Among the many initiatives an organization takes on in any given year, a b-to-b ecommerce project can be one of the most challenging. Not only do these require resources whose days are filled with conflicting priorities, but it introduces an entirely new sales channel which changes the dynamic of the organization’s working business model.
We’ve seen great success for clients such as Playaway.com and Shoffee.com by understanding the challenges up front. The first tactic in a successful b-to-b ecommerce initiative is often the most overlooked as companies charge full steam ahead – creating support in the organization.
Define the strategy
It’s important to ask a few key questions up front. First, what is the site intended to do? Is it intended primarily to increase revenue, decrease costs, or improve customer satisfaction? These should be ranked in order of importance, with only one of these ranked as #1.
Does it align with the company mission and vision statements? Without that alignment, the project will not receive the support of the executive team, or anybody else in for that matter.
Can you measure the success? A b-to-b ecommerce site needs to have clearly defined measurements of success. This allows the project team to have explicit targets, allowing them to evaluate options and make decisions along the way. Typically, ecommerce projects use some combination of the following metrics: site traffic, revenue generated or increase in revenue generated, number of orders, lines per order and average dollar per order.
Prior proper planning allows everybody within the company to understand the scope of the project, when each milestone will be completed, and most importantly why the project is being done in the first place. This sets a foundation and creates alignment within the company, so that everybody is working towards a common goal.
Engage the sales team
Often the sales team, particularly in a b-to-b environment, sees the new ecommerce site both as competition as well as a ‘toy’ that the IT department is playing with. Of course, neither is correct, and both views can be contagious within the organization.
Given this, the project team must engage the sales team early and often to rally their support for the new site. Typically, once the sales team understands how the site aligns with the corporate goals, and how the site can specifically help them, they will embrace the project and the new site.
One area that is sure to be a concern to the sales team will be commission; specifically, will the new site drive their commissions up, or will their commissions go down? This does not need to be a complicated issue, and some key decisions, like paying commissions on ecommerce orders, will ensure the sales team will embrace the new site and encourage their customers to use it. A bad decision, or poor communication of the strategy, will result in poor support from sales team, and ultimately poor adoption from existing customers.
Crown your champion
B-to-b ecommerce projects touch almost every part of the organization: Sales and marketing, operations, finance and especially IT. There must be a champion for the b-to-b site; naming an ecommerce director will help to drive the project through to launch. Also, this key leader will ensure that the site is nurtured and continues to grow once it has been launched.
What does the role entail? The b-to-b ecommerce Director should know conventional sales strategies, as well as how to harness the power of the internet and social marketing strategies in a b-to-b environment. This person should be an effective leader and have the ability to create alliances with other departments within the organization.
During the implementation project, and especially after the launch, the project team will need support from marketing, sales, finance, operations and most heavily from IT. This person should be a savvy negotiator to garner support from the other departments, ensuring the success of the initial project and entire b-to-b initiative.
When planned correctly, b-to-b ecommerce sites can bring success and profit to an organization. Tackling the most common challenges in order to create support in the organization is a critical first step to continued success.
William Onion is managing director of IT services company Briteskies.