Many B2B organizations – especially those in wholesale distribution – struggle to drive a significant portion of their revenues via their eCommerce site. According to a 2018 survey from Modern Distribution Management (MDM) and Real Results Marketing, 58% of wholesale distributors claimed they saw less than 10% of their overall revenues in 2017 from their online channel.
Yet we see a growing number of market leaders surpassing 20% of revenues via digital commerce. Why do some companies realize success while others continue to struggle?
Studies show that B2B buyer expectations closely follow those of B2C shoppers. Today’s professionals expect a flexible and efficient method of shopping for products and services. A well-built eCommerce site delivers on that expectation. However, B2B companies cannot simply hope that, “If you build it, they will come.” Driving eCommerce adoption requires a thoughtful strategy that begins before the launch of the actual eCommerce site.
This paper outlines three critical steps that one successful wholesale distributor employed to drive increased adoption of their eCommerce channel. It also includes useful tips for each step of the journey.
eCOMMERCE ADOPTION SUCCESS STORY
Hill & Markes, a distributor of foodservice disposables, janitorial supplies, office supplies, industrial packaging, and clean/natural foods, launched a new eCommerce site at the end of 2016. Having abandoned their previous eCommerce vendor in favor of Unilog, they were eager to launch a better site that could meet the needs of their growing digital-savvy customers, yet still accommodate those who felt more comfortable using traditional ordering methods. Committed to gaining customer adoption of their new site, Hill & Markes quickly implemented a business strategy that has paid off immensely. They’ve seen a 60% increase in registered accounts since they went live and, now, more than 25% of their total revenue is attributed to online sales.
These are the steps they followed to realize their success.
STEP 1: GAIN INTERNAL SUPPORT
The greatest obstacle to adoption of your eCommerce site comes from within. That’s because the employees who interface most often with your customers – sales and customer service – are usually the ones who don’t completely buy in with your digital strategy. Sales people are usually the first to feel threatened by an eCommerce site. Many believe that if they send their customers to a site where they can place an order themselves, they’ll lose commission, future sales, influence, and – most importantly – job security.
Don’t wait for your site to launch before you attempt to squash the negativity and focus on building change agents. Insist sales and customer service are still critical roles at the organization. But now, instead of being order takers, they will transition to consultants. Buyers still want the ability to speak to a product expert who can provide recommendations and solutions. This personal assistance goes a long way in converting someone to a buyer, regardless if that person places an order online or with a representative, which is why it’s imperative your internal teams be compensated for their work.
Because these teams have built relationships with customers and are positioned to persuade them to adopt online ordering, it is critical that you get them on board with your strategy.
Internal adoption tips:
- Do not proceed unless you have buy-in from the heads of every team in your organization, especially sales
- Train your sales and customer service staff to be website super users – knowledge is power and they should be able to answer any questions your customers have about the site
- Demonstrate how the site is a great resource for obtaining the latest product information, including availability, pricing, and promotions
- Make sure the customer-specific pricing that displays on your site is accurate; if a customer can call a rep and get a better price, they will never come back to your website
- Remind employees that your site is not a replacement for in-person customer relationships; it should complement the buying process
- Incentivize reps to recommend the site to customers and get them signed up as registered users
- Ensure that sales reps know they will receive commission for orders placed online
STEP 2: PROMOTE THE SITE
According to Mike Powers, eCommerce Manager at Hill & Markes, “75% of the battle is making people aware your site is out there.” When their website went live, Powers put a multi-pronged plan in place to communicate the launch and promote the new site’s features and capabilities.
First, his team produced a series of videos that offer step-by-step instructions to use the site, including how to register as a new user, compare products, and create a saved shopping list. Their video repository is housed on their YouTube page for easy access.
Next, for two months they hosted weekly webinars to give customers the chance to see a live site demonstration and ask questions. After each webinar, they sent a survey to attendees to receive feedback about the site and its overall functionality. Their surveys received nearly a 100% response rate, which gave them valuable insight to help them improve the site and user experience.
“You can still tweak and improve your site while you’re working on adoption,” explains Powers. “Your site will constantly evolve due to technology, business needs, and customer needs. That’s expected. Base functionality is what you’re really looking for – that’s the framework. Once you have that, it’s the customer experience that you should always build on.”
Hill & Markes also came up with a unique tactic to gain site adoption: they sent a college intern out on the road with their sales reps so that he could provide hands-on training at their customers’ offices. “Unlike many of our sales reps, our intern was born digital,” says Powers. “That frame of reference allowed him to better communicate the capabilities and value of the site to many of our customers.” As a result of this one-on-one instruction, the distributor saw an increase in customers creating online accounts.
Perhaps their most successful tactic was to “spiff” their customer service reps to get customers signed up on the site. Following this effort, 25% of customers they spoke with signed up and many converted to online ordering, saving the company an estimated 2,000 hours per year.
Site promotion tips:
- Create instructional videos to demonstrate site functionality and get customers over the hurdle of using your site
- Create “thought leader” videos about the benefits of your products or how to use them; have your sales reps share these on social networks like LinkedIn
- If you have a front counter or showroom, place a kiosk there with access to your site
- Offer discounts or incentives for first-time site purchases over a specific dollar amount
- Make sure your site URL is everywhere, including on your packaging and on invoices
- Develop nurture or drip email campaigns to promote the content on your site
- Request customer feedback and suggestions on how to improve the site
25% of customers they spoke with signed up [on the site] and many converted to online ordering, saving the company an estimated 2,000 hours per year.
STEP 3: MEASURE YOUR RESULTS
There’s a popular saying in business: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” This maxim certainly applies to the eCommerce world. It would be difficult to improve adoption of your site without proper data to guide your strategy and decisions.
The key to determining eCommerce adoption is to track and analyze your site as soon as it’s up and running. “Once you go live, that’s great,” says Powers, “but now you’ve got to measure, analyze, and test how people are engaging with your site.” He suggests employing data-centric people to help measure your site’s effectiveness and reach using analytics tools like Google Analytics or Matomo (formerly Piwik). At Hill & Markes, they hired a Digital Product Specialist to track and report on a multitude of metrics – from the number of site visitors and conversions to sales, to the number of new users who register online and the actual revenue coming directly from online orders.
Quantifying all these components related to the site has helped them not only justify their work, but also the site’s impact on their business. “Data is a powerful tool that can get people excited about your eCommerce efforts, as well as prove the ROI of your eCommerce investment,” explains Powers. Based on the data Hill & Markes has collected, their eCommerce site is their best-performing sales person. “Our site is educating the customer and giving recommendations,” notes Powers. “It’s basically a digital sales person that out-performs our next top 10 sales people combined.”
Business reporting tips:
- Hire a data analyst; it’s better than trying to teach someone how to do that job
- Develop a reporting strategy with measurable KPIs to gauge performance
- Start at an elementary level and track five or six key metrics, such as weekly site traffic, registered users, total online orders, and average online order value, using a baseline dashboard
- Track shopping cart abandonment and share insights with your sales reps for follow-up
- Create monthly reports to share within the organization and review with stakeholders on a regular basis
If you’re new to analytics, read A Beginner’s Guide to eCommerce Analytics for advice on which metrics matter most and helpful tips around collecting and analyzing your online data.
IT’S TIME TO GET STARTED
Forrester research finds that more than 55% of all B2B purchases are made online, which means wholesale buyers are realizing the convenience a digital storefront provides. For business owners, eCommerce offers another channel for buyers to engage and transact, generates an additional revenue stream, and provides digital marketing opportunities to grow sales. In effect, eCommerce benefits everyone.
Contact the eCommerce experts at Unilog to learn how to make your site an invaluable resource for buyers, and an added revenue stream for your organization. Unilog’s all-in-one eCommerce platform was built specifically for the B2B marketplace and includes all the features that make it easy and efficient for B2B buyers to transact with you.
Whether you need help gaining site adoption, building digital marketing strategies, or are just getting started on your eCommerce journey and are looking for a platform, Unilog is here to help you deliver a superior digital commerce experience.
Unilog is a global technology company that delivers powerful, affordable eCommerce solutions for the B2B marketplace. Our cloud-based eCommerce platform and product data enrichment services help distributors, manufacturers, and wholesalers increase online sales, reduce cost to serve, and enhance their digital channel. Unilog is an ISO 9001:2008- and ISO 8000-certified company with North American headquarters outside of Philadelphia, PA and international headquarters in Bangalore, India. For more information, visit www.unilogcorp.com.