If you’re a B2B merchant still relying on email, spreadsheets, faxes, pen and paper, and other legacy technologies to run your business, you’re leaving a ton of revenue on the table for your competition to snatch up. The single biggest way to expand your business and scale is by diving into digital transformation or adding an online selling channel.
An online selling channel can go by many names, an eCommerce store, an online buying portal, a customer marketplace, or a self-service digital selling platform. They all have one thing in common, giving customers access to buy products digitally, at their own discretion.
Keep this number in mind:
When compared to the highest revenue-driving sales models, eCommerce beats out email, online chat, video conferences, and phone calls by a wide margin, according to McKinsey and Company’s research.
ECommerce is driving more revenue, and buyers prefer merchants who sell online through eCommerce.
In the same report, McKinsey found eCommerce was also the single most effective sales channel, beating out even in-person meetings, for the first time ever. The proof is in the pudding, as they say.
With more merchants selling via digital channels this year than any other year in history, the sprint to eCommerce has never been more important or more saturated.
So, what do you do?
As a merchant jumping into eCommerce and online sales channels for the first time, or if the first time didn’t go as planned, there are a couple of things you need to lock down before you dive straight into eCommerce platforms, integrations, feature sets, and all that other good stuff.
Before picking an eCommerce platform on which to build and hire developers, here are 4 things you need to think about on this journey to set yourself up for success:
1. Data Clean up and Consolidation
We’ve been there… and it’s not pretty
A problem plaguing many merchants, and even more out in the B2B ecosystem, is a seemingly impossible amount of data living in many separate sources, unconnected to each other. Some product data in this sheet, some customer data over here, with no way for these data points to talk to each other besides manual analysis.
This lack of organization/consolidation is the first hurdle you must overcome before you dive into the deep end of eCommerce.
This may seem more daunting than it really is, and one of the fastest ways to alleviate the pressure of organizing and consolidating all your own data is by looking into an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) Solution. A software solution like NetSuite ERP can often really help with data clean-up and analysis. ERPs are an all-in-one business management solution that help businesses run more efficiently using technology. There are also more niche solutions, like BTS-it, an ERP solution specifically for the metal manufacturing industry. Sunshine Metals integrated BTS-it into their eCommerce solution BigCommerce, you can see how they managed it here.
Specifically for product information, a PIM (Product Information Management) solution can help by digitizing and organizing your product data all in one place. There are many ways you can do this, but in our experience, PIMs tend to be the most user-friendly and easy to set up, with a trusted team to help along the way.
If you plan to introduce commerce on your website, these solutions will be paramount in setting yourself up for success down the road. The only way to analyze these data points is to have them all live in the same place, and analyzing data is the best way to decide what your next steps are without guesswork and trial and error.
If your data is clean and able to be analyzed, you are already closer to being the next success story in B2B eCommerce, able to be agile and make data-driven decisions when the time comes. That said, legacy data is RARELY (if ever) “clean,” so it would be prudent to begin data cleanup and standardization as an ongoing practice.
Our friend Amy did a further deep dive into how to clean up your data and get the most out of it in her article, Turn Data Into Dollars with these 6 Tips on Product Data Governance.
2. Streamlining and Digitizing Admin Processes
Once your data lives in one platform, allowing us to pull reports and analyses easily, it is time to streamline and digitize the rest of your processes.
But what exactly does this mean?
Well, there are many processes that go into running a business on the back end, from your fulfillment and logistical workflows to payroll, taxes, sales, and many more.
After identifying your data stack, organizing, and digitizing it, your next step is to do the same for all the business processes that take up many hours on a day-to-day basis. No more manually inputting hours and calculating payroll and taxes, gone are the days of spreadsheets and written order forms going to the warehouse for fulfillment.
These legacy processes are stealing hours and hours of your workweek, hours that could be opened for business development and scaling if they were streamlined, digitized, and automated.
A couple of key things to identify when moving to automation and digitization are:
Identifying repetitive tasks done every day, or on a weekly basis, that can be automated by software
Creating standard operating procedures and inputting these standards into software that will keep this standard up. This may include how reports are structured, the correct workflow for getting an order into fulfillment, the process when a new customer is received and onboarded, etc.
Finding the right software and partners that can connect to your website, so all these processes and workflows live in one place, making it easier to maintain and optimize than if they all lived in various spreadsheets and other areas.
With these 3 things in mind, Guy Harvey (an Intradeco company) digitized and automated many of their business processes, like their inventory management, fulfillment, and sales processes. Almost immediately, they saw improvements in productivity, fulfillment efficiency, and overall employee morale. Finding a partner agency to help with the best practices of automation and digitization may be something for you to think about.
For now, let us continue to our next priority.
Now, let’s talk about security.
At the end of 2020 and into 2021, more than 2,000 websites running Magento 1 post-End of Life were hacked. These breaches gave the hackers access to customer data, like payment information, and brought many of these businesses to their knees.
One of the most important things to think about at this stage of the game is the security of your website. Before moving into eCommerce, you must prioritize security now that your data and business workflows are digitized. One of the biggest mistakes eCommerce merchants make is leaving their security as a “minor priority” or something to worry about in the future. Security is a proactive priority, not a reactive one, and you need to have strong security features in place before your customer’s data gets breached, which can cause major headaches in the future.
The biggest thing to keep in mind when it comes to security is whether you have the resources to deal with it in-house, or if you should look for a security partner, like our friends over at Webscale. If you do not have the capabilities to stay on top of web security with your team, looking externally for help will ensure there is always someone around to deal with site breaches, outages, slowdowns, and more.
4. Understand Your Buyers’ Wants and Needs
The last step before building out your self-service buying portal, selling marketplace, or eCommerce website is knowing what your customers’ wants and needs are.
Of course, this is important for any business, digital or non. However, here are some key things for you to think about pre-eCommerce:
How do your customers typically purchase? Credit? Purchase orders?
Do your customers browse your entire catalog, or do they usually utilize search to find specific products or parameters?
Do your customers need advanced shipping options, due to having multiple warehouses, brick-and-mortar locations, or other needs?
Do buyers need to be verified or have a log-in to access your catalog?
Do certain customer segments or profiles get special pricing?
If you are asking yourself these questions, you’re on the right track.
But why do we need to know how our buyers think and interact with the site? Well, this will allow us to plan for what premium B2B features your website is going to need to provide your customers with the buying experience they desire from you.
The Binding Source, a B2B distribution company, took these things and more into consideration before they chose an eCommerce platform for their site to live on. They needed custom product filtering for the search functionality, purchase order acceptance and auto-tax exemptions, advanced shipping options with ShipperHQ, a gated buyer portal requiring log-in verification, and more.
After evaluating what their needs were and what types of site functionalities and features they would need, they chose BigCommerce to build their site on. While BigCommerce is not a one-size-fits-all platform, it fits TBS’s needs perfectly and helped the distribution company improve its conversion rate by 170% post-launch, with a 33% boost in transaction volume.
Now, We know it is a lot to process, but these are the 4 most important things for B2B’s to be thinking about before they jump into implementing eCommerce into their online presence.
At this point, we have all our data organized and structured, our business processes digitized and automated, our site security at the forefront of our minds, and our customers’ needs and wants fleshed out.
To take that leap off the diving board and dive in, it’s time to decide whether you have the resources to build out a fully-fledged eCommerce website in-house, or if it’s time to call an eCommerce agency, like Redstage.
The difference between calling an agency and simply dedicating a developer for this is the experience, the expertise and the dedicated time to ensuring your eCommerce implementation is successful.
If you have any questions or want to know the next steps in implementing online selling for your business, you can get a hold of us here.