that will come your way:
The majority of B2B companies, especially ones operating across global locations, have a large and rather unconnected network of websites and portals – the web assets have been set up on an as-needed basis in different parts of the world, by different departments. Lack of support for mobiles devices, rigidity of frameworks and high dependence on IT for any changes are some common issues.
Clearly, when you want to sell online, maintaining these divisions is not a viable alternative. The portals may be built on different frameworks, and they will have incongruent designs, different kinds of navigations, and will support different languages & currencies. The big challenge will be to instill consistency across your media assets. Also, many of the frameworks may simply not be responsive to frequent and quick template or functionality changes.
If you are dipping your toe in digital sales for the first time, you will have to overcome the lack of skilled personnel for managing the portals and other web assets. Plus, your existing admin backend won’t have the key ecommerce features.
Implementing a ready-made ecommerce solution can solve the problem, but if you have a diversity of frameworks & designs, this will be a challenging and complex task. At the same time, it is important to integrate your existing IT systems – ERP, CRM, and other applications – with the ecommerce store, to automate as many tasks as possible. Also, with an ecommerce site, content cannot stay static over long periods of time. So, you will need an accessible backend, plus intelligent staff to make needed changes to your portals.
B2B customers often have a clear idea of what kinds of products they are looking for. A B2B seller also knows that certain customers have a specific set of needs. To keep your existing customers happy, you may need to set a special logic for them on your portal and serve specific content in a defined format to make it as easy as possible for those users to research and buy products from your store.
On the other hand, when the buying decision involves a large quantity of expensive goods, new as well as existing customers may want more information and reassurance. To improve their shopping experience, offering intelligent search, product comparison, reviews, live chat and other customer service facilities can make a big difference.
Traditional B2B portals are not built with selling in mind. So although your website may display a range of products, it is not optimized to sell and there is no provision for accepting and processing payments. While payments functionality can be added relatively easily, making it work well demands considerable thought and effort.
For instance, there is the problem of integrating the online payments with the existing billing & ordering system, and the inventory management system. And, when you add to it the complications thrown up by compliances, things can get messy. The challenge is to seamlessly integrate payment processes with your existing cycles and systems.
5) Absence of a Strong Ecommerce Ecosystem
B2B consumer expectations continue to rise. And as more and more B2B organizations begin to sell online, retaining existing customers and attracting new ones requires full-time attention. Simply adding a few ecommerce features to an existing portal won’t cut the mustard. While most B2B organizations have strong sales team and structure, one of the biggest challenges will be building and maintaining an intelligent and effective ecommerce ecosystem.
In addition to finding a reliable ecommerce partner, you will have to augment staffing for sustained growth of your ecommerce business. However, finding top-level ecommerce executives and managers is challenging as well as costly. The difficulty in finding top ecommerce talent, or the lack of will in building a strong ecommerce ecosystem, often act as stumbling blocks to online success.
Transitioning from a content-disseminating web portals to sales-oriented ecommerce portals serving clients across global locations is a major step which requires thorough planning. By keeping the above dangers in mind as an IT Leader, CIO or Manager, you will be able to assess options take smart decisions that align with your corporate objectives.
After all, if you want to cash in on the online revolution in the B2B industry, it is not enough to simply add basic ecommerce features – your entire ecosystem has to be geared for selling and cross-selling online. This makes it imperative, not only to set up online portals, but to develop an integrated digital marketing & sales strategy.
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