How B-to-B Marketers Build Online Business

Oct 02, 2012 2:14 AM  By

Once a business-to-business organization has launched its ecommerce site, other projects often become higher priorities. In consequence, the online site can become a bit lackluster, at best, and neglected by both customers and the sales team alike, at worst.

The unfortunate result? Goals aren’t realized, and disdain for the project follows.

Three strategic steps to enhance your online b-to-b business can help you avoid this disappointing scenario: Improve on the existing foundation, leverage the built-in marketing tools, and embrace social media.

1. Improve on the existing foundation
There are many factors that affect the functionality of the initial launch of an ecommerce system. Often, for example, the scope of the project is reduced, either to keep the project within budget or to assure going live on a projected date. These “reduced” items are then moved to the project’s phantom phase II, which often never occurs.

The following items build upon the foundation in place and will dramatically improve the look and feel of the site.

Product Images need to be reviewed and improved. This tends to be a sore point for b-to-b companies, because many simply do not have access to high-quality images. However, ecommerce customers love and want multiple, high-resolution product images; find these images within the sales or marketing department, or conduct a photo shoot.

Extended product descriptions should also be reviewed and improved. Originally, these descriptions would have been pulled from various internal sources—and, unfortunately, they typically aren’t of a high enough quality for marketing to customers (let alone for keyword rich SEO content).

Spend some time with the marketing team to determine what the goal of the messaging should be. If your organization doesn’t have internal marketing resources, consider a freelance writer with industry experience.

Site navigation and faceted search elements must be reviewed. The idea here is to help online shoppers find what they want as quickly as possible. Ultimately, time spent improving the catalog site and the customer experience will be rewarded with customers diving head first into the product detail pages and becoming more and more comfortable with finding and buying your products.

Tandus Flooring (www.tandusshowroom.com) has loaded its site with high-quality images and color charts that highlight its products for the shopper. Also, Conney Safety (www.conneysafety.com) has presented its product detail page in a clean and very easy to use format.

Another good site is Fischer Scientific (www.fishersci.com), which offers a plethora of technical information for its shoppers.

2. Leverage existing tools to market to your customers
Most modern ecommerce systems provide robust marketing tools to increase the revenue of the online channel. Once again, however, these are not typically deployed or utilized within the first phase of an ecommerce project.

The following software tools allow the organization to market new items or higher margin items to its customers and, ultimately, increase the volume of sales or purchase order totals.

Cross-sell and up-sell: Providing cross-sell/up-sell functionality is a straightforward way to introduce additional products to the online shopper. Typically, this data can be accessed from within the back office system. With the design of a quick interface, the ecommerce site can easily suggest additional products or higher priced items to the customer.
Customer segmentation: Customer segmentation tools can be referred to by various names, depending on the ecommerce software. Regardless of what they’re called, these tools ultimately allow for the creation of segments of customers based on their activities. Then, these customer segments can be presented with marketing campaigns, email campaigns, specific targeted content, special pricing or promotions.

By leveraging these tools, an online b-to-b marketer can present customers with specific, targeted content and pricing that makes them feel as though the site was built specifically for them.

Product recommendations: Typically found in most ecommerce software toolkits, this tool allows the b-to-b marketer to recommend products that other shoppers have also purchased. The shopper is presented with recommendations such as, “People who bought this item also bought these items” or “People who bought this item also viewed these items.” These recommendations are powerful messages to the casual shopper, and get into the psychology of the social influences of ecommerce.

This software tool is another opportunity for the marketer to increase online revenue. For example, J.J. Keller and Associates (www.jjkeller.com) enhanced its site and the results provide a very clean shopping experience for its customers. Another good example of this is New Pig (www.newpig.com), which has fully embraced the customer experience with recommendations, reviews, great imagery and great content. As well, Greenleaf Global Support (www.greenleafglobalsupport.com) provides an abundance of technical data and product recommendations for its customers.

3. Embrace social media and social tools
Social media may be relatively new, especially to the b-to-b world, but its impact has been incredibly significant in recent years.

Social networks such as Twitter and LinkedIn allow consumers to quickly comment on and share products and services. B-to-b marketers can and should take advantage of these free tools in order to reach a greater, better targeted audience.

Product ratings and reviews: One of the more intimidating items that should be considered for b-to-b ecommerce is a product rating or review system. Traditionally, this tool has been used exclusively in the business-to-consumer world; however, buyers in the b-to-b world are starting to demand this option as well.

Their argument? “We read multiple reviews for a $30 coffee maker, but none for a $1,000 battery assembly. Why not provide customer reviews of the battery assembly?”

Giving the customer so much power is a scary thought for many organizations and traditional sales teams. However, many b-to-b organizations are already starting to provide product reviews and, when properly managed, this communication channel provides trust through transparency.

YouTube: Another option for b-to-b companies is YouTube, which provides the perfect medium for instructional, how-to videos. These videos are an excellent opportunities for companies to show off their expertise, to demonstrate how a product works, or to highlight other uses for the product.

Additionally, helping a customer better understand how a product works helps him or her make the decision to purchase it.

Find your sounding board: Finally, b-to-b companies should consider leveraging blogs, Twitter and LinkedIn. These social media tools allow companies to extend their reach beyond traditional marketing avenues to acquire prospective customers and retain loyal ones.

Social media channels, which drive traffic by propagating your organization’s message, also help to facilitate meaningful communication between the company and the customer base, thus building customer loyalty and, ultimately, repeat sales.

Two b-to-b companies that have embraced this approach are New Pig (www.newpig.com) and Wasserstrom (www.wasserstrom.com). By leveraging product reviews and ratings, YouTube videos and blogs, they have created exciting sites that seem geared more toward the b-to-c market than the b-to-b market.

William Onion (Bill.Onion@briteskies.com) is managing director of IT services company Briteskies (briteskies.com).