Making the Shift to B2B Online Commerce: Is Your Organization Ready?

By: Mike Chuma

Although most manufacturers believe that adding an online component to their existing B2B commerce channels will benefit the organization, some may be uncertain about what that means from an organizational point of view and how they can influence a change in their long-standing business processes. Making the effort to thoughtfully evaluate your company’s B2B readiness and planning ahead of time will pay long term dividends.

To get started, the following checklist can help you determine whether your business is ready to manage the shift and stay on course.

  • Assess the revenue and reseller landscape: Review your current revenue streams – direct sales, channel sales or third-party partners – and identify your largest resellers. Understanding the current sales ecosystem will provide accurate initial assessments about the size of the opportunity, crucial participants and, most importantly, where to focus alignment and adoption efforts.
  • Determine where the “power” resides: Driving channel enablement is important, but so is maintaining organizational harmony. Creating allegiances between your B2B team and the strategic revenue owners within your current corporate structure will ease the transition and ensure success.
  • Analyze your motives: Examine current sales and marketing objectives and ensure that your proposed online commerce program aligns with and supports those objectives. If not, make alignment a top priority.
  • Evaluate your company’s perception: Take an honest assessment of how your organization is perceived by the channel and end users. While it can be an uncomfortable process, it’s critical to know where you stand to determine how much work must be done and where you may need to build allegiance.
  • Build support systematically: Building your business case and implementing B2B in stages will enable you to demonstrate incremental value. Set pragmatic, measurable deliverables to build small successes that will grow support for bigger investments as the program rolls out.
  • Identify an internal champion: A C-suite champion is critical to instill a sense of ownership and corporate commitment to the program. Identify leaders and provide insight on how a direct channel will bolster the bottom line.
  • Find a channel champion: Identify a strategic channel partner to serve as an advocate outside your organization. A channel champion will validate the idea and serve as a role model for other partners among this community.
  • Assess your current technology and its future-readiness: Engage the IT department at a very early stage and assess your company’s current technological state of affairs. Does IT have the vendors, technologies, resources and budget to begin, complete and maintain the project? Attention to core technological capabilities during this foundational period is essential.
  • Keep the “people factor” in mind: Making a change in the sales structure can impact compensation and morale. Devise a plan to ease the transition and provide support for those most affected during the adjustment period.

Making the move to direct B2B online commerce must be done with full awareness of potential hazards. Inside sales personnel, distributors and resellers often bristle at a strategy that looks like a move to cut them out of the picture. As a result, animosity among those who feel threatened may give rise to attempts to undercut the success of the program. While this is a concern, it can be overcome by escalating transparency to build consensus and trust among participants. And, when done well, will drive customer loyalty for both online and offline sales channels. Planning ahead will help mitigate the impact this move will have on the sales channel and your overall culture; helping guarantee a successful channel strategy implementation and a better return on investment.

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