Part 2 | Overcoming B2B E-Commerce Channel Conflict

Welcome to Part II of our four-part series on Optimizing the B2B Experience to Meet B2C Expectations. In this series we are looking closely at three key issues identified in the Forrester report “B2B E-commerce: A Trillion Dollars For the Taking”. Today we’ll talk about the potential for conflict between direct sales and e-commerce for B2B organizations.

The Perceived Conflict

If your company has experienced success through a traditional “feet on the street” approach for B2B sales, it’s no surprise that you may view the heart of your operations as your sales team—not an online selling platform. The question is: should a company really be one or the other? Will investing resources in developing an e-commerce presence really undermine the work of your sales team?

The answer is No. But transitioning into the world of B2B e-commerce does mean a changing role for your sales force. Many B2B transactions are complex and require in-person client education, even when online sales are available. Direct sales combined with e-commerce gives your company the ability to maximize revenues by deploying your sales team when in-person help really adds value, but allowing customers to easily complete straightforward and repeat purchasing tasks.

How Technology Can Bridge the Gap Between Channels

  • Let your sales force focus on new business and complex sales— Using an e-commerce platform with online customer service tools make it easier for sales people to focus on finding new business, growing existing accounts and handling complex sales instead of being tied up with routine customer requests.
    • Move routine tasks online by implementing self-service models – Offer your customers online self-service tools such as placing repeat orders, immediate access to sales history and account activity, bill payment, order tracking and other customer service related tasks. 
    • Expand your customer service capabilities to expand into new markets – Self-service tools can also make it affordable for B2B organizations to address the needs of small-scale customers, which can allow your company to cover more markets.
  • Arm reps with mobile-assist technologies to increase efficiency — Outfitting your sales force with mobile assist technologies such as tablets and smart phones makes it easier for them to access relevant sales collateral on the fly as well as increasing their efficiency and ability to service a large book of business.

Part 1 | Optimizing the B2B Experience to Meet B2C Expectations

In the Forrester report “B2B E-commerce: A Trillion Dollars For the Taking,” Andy Hoar does a great job of outlining the current challenges faced by B2B e-commerce organizations. Largely driven by the growing influence of the millennial generation, the Forrester report outlines three key issues facing B2B organizations:

  1. B2B buyers are growing increasingly impatient with suppliers that don’t provide a B2C-like online experience
  2. The channel conflict between direct sales and e-commerce operations is growing
  3. There is a rising demand for scarce B2B e-commerce talent

In this 4-part series, we’ll discuss the key takeaways and recommendations from the report, starting with optimizing the B2B experience to meet B2C expectations.

Series Part I: Creating a B2C-like Online Experience for B2B

The lines between B2C and B2B e-commerce are blurring; B2B consumer desire to conduct business online with a sophisticated level of functionality continues to increase. The importance of e-commerce as a sales channel means that B2B organizations cannot continue to limp along on outdated platforms.

Amazon sets the standard for consumer expectations, noted many of the B2B executives interviewed by Forrester. According to the report, this means there is an increased pressure on B2B e-commerce sites to offer the following:

  • Personalization — B2B companies have a big advantage when personalizing. Since most B2B e-commerce transactions require an account and login credentials in order to place an order, it’s relatively straightforward to use information about a customer’s company, industry, and transaction history to personalize product recommendations, pricing, and promotions.
  • A long-tail selection that attracts attention — Amazon is the go-to “search engine” for product research and they’ve proven that a long-tail strategy can be profitable. This strategy takes advantage of infinite virtual shelf space and the ability to easily update online inventory. It’s especially effective using a marketplace model where third-party sellers fill out selection.
  • B2C-like pricing that appeals to deal-seekers —Let’s face it: consumers love a deal that includes great product pricing and free shipping. One executive told Forrester, “B2C shipping wars have reset the expectation of B2B purchasers in terms of shipping cost and service.”

Many of the best practices for B2C e-commerce carry over to the B2B world; yet, B2B sellers need to understand the unique considerations of a business buyer that are not relevant in the B2C experience. Join us for Part II of our 4-part series for more insight on B2B buyer needs.