2021 MARKET DISRUPTORS EDITION
Market disruptors have hit wholesale distributors hard the last couple of years. First, new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), voice ordering, drone delivery, and item recognition software gained considerable traction in the retail industry, which set the stage for higher B2B buyer expectations. The more buyers are exposed to these consumer conveniences, the more they want distributors to offer them. Yet, many B2B businesses are still not convinced these technologies are relevant in their industry. According to a 2020 survey by Distribution Strategy Group, distributors have formed two opinions: either they don’t consider emerging technologies a threat to their business, or they are unsure of their threat level.
Next, marketplaces began popping up everywhere. These completely digital retailers provide B2B buyers a wider product assortment, competitive pricing, faster delivery, and no minimum order requirement. Amazon Business and Alibaba started the trend, but now other players like Google Shopping, eBay Business & Industrial, and Walmart are taking a bite of the distribution industry’s market share. Even large distributors like Grainger and manufacturers are entering the arena. A 2019 survey by Worldwide Business Research and B2B Online revealed 50% of U.S. manufacturers plan to launch their own marketplaces and 43% expect to cut out distributors and sell direct on other marketplaces.
As if emerging technologies and third-party marketplaces weren’t enough, a global pandemic took the world by storm forcing storefronts to close and businesses to move to “contactless” digital channels. Since then, distributors without an online presence have struggled to stay afloat, while those with an eCommerce site continue to serve their customers and remain profitable. In fact, in a recent survey conducted by Unilog, 80% of B2B companies that have an eCommerce site say their digital channel is performing the same or better than it was prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.
We don’t mean to paint a grim picture, but businesses must understand the reality so they can plan for the future. In order to successfully manage these market disruptors, distributors need a strong digital branch that can integrate new technologies, compete with marketplaces, and evolve to meet customer needs.
This updated 2021 guide details the major milestones in building a digital branch and includes key questions to ask, tools to consider, and obstacles to avoid throughout your eCommerce journey – from pre-implementation and planning to post-launch. It also features new statistics, trends, and resources to keep you apprised of the current B2B digital commerce landscape.
By 2023, 17% of all B2B sales will be eCommerce sales.
(The B2B eCommerce Playbook, Forrester, 2019)
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already determined your organization has a need for a website that allows buyers to purchase your products online. Now, as you enter the pre-implementation stage, it’s time to define the specific functionality, opportunities, and measurable success you want from the site.
- Understand your customer needs – now and in the future – The main purpose of a website is to serve your customers, therefore it’s critical to know what they want and expect from your site. Reach out to some of your long-standing customers and ask them how your future site can help make their job easier. Do they want access to their custom catalog and pricing online? Do they wish to transact through their procurement system instead of with a purchase order? Do they need the ability to shop and order from their mobile device? Be sure to listen to your customers’ suggestions because, ultimately, these buyers will be the impetus for your site’s success.
- Know your system integration requirements – An eCommerce platform is not a stand-alone system. For it to work properly, it must integrate with your existing ERP and backend systems. It’s important that the eCommerce vendor you select be able to demonstrate that they’ve successfully integrated their platform with your ERP for similar customers in your market. You’ll also want to know if the eCommerce platform can integrate with other third-party applications like Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Business Intelligence (BI) solutions. Meet with your IT department to understand the requirements and restrictions you may have and determine which components the commerce software must include to communicate with your internal systems. An effective eCommerce platform must also be flexible so that it can transition with your organization’s future technology upgrades and changes. An open API environment is critical to your future success.
- Build a strong business case for the platform – Put together an internal team to create a business case for your new system which outlines the goals, benefits, and expected return on investment (ROI) for the site. It should provide both short- and long-term goals, and include projections like increases in customer usage, conversion rates, as well as predicted cost savings. For example, is it more important that your company shift its current customers to buying online in an effort to decrease cost per transaction, or is it necessary to generate incremental revenue from new customers in a broader geography or market? Once you’ve presented your business case to gain executive buy-in, you can then use it to prioritize next steps and measure the effectiveness of your plan based on your KPIs.
- Put dedicated resources in place – It takes a team effort to implement and manage an eCommerce site, so start by enlisting people from key departments to serve as core leads and subject matter experts during the implementation process. Remember, your eCommerce initiative is not a “lone wolf” project relegated to your IT team, though they’ll certainly be involved. You’ll need to consider hiring dedicated people to manage day-to-day site management duties such as making product updates, developing new content, and troubleshooting technical issues. Without constant attention and maintenance by committed staff, your site will become stale and lose relevance with buyers.
- Don’t neglect change management – eCommerce isn’t just about technology. It’s also about the people and processes that drive your strategy forward. B2B eCommerce advisor Justin King sums it up perfectly, “All successful B2B eCommerce businesses have one thing in common: they’ve implemented an organizational change management process. B2B organizations have legacy systems, processes, and people that keep the typical organization from being able to innovate digitally. Change management is the only way an organization can effectively move the needle.”
“We learned that pricing has to be right in the ERP because customers can see that price when they go on our site. If a sales rep quotes customers at a lower price, you can say goodbye to your website because they won’t trust your site as the place for the most up-to-date information.”
Sr. ERP Business Analyst
UNDERSTAND THE B2B eCOMMERCE ESSENTIALS
The foundation for a successful distributor site is built with critical functionality that ensures optimal usability and a positive customer experience. Before you begin searching for an eCommerce platform, understand what these features are and why they’re important. Additional capabilities can always be incorporated after your site is live, but every B2B site must first start with the following essential components:
- PIM: This product information management solution acts as the central hub for all the important product information and content for your selling channels. It’s here data is sourced, standardized, and exported to different channels and partners. A PIM ensures clean, accurate product information is delivered consistently and effectively to provide a true omnichannel experience. It also maintains your taxonomies for your entire catalog (read more below).
- Site search: A sophisticated search tool uses algorithms that allow vendors to dictate the results that display on their site during a user search. Advanced search capabilities such as auto-complete suggestions, configurable search, and a navigation bar with faceted attributes provide more targeted, relevant search results for buyers, which lead to a quicker and easier path to purchase. Site search speed has a direct impact on adoption of any eCommerce site.
- Shopping cart: With a comprehensive shopping cart in place, buyers have a flexible and secure way to shop and transact online. In addition to providing live product pricing and availability, shopping cart tools should meet the different needs of your buyers by offering shared carts, shipping options, and multiple payment methods, including credit cards and purchase orders.
- Content management system: A robust CMS allows for easy updates to web pages and content, but it also enables administrators to build SEO for better site visibility and create personalization options like product recommendations for customers. Your marketing team will leverage the CMS to build promotional pages and add content to support campaigns.
- Price and availability: Transparency is an essential element in building trust with buyers. When you display current product pricing and availability on your website, customers can see on-hand inventory and order at their negotiated price while anonymous buyers can make purchases at list price – which many will do if you have inventory available. Today’s buyers expect to see a product’s price (even if it is the MSRP) and availability without having to create an account or log in to your web portal.
- Mobile: With more buyers using their mobile devices to research and shop for products, an eCommerce site must be mobile-friendly. A responsive web design adapts a website’s layout to ensure that the content and structure of the site remain consistent across all buyer devices, creating a seamless user experience. Be sure to understand the difference between a “mobile responsive website” and “native mobile app” and the benefits of each.
- Taxonomy: This classification methodology categorizes products in a way that makes sense to buyers and leads them to products in as few clicks as possible. A proper taxonomy defines the hierarchy, attributes, and categories within a product catalog to create a better framework and boost a site’s search and browsing capabilities.
- Event management: Many B2B companies – especially wholesale distributors – offer training classes, new product demonstrations, customer appreciation days, and other events that help them connect with their customers and educate buyers on the products they carry. An Event Management module allows companies to build an ongoing calendar of events and manage online registrations with ease.
- Punchout: Many B2B customers – especially those in government, higher education, and larger buying groups – will require that you provide punchout capability. These online orders are sent direct from the customer’s procurement system (Ariba, SAP, Oracle, etc.) into your website. You will need a way to easily configure punchout for each customer’s system.
You can save a lot of time and money and avoid unnecessary complexity if you can get all these components from a single vendor. The cost to integrate disparate systems and train your staff on multiple user interfaces and product capabilities can be prohibitive. Many B2B companies opt for the “one throat to choke” model when it comes to the vendors in their eCommerce ecosystem.
IT’S A FACT!
COVID-19 has accelerated eCommerce growth by four to six years. As of May 2020, total online spending reached $82.5 billion, up 77% year-over-year.
DON’T NEGLECT PRODUCT CONTENT
Product content that features detailed descriptions, specifications, images, videos, and supporting documents is more searchable and desirable for online buyers. This unique, optimized content attracts search engines, drives traffic, and gives buyers the power to make more informed purchasing decisions.
One B2B company, Marks Supply, has seen great success with their eCommerce initiative, thanks to great product content. “Many distributors I speak with focus 95% or more of their eCommerce efforts on the site itself and give little thought to the product content,” says Grant Movold, Manager of Systems & IT at Marks Supply. “We think that’s wrong. In our estimation, content is equally important. That’s how we provide true value to our customers and fend off the big-box competition. In short: better content drives more customers to your site, which translates into higher revenues and greater profits.”
You don’t need to enrich data for every SKU right away. Here are three simple ways to prioritize your product data enrichment efforts so you can get moving with improving the online experience for your customers:
- The 80/20 rule – The adage states that 80% of your sales comes from only 20% of your inventory. By focusing on the items that turn most often, you can ensure the item detail pages that are most critical to your business success are also the ones that receive the most attention. It’s much easier to start with a subset of 10,000 items and then deal with the other 50,000 SKUs down the road.
- Customer focus – Many distributors choose to launch their new eCommerce website to only a select group of strategic customer accounts. In this case, you may want to enrich the subset of items that are most applicable to those customers. By focusing on the items that those accounts are most likely to purchase, you’ll instantly increase the value of your eCommerce site and improve your chance of customer adoption. Conversely, you may want to focus on a subset of smaller accounts that you want to push toward online ordering because you don’t want your sales reps spending much time on these lower volume customer orders.
- Defend your turf – If you have product that is easier to pick, pack, and ship than other items, there’s a good chance you have higher competition from other online businesses. Do you have items that people are more likely to search for on Google than your eCommerce site? By enriching product content for those specific items, you increase the chances that searchers will land on your site. Take a hard look at your inventory and decide if there are items that are more conducive to online purchasing, like lower margin items or product that is small enough to ship at low cost. Target content enrichment for those high competition items before you address your larger catalog of SKUs.
B2B organizations can also turn to content service providers for help in building and enriching their product catalogs. Buying groups such as Affiliated Distributors (AD) have partnered with Unilog to offer members better product data for their online sales channels. Their content subscription program gives AD members access to millions of products with enriched product descriptions, specifications, images, manuals, and more. Orgill, the world’s largest independent hardlines distributor, provides its retail dealers an enriched product catalog with over half a million SKUs. Maintained and updated by Unilog daily, Orgill’s content subscription program ensures dealers have the most current product information for their customers. “Today’s buyers have set the bar when it comes to enriched data. If we want to remain relevant, we need to meet or exceed that bar and our subscription program allows us to do that,” asserts Orgill dealer Jared Hotop, VP of IT at Bucheit’s.
62% of B2B buyers say they can make a purchasing decision based solely on digital content.
(Blue Corona, 2019)
KNOW THOSE INDUSTRY ACRONYMS
It’s a known fact that technology companies, industry analysts, consultants, and marketing organizations all love acronyms. But acronyms often confuse the layperson who doesn’t deal with these terms on a daily basis.
Below is a list of common acronyms used in the eCommerce space and their meaning:
- AI – Artificial Intelligence
- AOV – Average Order Value
- API – Application Programming Interface
- B2B – Business to Business
- B2C – Business to Consumer
- BI – Business Intelligence
- BOPIS – Buy Online Pickup in Store
- CMS – Content Management System
- CPA – Cost per Acquisition
- CPC – Cost per Click
- CPQ – Configure Price Quote
- CRM – Customer Relationship Management
- CSS – Cascading Style Sheet
- D2C – Direct to Consumer
- DAM – Digital Asset Management
- DQM – Data Quality Management
- ERP – Enterprise Resource Planning
- ESP – E-Mail Service Provider
- GA – Google Analytics
- IoT – Internet of Things
- ISP – Internet Service Provider
- KPI – Key Performance Indicator
- ML – Machine Learning
- PIM – Product Information Management
- POS – Point of Sale
- ROI – Return on Investment
- SaaS – Software as a Service
- SEM – Search Engine Marketing
- SEO – Search Engine Optimization
- SERP – Search Engine Results Pages
- SLA – Service Level Agreement
- TCO – Total Cost of Ownership
Amazon’s total B2B sales will exceed $25 billion by 2021 and could eventually surpass its retail sales.
(Colin Sebastian, Financial Analyst at R.W. Baird & Co.)
CHOOSE AN eCOMMERCE PARTNER
Once you’ve built a solid business case, identified your business needs and system requirements, and grasped the important components of eCommerce, it’s time to find a digital commerce provider. Successful companies do their research and planning before talking to any vendors.
Because the B2B industry has different needs from those of consumer retailers, look for a company whose focus is the wholesale distribution marketplace. Their platform should be easy to manage, yet robust enough to house hundreds of thousands of products and handle the unique order processes and payment terms of B2B customers. Be sure to ask the vendor what percentage of their customer base is B2B.
As you interview different eCommerce providers, here are additional questions you can ask to determine if they’re the right fit for your business:
- Does your platform integrate with our ERP? This may be one of the most important factors to consider. Ask for a reference list of customers on your ERP. You should be comfortable that the vendor has the knowledge and technical capability (via an open API) to integrate with your business system or any other business applications you run.
- Do you have an all-in-one or modular platform? This is important to understand as it will impact the investment you need to make and the level of complexity with implementing the solution. Providers of modular platforms will often charge additional fees for every module, so make them be clear up front about your total cost of ownership.
- Does your eCommerce solution include a PIM? A Product Information Management (PIM) module is critical to managing the product data you sell on your website or on other online marketplaces. A PIM is not the same as the product files in your ERP, which have many drawbacks. If the vendor’s eCommerce solution does not include a PIM, you will most likely end up investing in one from another PIM provider.
- Is your platform a cloud-based or on-premises system? There are clear advantages to a cloud-based platform, including lower cost to maintain, better security, improved availability/redundancy, SaaS-based pricing, and more.
- How many products can your system house and manage? B2B eCommerce platforms should have no problem handling complex transactions across catalogs that contain hundreds of thousands of SKUs.
- Do you also offer product content services? Some companies provide services that help you enrich the product descriptions, specs, attributes, and related content (images, videos, manuals, etc.) for the items you sell. Better quality content attracts buyers to your site and helps conversion rates.
- How long does it typically take to build and launch a site? Industry research shows that most eCommerce implementations run more than six months, with 31% taking more than a year. Look for a vendor that has a proven process for getting you online as quickly as possible. You don’t want to get stalled in your strategy.
- Do you have business relationships with the industry organizations I’m a part of? Check to see if the vendor knows the buying groups, marketing organizations, tradeshows, and other affiliations that are prominent in your industry. Their vision should not revolve solely around technology. It should also include an understanding of the relationships and people in your industry.
A credible provider should be able to provide reasonable answers to these, or any other questions you may have, because the more transparent they are, the less surprises you’ll encounter down the road. If the vendor asks, be open about your digital commerce strategy. If you don’t have a strong strategy, share that as well. The vendor should be able to guide you regarding industry best practices and implementation advice.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible to stay apprised, focused, and capable of making the best decisions for your organization.
IT’S A FACT!
In 2019, B2B eCommerce grew nine times faster than the growth in all U.S. manufacturing and distributor/wholesaler sales.
(2020 B2B Ecommerce Market Report by Digital Commerce 360)
KNOW WHAT DRIVES eCOMMERCE SALES
As you monitor your site’s performance, pay special attention to three variables that have a direct impact on your online revenue: number of sessions, conversion rate, and average order value (AOV). They are part of the optimization formula that every distributor should include in their site’s ROI analysis:
Sessions x Conversion Rate x AOV = Revenue
The smallest increase in just one of these variables will guarantee you higher revenue, so make these three metrics a business priority.
- Number of sessions – Sessions are the interactions or actions a user performs on your site such as browsing site pages, downloading documents, and making transactions. To drive more sessions, first develop a strong SEO strategy. Search engines like Google look for web pages that offer high-quality content, contain relevant keywords, meta descriptions and tags, and are optimized for mobile viewing. The more SEO tactics you use, the better your site will rank on search engine results pages. Second, build up your site with informative and interesting content to attract visitors. Offer website pages that tell people about your company, products, services, and staff; create an enriched online catalog with accurate and detailed product information; and provide resources like blog content, videos, and thought leadership pieces. Third, promote your company and content using social media and e-mail marketing. Create regular digital marketing campaigns to communicate with prospects and customers, build engagement, and boost revenue.
- Conversion rate – Conversions (visits that end with an online purchase) and micro-conversions (actions that don’t directly translate to revenue) are important metrics that measure the success of your eCommerce site. To calculate your website conversion rate, determine the number of conversions you had within a given month, divide that number by the total number of visitors to your site that same time period, then multiply that number by 100. Once you determine your conversion rate, you can create a target goal to reach. Leverage Google Analytics reporting to identify any low numbers and pinpoint where you are losing people in the conversion funnel. There are a number of reasons for low conversions, such as a distracting web design, lack of content, slow page-load speeds, and broken links. Once you’ve identified the problem areas, you can take steps to remedy the issues and increase conversions.
- Average order value – To determine the average amount spent per order on your eCommerce site, divide your total online revenue for a given month by the total number of online purchases made that same month. A low AOV could be due to poor site search results, missing or wrong product information, or a lack of pricing and availability. To shift your AOV metric into a positive direction, invest in a PIM that integrates your ERP with your eCommerce platform to provide up-to-date pricing, availability, and product information. Then, take steps to showcase your products to site visitors, such as linking associated products together to display alternate or complementary items related to buyer product searches. This up-sell/cross-sell strategy makes shopping more convenient for buyers and exposes them to options they may not have considered. Another tactic is incentivizing customers with promotional offers tailored to their interests and purchase history. Discounts, bundled product pricing, and free shipping are great ways to entice buyers to build up their cart. Also consider creating a page of clearance items and advertise this sales section with a banner ad on your home page. Buyers already shopping on your site will be more apt to check out your bargain items and add them to their cart. On average, Unilog customers report anywhere from 40% to 90% higher AOV from their eCommerce sales than traditional offline sales channels.
READY, SET, GO-LIVE
With the prep work done and an eCommerce partner in place, the actual site implementation can begin. Expect detailed production schedules, expansive workflows, and weekly meetings with the commerce provider as they help build and launch your site. Communication is key with a project of this magnitude, and everyone must stay on task to meet deliverables.
When your site is ready to go live, try a soft launch with employees as well as a few of your trusted customers. You’ll receive worthwhile feedback to help improve the site, work out any bugs and, in the process, increase your chances of people using the platform when they realize the value it provides.
Once the full site launch has occurred, begin measuring its success with the help of analytic tools. Find out how many people are visiting the site, which pages they visit most, and how many of them are transacting online. Analytics provide a wealth of information about your targeted buyer’s intent and interest, which you can then use to improve their online user experience and create more opportunities to drive sales.
Here are some key performance metrics you will want to track to measure the success of your site:
- Unique visitors – how many unique people come to your site over time. The goal is to get this trending up. You can also correlate events – such as a sales promotion, marketing campaign, or media coverage – with spikes in traffic.
- Pages per session – the average number of pages people look at during a single session on your site. Ideally, more page views equate to better engagement.
- Time on site – similar to pages per session, time on site can be used to measure buyer engagement.
- Conversion rate – the number of orders placed on your site as a percentage of total visitors. This will reveal how effective your site is at converting browsers into buyers.
- Average order value – the average of all orders placed via your eCommerce site. This is a key metric to watch over time. Increases in order value indicate increased trust with placing large orders online and demonstrate your ability to up-sell related items on your site. You can compare this to orders placed offline and look for ways to improve.
- Percent of sales online – your total online sales divided by total company sales. As you increase this metric, your cost to serve should go down while revenues and customer loyalty increase.
- New repeat buyers – the number of first-time buyers on your site versus those who purchase more than once. Are you simply shifting your current customers to your online channel or are you effectively gaining market share by attracting new buyers who have not previously bought from you?
- Abandoned carts – how often buyers place items in their shopping cart, but don’t follow through with the online purchase. Providing this information to sales can enable them to reach out to specific customers to see if they can close the business.
- Top page exits – the website pages from which visitors most often leave your site after a session. There may be a problem with these pages, either technical or with the content.
“We’re working so that sales can access a customer’s account, with their permission, to review their cart before they transact. With the ability to view a customer order before it’s placed, they can suggest items that may be better for their application, or products they may have forgotten to add to their cart. It’s just another way we want to be able to assist the customer and show them we have their back.”
eCommerce Operations Manager
Hirsch Pipe & Supply
AVOID IMPLEMENTATION PITFALLS
The harsh reality is that many eCommerce implementations do not achieve the desired level of success. This may be due to any number of factors, including people, process, or technical challenges. Here is a short list of the most common pitfalls you should look to avoid:
- Making too big a jump – Some companies want to go from a static marketing website to an advanced digital branch with all the bells and whistles – hyper-personalized landing pages, integrations with multiple online marketplaces, advanced eCommerce analytics, chatbots, and more. In other words, they want to race from 0 to 60 mph in less than a second. You must walk before you run. Don’t try to make too big a jump on the eCommerce maturity curve. Look to get on par with the industry before you try to outmaneuver them. It’s easier to pass the leader from the middle of the pack than from the back of the race.
- Scope creep – In the middle of an eCommerce implementation, companies will often see something that a competitor is doing and decide they want to add that to their site in time for the initial launch. Remember, your eCommerce site is a journey, not a “big bang” event. You will have time later to evolve your site. Don’t let scope creep derail you from getting the critical capabilities live.
- No executive sponsor or cross-functional support – This will wreck any project. If your eCommerce initiative is being driven by your Marketing or IT team and isn’t a part of your executive strategy, it will ultimately fail. Likewise, if you don’t have support across your entire organization – especially from the sales team – your site will not drive the business impact you expect. Make sure sales understands how your new site will make their job easier and put more money in their pockets.
- Lack of focus on customer and employee onboarding – Some B2B companies build and launch their eCommerce site and expect buyers to simply show up once it’s live. You must spend the time and resources to train your staff and customers on the benefits of purchasing online. Conduct webinars, in-person training sessions, and more to ensure you see proper adoption of your digital branch.
- Ill-defined swim lanes – If you employ one company to provide the design of your site and a different company to provide the platform, be sure to clearly define swim lanes ahead of time. Lack of coordination and confusion about responsibility can drastically slow down an implementation. This also applies to your internal team. Make sure everyone knows who has what responsibility and who ultimately makes the decision throughout the process.
“I can say with confidence that one vital role for us has been that of a data analyst. He has completely changed the game by introducing new ways to work with data, automate it, and ensure that we have the right data processes in place for a scalable and sustainable eCommerce program.”
eCommerce and Marketing Manager
Turner Supply Company
NEXT STEPS IN YOUR DIGITAL JOURNEY
Soon after implementation, your digital branch will develop traction as new buyers visit the site and current customers shift to online ordering. And even though your site metrics will show positive trends, more work will be needed to continue the momentum.
Make site enhancements
In the second phase of your digital commerce journey, one to three years after your go-live, plan to incorporate more features to elevate the customer experience:
- Use customer personas and buying histories to create personalized product recommendations and promotions
- Integrate chatbots to provide instant answers to site visitor questions, solve problems, and direct them to further support, if needed
- Expand your delivery and curbside pickup options to accommodate for crises like the COVID pandemic where no-contact transactions are preferred
- Allow customers to pay down balances owed via your website
- Continue to emphasize great product content by creating videos or 360-degree images of top-selling items
At the same time, employ tools and tactics that will provide a deeper understanding of your buyers as well as your site’s performance:
- Improve SEO by integrating keywords in URLs, product titles, descriptions, and image file names
- Link associated products to offer alternative or complementary items for up-sell and cross-sell opportunities
- Invest in advanced analytics tools that pinpoint the drivers behind your web sales and provide more actionable insights
Reach out to customers and employees for feedback to help improve your digital branch. Engage with customers to learn what’s working, what’s not, and which additional offerings they’d like to see. Ask your staff if they have suggestions that can further improve efficiency, customer service, and employee use of the site.
Consider third-party marketplaces
Marketplaces are making their way into the wholesale distribution arena and while some distributors consider these online retailers direct competition, others see them as another source of revenue. Amazon Business and Alibaba broke into the B2B industry a few years ago. Now, new marketplaces are popping up every day with hopes to take additional market share from traditional distributors. Google, Walmart, and eBay are just a few of the latest B2B contenders. These deep-pocket retailers have a scale advantage which allows them to carry a wider assortment of products, reach more buyers, and offer easier ordering methods.
On one side of the argument, these marketplaces provide an additional sales channel for distributors looking to expand their online presence and add another revenue stream. Plus, there’s less overhead and day-to-day management required to sell to this larger customer base.
“Adding a marketplace strategy alongside your eCommerce site can help diversify your sales channel, increase your brand exposure, and provide more customer convenience,” explains Scott Frymire, SVP of Marketing at Unilog. But, he says, with advantages come potential risks when selling through these third parties. Some marketplaces utilize distributor-provided data for their own benefit. Recent reports claim Amazon Business analyzes the data they collect from distributors and uses it to white label their own B2B products. “Marketplaces definitely have potential as a sales channel for distributors, but they are not the be-all, end-all,” concludes Frymire.
FOLLOW INDUSTRY INFLUENCERS
Below is a list of 26 people (alphabetical, by last name) who are influential in the B2B eCommerce space. They speak at industry shows, post blogs, produce podcasts and videos, and conduct industry research on a regular basis. Many of them have led successful eCommerce initiatives for B2B companies. Keeping tabs on them will keep you informed of industry advancements. Listen for ideas that you can incorporate into your digital commerce strategy.
EVP, Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer, MSC Industrial Supply
eCommerce Expert, Author, and Advisor
Managing Partner, Distribution Strategy Group
Senior Analyst, Forrester Research
President, The Collier Company, Inc.
Global eCommerce Director, Unilever
Editor, Digital Commerce 360
Chief Strategy Officer, From the Future
VP, Analyst and Gartner Fellow
Chief Commerce Strategy Officer, Publicis
Founder & Senior Partner, Distribution Strategy Group
Digital Sales, Parts Town
CEO, Paradigm B2B
Research Manager, Digital Commerce, IDC
CIO, Turtle & Hughes
CEO, Main Event Digital
Senior Advisor, McKinsey & Company
Director of eCommerce & Digital Marketing, Alaska Rubber Group
Vice President Marketing and Head of Digital, Robert Bosch Tools
Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Nimble Gravity
Innovation & Technology Strategist
Chief Strategy Officer, Buy Box Experts
Chief Strategy Officer, Bloomreach
CEO, Get Spiffy
Ask the Expert: What’s one thing that distributors should stop doing immediately when it comes to eCommerce?
“Distributors need to stop requiring that customers jump through hoops to know prices. It’s fine to ask a customer to login to know a final price, after you’ve given them an effective price range pre-login. But to withhold prices as an incentive to get customers to register or login is no longer effective. Too many sites don’t require logins to show prices now that it’s an unrealistic (and anti-competitive) request.”
CEO, Paradigm B2B
Ask the Expert: Why is online product content so important on an eCommerce site?
“Unlike in a physical store setting where buyers have signage and employees to direct them to items they can see and touch, an online store requires a lot more content to help them find the right product for their particular application. Robust product descriptions, specifications, and images are a great start, but you should also incorporate keywords along with slang and alternate product terms, associate related products, and solicit and display customer product reviews. These different kinds of content will help your customers and strengthen your brand.”
Ask the Expert: What one thing separates the really successful B2B eCommerce businesses from the average ones?
“I consistently find one factor: for those that are successful, top leadership is 100% bought in and driving digital transformation. Without C-suite urgency and drive, the customer loses a seat at the table, traditional selling channels such as the sales force will view eCommerce as the enemy and fight against it, seasoned eCommerce management cannot be hired, and budgets don’t exist to invest in the technology needed to support a successful implementation. When the eCommerce laggards lose ground to competitors or fail altogether, they will only have their leadership to point to.”
eCommerce Expert, Author, and Advisor
Ask the Expert: The amount of site traffic we have doesn’t correlate with our online sales. Does that mean our site is not performing well?
“Many distributors make the mistake of measuring the value of their website by what’s checked out through the shopping cart. Typically, 80 to 90% of your customers are visiting your website, yet only 10% of them are doing business directly through it. That’s because customers may be calling their sales rep to place the order, ordering through their e-procurement system, or sending a purchase order from their ERP. Regardless of where they transact, know they are almost always starting their buying journey on your website.”
Founder & Senior Partner, Distribution Strategy Group
EMPLOY WINNING STRATEGIES
Remember, an eCommerce site is never finished. It must always evolve to keep up with changing trends, technology, and expectations. Always look for ways to drive costs out of customer transactions and increase loyalty with your buyers.
The most mature B2B companies don’t think of their eCommerce sites as a stand-alone channel. The site should be part of a greater strategy that blends physical commerce with digital capabilities. It should not matter if a customer begins their journey online and completes it offline or vice versa. Develop strategies that bring the physical and digital experiences closer together.
PARTNER WITH UNILOG
Unilog is the authority when it comes to B2B eCommerce. We have helped hundreds of companies build strong digital branches that increase their brand presence, grow their revenue, and better serve their customers. Our all-in-one eCommerce solution includes an award-winning digital commerce platform with built-in PIM, tools to integrate all your business systems including your ERP, powerful site search capabilities, insightful analytics, and an optional mobile app.
Speak to a Unilog expert today to learn more about our software and services, get answers to your implementation questions, and schedule a product demo. As your eCommerce partner, Unilog will be with you every step of the way – from pre-implementation to post-launch – to make sure your business achieves eCommerce success.
“Vendors see much greater value in partners that embrace B2B digital commerce. Some of our vendors paid little attention to our company before we had our eCommerce site. Now we have vendors closing off direct business with other distributors and directing them to process all orders though us. Unilog’s eCommerce platform made that possible.”
COO, Bay Fastening Systems
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.