The Top 7 Points of Failure in B2B Commerce by Business 2 Community [Sales]


Editor's Note: This article first appeared on Business 2 Community and was curated by Closer Spot. Please subscribe to get actionable news and advice delivered to your inbox each week.

We’ve all seen the media stories trumpeting the trillions of dollars in revenue potential from B2B eCommerce. But the reality for those of us with “boots on the ground” is that B2B eCommerce initiatives are failing all over the place.

In fact, only 5% of B2B initiatives within organizations are actually meeting their goals.
That’s a downright dismal statistic. However, it’s not due to a lack of effort. Most organizations have good intentions when it comes to B2B commerce. The failures are based on a lack of understanding of the complexities of B2B commerce, from both B2C vendors anxious to get a piece of that trillion-dollar pie, as well as a management mindset that it’s “just another website.” And in some cases, the measurements of success are just plain wrong.

After nearly two decades in the manufacturing and distribution industries, I know that B2B is incredibly complex. I shake my head as I think about all the wasted time and money spent trying to achieve B2C-like objectives in a commerce environment that looks about as much like retail, as a dog resembles a platypus.

It’s time we all took a breath, sat back and re-established the real purpose of B2B eCommerce. From there we can move forward to create appropriate objectives, align them with strong B2B strategies, and ultimately check more boxes in the win category.

I believe that in order to do that, we need to look at our mistakes first. Here are the 7 points of failure my team and I observe when it comes to failed B2B eCommerce projects:

1. The company is stuck in a website mentality.

Too many B2B organizations view eCommerce as just a website for customer orders. Executives toss the project over the wall to the IT department and marketing to spin up a pretty commerce site. They assume that once the site goes live, customers will start ordering and the result will be millions and millions in new revenue. This attitude couldn’t be further from the truth. Although B2B customers do want a user experience that mirrors the ones they experience in their personal lives, that’s where the similarities between B2C and B2B end. B2B eCommerce is much more than a simple website. In fact, it’s an entirely new paradigm. For example, it requires integration with business systems, including sales CRM’s. Sales and support contracts are customized for each unique customer. Prices are not, for the most part transparent.

B2B commerce is incredibly customized and complex. eCommerce initiatives within this realm have to respect these intricate and often unique business processes and the myriad of roles involved in each transaction.

2. The leaders are setting the wrong goals.

B2B eCommerce can result in more revenue for the organization, but that shouldn’t be the assumed goal. Companies have to understand that what they’re creating is a hybrid selling environment that includes a complex set of scenarios ranging from entirely full-service, to a 100% self-service model, and everything in between. The goal of B2B eCommerce, first and foremost, should be to achieve greater productivity by automating low-value tasks and allowing the customer to participate with the organization according to the needs of each individual buyer, and each separate interaction.
Quantifiable goals should be set for revenue, of course, but metrics need to be established that identify efficiency and productivity goals, or a reduction in cost of sales. Key performance indicators for commerce have to be the real measure of success, not revenue alone.

3. There is no overall commerce strategy.

Without the correct goals, it can be challenging to create strong B2B eCommerce strategies. Whether the desired end result is greater efficiency, new customer or channel revenue, or a larger share of wallet, strategies like list management, lead generation, and price transparency have to be considered before a single design decision is made. In an omnichannel selling environment, strategy is key and provides direction for every possible encounter with the customer whether in person, online, or some combination of the two. We’re not moving to a world where everything is self-service, it’s a blend of traditional and digital sales methods. A strong B2B eCommerce strategy will reflect that.

4. The sales team is not aligned with the digital commerce environment.

Perhaps the biggest mistake I’ve seen as companies invest in B2B eCommerce initiatives is leaving sales out of the picture, whether it’s gaining buy-in during the planning stage, or providing a view into the digital buying experience of their customers. In reality, it’s the sales team that will onboard customers into the online environment. If they don’t believe there is value in doing so, or worse, that eCommerce will compete with their own revenue streams, it’s not going to happen
As I’ve mentioned before, B2B eCommerce is a hybrid model. Salespeople need to understand that the self-service component of this model should empower them, not hurt them. Strong B2B eCommerce systems should automate low-value tasks and elevate the work of sales to a consultative level. If they feel they’re being replaced, or that the system will cause them to lose clients, they’ll never join forces with the overall organization to support the new paradigm.

5. Executives are disconnected from the initiative.

B2B eCommerce requires commitment and effort from the top down. Period. It is not a simple shopping cart sitting in front of an existing sales engine. To achieve the true potential of a B2B hybrid commerce environment, executives must first understand its impacts and then embrace the changes it will bring to the entire organization. Executives and top-level managers have to invest a significant amount of time paving the way for success through strong communications and support throughout the duration of the project, and post-implementation.

Digital transformation in the area of commerce represents not only enormous opportunity for B2B companies but also a certain amount of peril. At the very least, Failure to recognize its overall impact on the organization nearly always translates into failure for the B2B eCommerce initiative. Worse, it could mean failure to remain competitive in the long run.

6. Nobody’s paying attention to the post-purchase experience.

Expectations from B2C customer experiences are raising expectations for B2B eCommerce not only on the front-end but at the end of the buying cycle as well. And yet strategies for post-purchase activities are often ignored, which puts pressure on CSRs and salespeople to troubleshoot when problems occur. Reports show that even a longstanding relationship between customer and distributor can be destroyed in an instant by a poor support experience. A recent study from Pew Research revealed that more than 70% of customers stop doing business with a brand when their online experience is poor. Post-purchase events in the B2B world are remarkably complex. Returns, for example, can be extremely complex. Without the right “view” into the system, sales and support can be left holding the bag.

Without the use of strong post-purchase digital marketing tactics, significant revenue may also be lost if strategies for remarketing, price transparency, and others are not implemented after the first buy in particular.

7. They’re picking the wrong technology.

It goes without saying that when one or more of these problems exist, no one is really choosing the right technology either. The opportunity within B2B eCommerce is undeniably large, but B2B commerce platforms often can’t deliver what they’re selling. Too many technology companies are entering the market without an understanding of B2B complexities. They’re selling strong user experiences that aren’t backed up by B2B capability out of the box. Project deadlines are missed, complex customizations are attempted, and ultimately the decision to re-platform is made, often before the first year is out. Organizations need to vet their platform choices not only from a user experience standpoint, but from the capabilities of the technology to handle complicated B2B processes, integration with backend business systems, and all the requirements of a hybrid eCommerce model, and an omnichannel selling environment.

I admit that I’m frustrated from hearing over and over in meetings that B2B commerce “doesn’t work.” That’s simply not the case. What we have is a market misunderstanding from a focus that has primarily been on a flashy CMS, and not on the true potential for B2B commerce. Everything I’ve described above can really be summarized as a “mindset” problem. B2B eCommerce represents a business transformation that can reap huge rewards in worker productivity, operational efficiency, and new revenue streams. But it needs to have the respect it deserves, from the top down, to realize those benefits.

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