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Why Selling Online is Still a Challenge in some B2B Markets and Tips to Successfully Make the Transition

November 7, 2017 No Comments

In many B2B sectors, especially those with more complex distribution channels, the move to selling online has come with a variety of challenges. Dealers and distributors who have launched their own eCommerce solutions are confronted with the expense and fatigue which comes with managing large amounts of product and pricing information, while also attempting to integrate their legacy investments into a new, digital model. This Q&A article explores the considerations a business must make when evaluating online solutions and provides tips to aide in the successful adoption of a digital commerce model across your enterprise and your customers base.

  • Q: What are the top challenges that B2B companies face when making the move to online selling?

A: Industry research shows that one of the top priorities for the B2B sector is the ability of any eCommerce platform to integrate with their existing software. For example, how do you integrate all your existing product information, SKUs, sales/order/inventory management systems, etc. and how long will it take/cost?

This is especially problematic if you’re part of a two-step distribution model (manufacturer-to-dealer and dealer-to-buyer), typical in industries selling commercial equipment like restaurant equipment, medical supplies, cleaning supplies or construction materials. These dealers and distributors need a lot of functionality to ensure a seamless flow of product info, pricing, and orders.

Another factor is cost. While the market is flush with eCommerce vendors, building an online store can can get costly fast. If you have a small product catalog, you can expect to pay anywhere from $5,000 to $17,000 just for the set-up. Annual running costs then run between $50,000 and $116,000. For a larger catalog (typical of companies that sell many product lines) the setup jumps to well above the $20,000 range with ongoing costs of more than $100,000 per year. The operational “tail” of maintaining product data, pricing, CAD symbols etc. can often be an enormous total-cost-of-ownership expense not adequately considered when moving to online selling.

Finally, time. Frequently, longer-than-expected time frames become the new reality when deploying eCommerce solutions. 48% of B2B companies list a fast implementation as critical to success, yet they are constantly being disappointed – 47% say their last eCommerce implementation took “somewhat longer than expected” to finish.

  • Q: In today’s digital economy, eCommerce has become a preferred way for consumers to buy. How can B2B companies keep up with online buying trends?

A. 64% of B2B buyers are researching product purchases online and 38% make half or more of their purchases online – though they don’t have the ability to buy everything they need online yet. As they do this, they expect a consumer-like experience – price transparency, immediacy, and convenience. If a B2B seller can’t offer these attributes, customers may go elsewhere.

Consider this statistic from Forrester Research: only 5% of B2B buyers do their online research on a dealer’s website. Even more worrying is that the number of people who make their final purchase on a dealer/distributor’s website has fallen from 30% to 16% in just one year.

Clearly something must change. Even if consumers aren’t beating down the doors of B2B companies to be able to make online purchases, what they are doing is more worrying. They’re turning to competitor websites which offer rich, full-featured product information AND the ability to make a purchase.

The good news is that B2B sellers can overcome many of the obstacles to selling online that we mentioned above. Sellers should look for solutions that strip the cost, time and complexity out of eCommerce.

For example, look for options that allow for the seamless integration of the wealth of product data that manufacturers produce, often in PDFs and paper catalogs. This allows for a more rapid implementation and faster content publishing. Furthermore, make sure that the solution you adopt makes it as easy for your customers to deal with you online as in-person, especially for those times when a sales rep isn’t available (24×7 shopping, easy re-orders, showroom pick-up options, custom pricing, etc.).

Cloud technology is also key. This helps reduce the cost, time and complexity, making eCommerce accessible at a fraction of the cost and headache of building and managing your own platform and product information.

  • Q: What about sales teams? Doesn’t online selling undercut their sales and commissions?

A. eCommerce should be your sales team’s best friend. It brings new digital tools that can help them work better for you and bring in more business. Rather than replacing the sales rep, eCommerce platforms function as a powerful sales support tool for customers. For example, returning customers can re-order online (24×7) or choose a self-service option once they’ve discussed the best options with a rep. Proactive notification of time-to-reorder, approved product lists, or “favorite” products can be automated, resulting in no-touch reordering yielding greater sales rep productivity. Meanwhile, reps remain focused on building relationships and closing deals with new customers, while remaining available to field calls and take questions from online buyers.

Selling online also provides B2B reps with a valuable product awareness tool. Instead of leafing through dozens of rarely-used catalogs, a rep can research a manufacturer’s online digital catalog, see suggested accessories and add-ons, and experience a rich depth of content (videos, spec sheets, warranty info, etc.) than they normally would.

No commission goes unrecognized when the eCommerce platform aligns with a company’s existing commission structure, tracks sales and allocates buying activity to individual sales rep accounts.

  • Q: From a strategic standpoint, what can B2B sellers do to start thinking about making the move eCommerce?

A: Start by thinking about where you are on the journey to eCommerce. Are you comfortable selling online? Do you have an existing online presence? Perhaps you already have an eCommerce site but aren’t happy with its features or usability. From here determine your goals. Could you start small by targeting customers with frequent re-orders? This is an easy way to transition some time-consuming, offline business online.

Tom Frommack ePN 150x150 Why Selling Online is Still a Challenge in some B2B Markets and Tips to Successfully Make the Transition

Tom Frommack, President and Chief Operating Officer at ePurchasing Network

A seasoned veteran with 30+ years of technology segment leadership, Tom has a proven track record of accelerating business growth and is recognized for his success in growing and investing in the highest quality companies in information security, analytics and management.

ePN is a digital commerce platform that increases revenue for manufacturers and dealers by synchronizing and streamlining existing sales and marketing assets to deliver a frictionless front to back end experience for customers.

Among his successful ventures, Tom founded two engineering innovation firms with a focus on solving “big data and analytics” challenges. He was also responsible for starting up Cisco’s enterprise telecom service provider, federal and professional services divisions – now a global multi-billion-dollar business.


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