Business-to-business (B2B) commerce is an underutilized opportunity for companies serving the global online marketplace. Many B2B companies project that e-commerce will soon comprise 50 percent of total sales.1 With this potential revenue stream in mind, why haven’t more companies rushed to open online B2B channels? We frequently hear about two obstacles from businesses – the need to create or update their online commerce solution and the fear of upsetting their sales channel. To help you overcome these roadblocks, here are some tips for planning your successful B2B online commerce initiative.
Taking a Page from the B2C Playbook
Companies should build their B2B programs around the techniques, technologies and tools that make the online purchasing of business-to-consumer (B2C) products and services a rich and seamless experience. As part of the business purchase experience, B2B customers expect to be able to place, adjust and cancel orders in real time. They want to access technical data and comparison information with dynamic, up-to-the-minute visibility of inventory, shipping status, payment status and more. Most importantly, they expect to be able to use these features with ease while sitting at their office PC, on their tablet at home or on their smartphone while on vacation. But, replicating the ease of use found on B2C sites has been problematic for many companies still reliant on antiquated direct-to-buyer strategies and platforms. The disconnect has logistic and cultural components that must be changed, and those companies that fail to evolve may find fewer and fewer customers willing to waste valuable time on inefficient procurement practices.
Navigating Channel Conflict
Channel conflict is another area that presents major challenges for many companies making the move to B2B. Creating channel harmony requires a balancing act in a fully transparent environment. Organizational buyers need to understand the complete channel ecosystem and their role within it. With trust and consensus throughout, a number of workable channel approaches can yield bona fide B2B online commerce success. Some of these approaches include:
- Segmentation. Certain business buyers value customized versions of a software product and some seek the attention of a dedicated support team. Others will want the flexibility of a “no obligation” contract, while some are comfortable locking into a five-year agreement in exchange for a lower initial purchase price. By addressing meaningful differentiations within your base of buyers, product and customer segmentation can be useful in driving the buyer through the appropriate channel, and maintaining channel harmony.
- Meaningful incentive programs. Commissions, bonuses and other performance incentives should motivate traditional channels without undercutting the direct online channel. Some companies offer third-party channel partners attractive commissions for renewals.
- Education and training. By educating and training distributors, many indirect channel participants come to view the direct channel as an asset in terms of information and research.
- Stakeholder engagement. Create ambassadors among the appropriate stakeholders from your organization early in the process of building the B2B market. A proactive and open approach can make a tangible difference in acceptance and evangelism regarding direct channels.
It is essential to plan your B2B online marketplace with your customers’ online purchasing expectations in mind, but it is equally important to plan how your new B2B program will fit within your sales channel. Companies that are able to adapt the appropriate techniques, technologies and tools while creating channel harmony will find that direct-to-buyer e-transactions will not only complement their online commerce strategies, but also turn an underutilized opportunity into a healthy revenue stream.
1 Forrester Research, Inc., “B2B eCommerce: Going From Surviving To Thriving By Adopting Proven B2C Principles”, May 2012.