In the past, most B2B companies typically shied away from selling their products or services online because technology wasn’t up to par in dealing with the complexity of B2B sales. In addition, ecommerce solutions were often considered too costly. Today, of course, there are plenty of ecommerce solutions that can offer B2B companies the flexibility they need. What’s more, a recent study by Forrester found, adding ecommerce to your B2B sales channels typically leads to higher order value, lower cost per order to your company, greater profitability per order and ultimately higher sales for your business.
The study polled surveyed 100 U.S. companies that have implemented B2B ecommerce solutions within the past seven years to learn about their experiences and best practices. Here’s what respondents said adding ecommerce helped them do:
- Increase revenues (98 percent)
- Lower costs (92 percent)
- Improve customer retention/satisfaction (90 percent)
- Attract new customers (90 percent)
Adding ecommerce capabilities increased annual company revenues by an average of 55 percent. Eighty-one percent of respondents say ecommerce drove up average order value; the average increase was 31 percent. Eighty-eight percent say it made each order more profitable; the average increase in profitability was 30 percent.
If you’re going to add ecommerce to your B2B company’s sales arsenal, what should you keep in mind? Here are the factors the survey respondents say are most critical in successfully implementing B2B ecommerce:
- Build a business case to justify the ecommerce solution. Do you have evidence your customers and prospective customers will buy online? Will adding ecommerce cut costs (for example, by decreasing time salespeople need to put in to working with customers, generating leads at a lower cost or cutting marketing costs?) Run the numbers to see how ecommerce will help your business’s finances, and also consider how it will affect your operations, systems and employees.
- Accurately define your goals and objectives for ecommerce. Do you want to sell certain products or services via ecommerce while others will still be handled by in-person sales? Will ecommerce be added in stages and if so, how rapidly? Identify specific and measurable sales goals and cost-savings goals so you can determine if your ecommerce initiative is working.
- Involve both internal and external users throughout the process. Everyone who has a hand in the sales and delivery process needs to be involved in implementing your ecommerce solution. Limiting input to your IT team and yourself is a recipe for disaster. Salespeople, marketing, customer service and fulfillment should all have a say in what needs to be included in the process. Also test your system with selected customers to see what they like (and don’t like) as it is developed.
- Engage both internal and outsourced experts. You may or may not have IT expertise on your team. Even if you do, pair them with an outside expert who is familiar with and has worked with companies in your industry, businesses of your size and businesses with a similar budget, so he or she will have an understanding of what you need and the best options for you.
- Take a phased approach to launch. Plan your ecommerce initiative in stages so you can test each phase and make adjustments before unveiling the whole system. This way, you can catch any problems while they’re still on a small scale.
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Karen Axelton is Chief Content Officer of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her company’s blog at SmallBizDaily.com.