The future is now. The convenience and availability benefits of online commerce have expanded to beyond the consumer market and into B2B, or businesses selling to other businesses. For forward-thinking B2B companies, eCommerce is no longer optional. Rather, it’s a matter of survival. But the key question remains: where do you start? In today’s blog, we’ll identify the key milestones for setting up a B2B eCommerce project and discuss how to launch a quality B2B eCommerce site that drives sales and reinforces your brand.
Identify Your Goals and Performance Indicators
There are many advantages to B2B eCommerce, but going online should not be the goal itself. B2B eCommerce should be the means of reaching your business goal. Digitizing your sales without a clear business objective is like calling a cab without knowing your destination. Define your expectations before building a roadmap to business digitization. Whether you are looking to optimize existing operations, curb expenditures, expand your market or increase your client portfolio, you will need well-defined and measurable goals.
After identifying your goals, prioritize them and define the key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure progress. To evaluate performance, track such indicators as total sales and online sales share, order size, order frequency, and sales cycle length.
Define Requirements for the Minimum Viable Product
Once you’ve identified your business goals, use them to define the requirements for a website that is a minimum viable product (MVP). The MVP is a proven strategy for developing a site with a basic set of features that allows you to decipher your customer’s expectations and factor customer feedback into full site design and development.
As far as the MVP is concerned, it’s unreasonable to include every possible eCommerce functionality at once. By rolling out a phased approach you will get your website to market faster which in turn results in a faster ROI. Focus on the essentials and communicate the benefits and value of your brand to the target audience. We suggest including the following:
Make sure the initial site version works before you launch. All functions that are necessary to properly support B2B eCommerce transactions should be fully operational before launch. Depending on your niche, these following features may be part of your MVP:
- Product catalogs
- Merchant accounts
- Bulk ordering
- Shopping lists
- Personalized pricing
The beauty of the MVP strategy is that you can fine-tune your B2B eCommerce site over time and offer a wider range of services. For example, based on feedback you may add additional payment or shipping options. Identifying potential integration points during the planning process facilitates future implementation benefits. So consider what integrations are essential now and what enhancements you will want to add in the future.
Selling online requires a high level of data security. At a minimum, plan to secure your site using SSL certificates, provide user authentications, and set up permission rules. If you handle online payment transactions, work with your card processing services and be sure you are PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliant.
Customer Relationship Management and Efficiency Tracking
When building your B2B website, it’s important to be able to understand and track your customer experience. Without providing a positive experience, visitors will quickly leave your site. This means it’s critical for your business to capture customer data and interactions. Since these interactions are traditionally recorded in a CRM (customer relationship management), check and see if your eCommerce platform easily integrates with a CRM. This ensures your sales and marketing teams will have access to all client data across all touchpoints.
Allocate Assets for Implementation
Once you’ve finalized your MVP, estimate the human and financial resources required for implementation. While digitizing your business results in many logistical and operational benefits, it may require more technical employees if you’re looking to manage the infrastructure in-house. Carefully assessing your human resources prior to the start of the project is highly advised.
Also, as you start to budget for the project, be sure to factor in the cost for implementation for all developing, testing, and launching phases. Once launched, assets must be allocated to support the new webstore.
Marketing and Website Promotion
When crafting a strategy to promote your new web shop, be sure to consult with your long-term, established customers who have placed orders via a sales rep or an email. Get their feedback on how to make the online purchasing process a seamless and smooth experience for them.
Also, consider the traffic sources you will pursue early during the planning stage. Focus on the strategies that typically yield quick results and drive traffic to your site, such as pay per click campaigns and PR. Your site’s online success will also depend on how well it’s optimized for search engine visibility. Incorporate most important SEO components into the site and monitor the efficiency of SEO techniques you apply. For more eCommerce marketing inspiration check these insightful resources – GetElastic, SmashingMagazine, PracticalEcommerce.
Don’t forget to continuously promote the site to your existing customer base. You’ll need to update customers on the new online sales channel that will let you better serve them. Be sure to clearly communicate the benefits they will receive as digital buyers, like simple re-ordering process, complete order history, etc.
Even if you’re not looking to venture into new markets, this is a good time to analyze existing market conditions. More and more B2B companies are starting selling online which means if you start quickly, your competitors will follow soon too. It’s important to keep an eye on what rivals are doing, but it is just as important to maintain the value of your brand to gain and keep a competitive advantage in the online realm. Your unique value proposition must permeate your website and all marketing communications.
After the Launch
Launching a B2B eCommerce site might seem daunting, but it’s a solid way to better serve existing customers and gain new business.
Your online store must be functional before launch, but it is okay if it is not the final product. After launch, ask your customers to provide feedback on the new purchasing method to see how you can enhance site’s architecture and/or design. Keep track of customer comments and feedback. Be ultra-responsive to their requests or inquiries.
Also, continue to evaluate results against your KPIs and – what’s especially important – never stop improving the site. Constantly A/B test your site’s functionality and content to maximize the site’s performance. Monitor market trends, changing buyer patterns and new technology to build on your website’s success.
Have you launched a B2B eCommerce website? What was your roadmap to digitizing commerce? Let us know in the comments below!