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Implementing a New B2B eCommerce Site

Bill Onion
April 4, 2012 | 1:00 PM

“When I took office, only high energy physicists had ever heard of what is called the Worldwide Web…. Now even my cat has its own page.” Bill Clinton, Announcement of Next Generation Internet Initiative, 1996

Every individual, every group and association, every company, man, woman, child and chimp has its own page, eCommerce or otherwise – but not every B2B organization does. Understandably so, as defining, designing, developing and deploying an eCommerce site of this nature can be daunting. Equally intimidating is the fact that, if done incorrectly, a poor B2B site can have an incredibly negative effect on the bottom line. There will undoubtedly be challenges that are specific to an organization, but I’ve found that there are some which are more common than others. Some of these include: creating and supporting an eCommerce focus within your organization, creating relevant content and image assets, establishing where certain pieces of data will reside, as well as calculating a sales commission for an existing sales team. Determining how these issues are addressed will seal the fate of the site’s success, and we’re all left to ponder how the cat has over 1,000 “likes” on Facebook, without even trying…

Creating Support within Your Organization

eCommerce: it’s not your dad’s sales cycle! Leads, prospects, suspects, cold calls, cold calls? While these have served their industries well (and, in certain instances, continue to serve their purposes) you simply can’t apply these principles to the realm of online selling. However, much like a traditional sales cycle, what you will require is someone who is solely charged with the responsibility of managing the eCommerce channel. This person will serve as the site’s champion, who will create, nourish and develop the B2B efforts within the organization. The B2B eCommerce director should know conventional sales concepts, but also know how to harness the power of the internet and social marketing strategies.

Content and Image Assets

eCommerce sites, both B2B and B2C, require incredible amounts of data. Purchasing departments and consumers have demanded short descriptions and extended descriptions of products, dimensions, comparable product suggestions and product reviews –and that’s only written content. These individuals have also requested to know exactly what the item looks like, in and out of its packaging, “zoomed” views, angled views and in-use views. All of these must be quality, high-resolution images. Planning on uploading a photo that looks like it was taken with a Polaroid in your stock room? You’re better off without it. By providing well written content and professional image assets, you’re assuring your consumers that your organization is legitimate, that you provide superior products and that they’ll receive what they order, on time. In that regard, these expectations can be particularly challenging for a B2B company, especially one that is just getting to the online marketplace. Oftentimes, data is scattered across multiple systems –printed and filed in cabinets, saved to a shared drive and saved again on several desktops, within a master excel file which has three versions and a few pieces in the ERP. If you’re a B2B organization and eCommerce is on your project list, prevent an immediate project blow-up by collecting and organizing all of your data, first.

Dual Entry or Integration?

Typically in a B2B company, there is some instance of an ERP (JD Edwards, SAP, Sage or Epicor to name a few) which runs the business; a B2B eCommerce site is meant to compliment this backend system, not replace it. Therefore, it’s absolutely necessary that both the eCommerce site and the ERP share certain data points. These will be items such as inventory, customer data, shipping information and customer history. How that data should be shared, though, will be completely reliant upon a few items. First, should the systems be entirely integrated? Or, should information be manually maintained in each location? Each of these options has their respective advantages, but you’ll only find the answers when you clearly define your project goals, scope, timeline and (of course) budget.

Sales Commission

A B2B organization that deploys an eCommerce site must not forget its sales personnel. These men and women who’ve marched in the frontlines of the business, who’ve been shot down and trod upon, deserve a bit of recognition for establishing accounts that will likely be purchasing online. Unfortunately, there is no singular answer to how this should be dealt with, but you might consider organizing buyers into territories, categories or tiers. In this way, a representative assigned to a certain region or account size can leverage his or her skills to drive traffic to the eCommerce site. Consider the structure of your sales team and how members are currently handling accounts, and how they are paid commissions, during your project planning phase. This will ensure that your vision for your B2B eCommerce site aligns not only with the beliefs of the team, but with your plan for the professional development of your employees in this new age of selling. By establishing your B2B organization’s online presence through eCommerce initiatives, you’ll create new channels which will increase your sales, and you’ll extend your reach to your customers by providing them with convenience. You’ll also reduce the cost of capturing information and processing orders. However, preparation and planning will be paramount to the success of your project, so keep the aforementioned items in mind and you’ll be on the right track!

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