B2B commerce may not have embraced the digital revolution quite as readily as B2C businesses did, but this initial reluctance is quickly changing as more and more B2B companies—driven by the speed of technological change and the high expectations of digitally sophisticated customers—realize that it’s simply no longer an option to do without digital. However, although today’s B2B businesses are joining the e-commerce landscape at an increasingly rapid rate, not all of them are doing it effectively. Many companies, incorrectly assuming that there’s little more to B2B e-commerce than a website and some sales software, fail to plan properly or conduct thorough due diligence; as a result, far too many B2B e-commerce efforts end up hampering, rather than helping, the companies behind them.
For B2B companies that are considering making the leap to e-commerce, understanding where many businesses go wrong is one of the most helpful ways to guard against failure. Read on for a look at five of the most common mistakes companies make in B2B e-commerce implementation, and ideas for how to avoid them.
1. Failing to outline business-specific requirements.
In their hurry to jump on the e-commerce bandwagon and get a digital platform running as quickly as possible, many B2B companies don’t spend enough time on creating a detailed list of requirements for their future e-commerce system. But shortchanging this step of the process is a very risky move. Choosing a B2B e-commerce system is not a one-size-fits-all activity, and companies that don’t think carefully about what specific things they want from their system are much more likely to end up with a platform that doesn’t quite fit; this is a mistake that could have significant opportunity and efficiency costs down the road. Instead, companies should avoid rushing this step and should take the time to thoroughly document their requirements in order to find a platform that will be viable over the long term.
2. Underestimating the importance of the user experience.
B2B businesses need to come to terms with the fact that the expectations of B2B buyers are determined by their experiences as B2C customers. In their personal lives, B2B buyers are making purchases from some of the world’s most sophisticated e-commerce sites, and they see no reason why their experience shopping for products in their professional capacity should be any different. That’s why B2B businesses must remember to keep the user at the center of all their e-commerce efforts. A strong investment in user experience design—including fully optimized mobile sites and omni-channel capabilities—is a critical step in building long-term customer loyalty.
3. Not involving the sales team.
All too often, B2B sales teams view e-commerce as a competitor that will usurp their responsibilities and cause them to lose out on their commissions; this fear is amplified by the fact that many B2B companies plan and implement e-commerce efforts with little or no input from the sales team. But in fact, when e-commerce is aligned with sales, both aspects become more powerful: sales input provides valuable customer insight that can guide the e-commerce design process, while an effective e-commerce platform helps eliminate low-value, routine tasks from the sales team’s to-do list and frees up time and energy for them to focus on more strategic selling. In other words, B2B businesses shouldn’t make the e-commerce initiative the sole province of a few top executives or the marketing team. Instead, they should open the effort up to sales in order to unlock significant value potential.
4. Underestimating organizational requirements.
Many B2B businesses assume that, thanks to the power of digital technology, e-commerce will basically run itself, but unfortunately the truth is not quite that simple. Adding an e-commerce platform is more than just adding a website; it involves the addition of an entirely new channel to the business, and that new channel is going to need corresponding roles to manage it effectively. Significant internal investments are typically needed on web operations, web merchandising, customer service, digital marketing, technology, and fulfillment. Of course, it’s not necessary to build a huge team right away, but it’s important for businesses to be aware of the scale of an effective B2B e-commerce support system to avoid being blindsided by the level of organizational requirements required.
5. Not planning a post-launch investment.
As appealing as it may be, a “set it and forget it” approach does not work in the e-commerce world. To tap into new markets, gain greater traction with existing customers, and drive traffic, strong digital marketing initiatives are needed to supplement the initial e-commerce efforts. Many B2B companies only plan as far ahead as the launch of their e-commerce platform and then can’t understand why they’re not getting the revenues they projected. In addition, businesses must handle new features and site updates regularly in order to grow the e-commerce operation most effectively and ensure that the platform is always fully optimized.