Launching Your B2B E-Commerce Site: How to Get Started
A good number of B2B business leaders, whether they be manufacturers, distributors or wholesalers, share the notion that e-commerce sites are reserved for B2C. But faced with the present crisis, many B2B companies are imperatively turning to e-commerce to be able to continue to sell. If you are reading this, you may be in this situation!
Too late you say? Well no, because if your e-commerce site is put in place strategically, it will deliver added value in the long term. This is a sustainable sales solution that will increase your resilience in any circumstance (for example, during a global health crisis).
There are, of course, quick e-commerce solutions to generate sales in the very short term. However, creating an e-commerce site requires that you set clear objectives and implement new sales processes that will have an impact over the long term. To start on the right foot, it is therefore essential to take the required time to reflect.
In a few simple steps, you can begin your project and ensure a better turnaround once the crisis is behind us. Here are a few tips to begin your B2B e-commerce project today.
1. First step: define the objectives of your B2B e-commerce initiative
1.1 Determine your company profile
The objectives of your site will be based on three main factors:
- Company profile: size, sector, market.
- Customer profile: who are your target customers for e-sales? Tip: target your biggest customers as they will provide you with a quick return on investment.
- Your product catalog:
- Would you like to provide access to your entire product catalog? If you sell hundreds of products, it may be better to focus on the few that have the best margins or that generate the most volume, for example.
- Can you suggest complementary products to increase the average value of your shopping cart? This type of product is referred to as a suggested product.
1.2 Use the SMART method
As with any endeavour, to ensure your e-commerce site results in added value for your company, you need to set clear objectives.
This is where the SMART method comes in. It’s a simple tool that allows you to set clear and realistic goals that will prove relevant for your e-commerce project.
SMART is an acronym that stands for:
- Specific: what is your expected outcome?
- Measurable: what benchmarks will be used to measure success?
- Achievable: what methods will be put in place to help you meet your objectives?
- Reachable: what limitations should be considered?
- Timely: what is the time frame?
Below is an example of how the method was used to implement an e-commerce site.
It is a great tool to help you identify not only your objectives but also your KPIs. Once your KPIs have been defined, they can be shared with your teams and even your suppliers as this will ensure the success of your project.
Your KPIs will also guide you in determining which functionalities to prioritize on your site, which products to commercialize first and which development stages to implement over both the short and long term.
1.3 Here are a few examples of B2B e-commerce objectives.
Despite the specificities of each company and industry (manufacturers, wholesalers, agri-food industry, distributors, etc.) they share the same recurring issues.
Here are the most common objectives of our customers in the various sectors of the manufacturing and distribution industries.
- Free up the flow of operations and provide some respite for your customer service.
Your customer service may be overrun by orders and may not have the human resources required to meet demand within a reasonable time frame. The Result? Not only are you missing out on numerous sales opportunities, but your employees are probably spending too much time performing low value-added tasks. Not to mention the possible impact on customer satisfaction.
The objective of your e-commerce site then may be to automate your sales processes in order to re-assign employees to tasks with a high added value.
- Increase your sales volume without increasing personnel.
In the same way, automating your sales process results in more autonomous customers. Orders will be placed directly online without customers having to contact your team thus eliminating the need for personnel to place orders. Also, your sales volume will no longer correlate with the number of employees. In times when recruiting labour is a challenge, this objective can be essential for companies. Another benefit of online commerce is that you are always open for business: 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.
- Increase your profit margin.
This is in line with the previous objectives and it’s simple mathematics. If you increase your sales volume without increasing your expenses (you may even decrease them), then your profit margin will be greater. The more you increase your sales volume, the less your order processing will cost. This could be a way to make a quick return on investment.
- Widen your potential market beyond the constraints of your physical location.
By definition, selling online allows you to free yourself from most physical and geographical constraints. If your SME is growing and you want to diversify your offer to reach new markets, especially the international market, then e-commerce is next to indispensable.
Widening your market also implies that you will have to decide if your site needs to be multilingual.
- As soon as your web site has been integrated, you should manage your stock in line with the just in time
Once your electronic commerce site has been integrated to all your other software, like your ERP for example, you can push automation even further. Your sales data can be transmitted in real time directly from the web site to your stock allowing you to refurbish your supplies through JIT. Here again, you are provided with the opportunity to make a return on investment.
2. How can you implement a sustainable strategy?
2.1 Plan your e-commerce project so as to have the various phases in line with your objectives.
Even once you have set clear objectives, you cannot realistically expect that after only one day you will have an entire web site that includes all your products and a vast array of functionalities. At this particular time, you need only what is essential to meeting your goals. You’re not Amazon after all and having unrealistic expectations can ultimately impede the development of your project.
By breaking your project down into its various phases, you will be able to progressively improve your e-commerce site using customer feedback. Take the time to understand your customers’ expectations so you can adapt your offer and provide the best possible customer experience. Don’t hesitate to ask your customers how they use the site and ways you can improve it.
You have provided them with a new and reliable tool to order their favourite products without having to go through customer service which is already a significant improvement in their eyes. There will always be time to add functionalities in a later phase to ensure continuous improvement.
Think of it as a marathon as opposed to a sprint.
2.2 Establishing the various development phases of your B2B online sales web site: a few tips
Phase 1: During this first phase, begin by setting down a solid foundation for your web site. The functionalities you choose are very important so focus on those most essential to your sales process.
- Begin by targeting your most important customers. You are surely familiar with the Pareto principle or the 80/20 rule. According to this principle, 20% of your customers account for 80% of your sales volume. By encouraging them to order online (through discounts for example), your teams will have more time for canvassing.
- Select your most popular products
- Review your price policy. You can, for example, offer discounts or additional rebates for online orders. By increasing your online sales volume, you are decreasing your costs per order and increasing your profit margin.
- Determine who has access to information: all visitors or customers only?
- List the technical aspects to consider: domain name, SSL certificate (secure web site), etc. Do not hesitate to discuss this with your technical partner.
Phase 2: In this phase, you can add non-essential functionalities that nonetheless allow you to further enhance customer experience and develop your sales.
- Web site newsletter
- Chat functionality
- Customized promotional pages for each customer
2.3 Don’t waste any time. Start gathering all the information to be included in the site.
You can begin this phase early on in the process. There is no need to wait until after the platform has been selected. Information gathering will have to be completed sooner or later, irrelevant of your chosen supplier.
At this point, your employees can classify, store, and harmonize all your product data (images, nomenclature, etc.). You can absolutely use Excel to record all the data.
- Product code
- Product name
- Product description (in all the relevant languages)
- Suggested products (products for purchase recommended to your customers based on their purchase history).
- Main image
- PDF (a product card to download, for example)
- YouTube link
Working on a web platform that is integrated to your ERP software greatly facilitates the gathering of information as it is already stored in the software.
3. How can you adapt your sales process for electronic commerce?
Implementing an e-commerce web site will necessarily have an impact on your sales process...a positive one!
It therefore needs to be adapted or, in this case, simplified thanks to automation. The example below is a good demonstration of this: the six steps required in the traditional process are reduced to three after the implementation of the e-commerce site.
Confirmations are carried out directly by the system once your web site is in place. If the product is out of stock, the customer is immediately notified. The system even suggests other products. As soon as the order is confirmed by the site, it is sent to the warehouse for preparation. Finally, invoicing can be integrated to shipping automatically, thus increasing efficiency by combining two transactions into one.
Customer service is involved very little, if at all, which results in greater efficiency of effort and time as well as reduced costs per order.
SIMPLIFY AND MAP YOUR PROCESSES AS OF TODAY!
The keyword once again is sim-pli-fi-ca-tion. Think about all the steps that can be deleted or made easier. In the above example, shipping and invoicing are carried out simultaneously.
Here are a few key steps to guide you:
- Record your current processes: lead generation, negotiations, orders, deliveries, receipt of payments, promotion management...
- Set KPIs in line with your objectives for every step of the process: open shopping carts, number of sales per month or per year, average sales price, customer acquisition cost. These last KPIs will allow your customer service to be more pro-active. For example, knowing the number of open shopping carts per 24-hour period allows your team to remind customers about their cart items and to offer their assistance.
- Consult with your team to be aware of their particular challenges. How can you provide daily assistance via the e-commerce web site?
- Use those employees who are experts in your business processes. Organize workshops to promote discussion and bring to light any particular issues.
- List all your needs: the “must-have” and “nice to have”.
- Reassign employees to added value positions thanks to automation.
4. Last step: choose the tool that can best meet your needs
All the previous steps will help you determine which criteria to base your choice of e-commerce platform so that you can choose the one that will best suit your needs, not only when business picks up again, but in the long term.
Remember to inquire about the possibility of connecting your platform to your ERP management software. To make the data integration process easier and to make optimal use of automation, it is best to choose a platform that can be integrated directly to your ERP.
This is what Fidelio ERP provides with its E-commerce module.