To Lead in B2B Digital Commerce, Think Bigger, Broader, and Incremental

Business buyers want a seamless, effortless buying experience across channels. Unfortunately, organizations that implement digital commerce solutions often fail to understand their customer's needs. As a result, they miss opportunities to create compelling value, resulting in limited customer digital adoption and engagement.

Picture this: you have a manufacturing client who spends $100,000 every year with you on industrial supplies that support their operations. They spend another $200,000 every year on products you offer, but they are buying from your competitors. You launch a digital commerce site and tell them they can now place orders online. Their current process of emailing their sales rep is getting their orders submitted without much issue. Meanwhile, supply chain challenges are impacting their operations causing issues with their customers. One of your larger competitors is offering the ability for them to see the availability of products, predict when product orders will arrive, and if a product is out of stock, suggest alternative products. That motivates them to create an online account with your competitor and the ease of doing business with them results in you losing business.

Organizations who fail to center their customer needs in their digital strategy will underperform their competitors, losing market share and share of wallet to organizations who are approaching digital commerce with a broader vision of their customer experience.

Think like your customer

Your customer wants a seamless, effortless buying experience, regardless of channel. Your ability to create that effortless experience for them is dependent on understanding their current experience and where they experience friction today. As in the example above, the current friction may not be on your website. It may lie elsewhere (not knowing when the product will arrive or if it is available) and yet your digital experience can be a part of the solution. 

How could you leverage digital to make your customer's life easier or enable them to better do their job? You might help your customer:

  • Save money: Provide a report that shows what they spent last year with you and offered alternative products for consideration
  • Save time: Provide live chat (that leverages conversational AI) to answer frequently asked questions that come into your call center. Identify common questions that are coming into your call center or sales team (i.e. how are these two products different from each other) and improve your digital solution to answer those questions quickly.
  • Improve performance: Is your customer an engineer trying to use your product to solve a specific challenge? Provide a resource center that provides guidance on how others are solving the same problem using your products.
  • Grow revenue: Grow their sales based on your accurate inventory and delivery information that enables them to get their products out the door faster

Many people view digital commerce solely as placing orders online, and that is certainly an important aspect of an effortless buying experience, but it is only a part. We have heard from our customers that the value of B2B digital commerce can often be found in the improved product and availability information you are able to share. Customers may use your website to get the information they use to place the order via Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) or through working with their sales rep.

Identify points of friction that exist today through customer research and plan to eliminate them. If you don’t have that research available ask questions of your sales and customer service teams who are likely most familiar with the friction in your current buying experience. If you would like some support with this, feel free to reach out. We are happy to share suggested questions to ask.

Work horizontally

Involving sales, marketing, operations, supply chain, IT, and customer service is required when you are working to improve the overall customer experience. According to Gartner®, by 2025, organizations with distributed responsibilities for digital commerce endeavors will outperform those without by 25%.[i]

A cross-functional team encourages out-of-the-box thinking and is more likely to offer solutions that create additional value for your customer. For example, by involving operations and supply chain in your planning, you could alert your customers to products they offer on a frequent basis that are out-of-stock (or expected to be soon) and offer some alternative solutions. By moving from a reactive vendor to offering proactive solutions, you will gain customer adoption.

There can be challenges when working horizontally to keep a distributed team aligned and motivated. Consider leveraging OKRs to create alignment. (I recommend the book: Radical Focus: Achieving Your Most Important Goals with Objectives and Key Results by Christina Wodtke.)

At Brilliance, we support our customers in working horizontally, through discovery sessions that pull in a cross-functional team and listening to the various stakeholders, and offering ideas for how to best move forward.

Start small and expand

Thinking broadly doesn’t mean doing everything at once. Leverage your customer research to identify the work that will result in the greatest impact and also rank work based on the effort required to implement various features. Identify a project that will enable you to see value relatively quickly and expand through ongoing incremental improvements. The good and bad news is that you will never be done. Get started, learn from your customer every step of the way, and keep growing.

Measure success holistically

Success is a digital experience that enables an effortless experience across channels. As such, it is a mistake to measure B2B digital success solely based on online orders. Yes, you want to see growth in online orders over time, but you also want to measure how digital influences orders across channels. Develop metrics that show not only how many sales you are gaining via digital, but how much more your customers that engage with your digital channels are purchasing with you overall. Measure and report on how digital lowers your costs to serve customers. These types of holistic measures will provide a more accurate measure of digital influence and will encourage collaboration across your team.

[1] Gartner, How to Build an Effective Digital Commerce Organization, Sandy Shen, Penny Gillespie, 2 May 2022. GARTNER is the registered trademark and service mark of Gartner Inc., and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and/or internationally and has been used herein with permission. All rights reserved. 

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