I was recently at IRCE 2015 in Chicago and had the opportunity to attend the B2B Ecommerce Workshop prior to the conference. These top 10 themes resonated through the sessions and are concepts that are imperative for B2B companies to be successful in ecommerce today.

IRCE

1. B2B ecommerce is big, really BIG.
B2B ecommerce is 2x that of B2C ecommerce. By 2020, B2B ecommerce is projected to hit $1.13 trillion. Despite the size of the market, B2B ecommerce was just a pre-session for IRCE 2015, and many ecommerce conferences spend very few sessions focused on B2B ecommerce. I think this is due to the overdue investment of B2B companies in ecommerce, which is changing the landscape of business at a quickening pace. B2B ecommerce is lagging behind customer expectations and many companies are struggling to catch up on all fronts: organizational structure, technology infrastructure and customer expectations.

2. B2C experiences are driving B2B expectations.
B2B ecommerce customers expect a B2C experience. When companies don’t deliver on those expectations, it leads to disappointment and a negative experience.

Over 70% of B2B buyers are already researching purchases online and over 50% plan to make more purchases online in the next three years. These buyers are already experienced ecommerce shoppers in their personal lives and have come to expect similar online shopping experiences when B2B buying.

3. B2B ecommerce does NOT mean the death of the sales person.
Companies are finding that ecommerce is not the end of the sales person, but combining technology, ecommerce and sales people create a superior B2B experience that sets companies apart from their competition. Customers already have expectations for ecommerce that companies must deliver on, and B2B organizations have been cultivating sales people for years. Bringing the two together – and leveraging technology between them – creates personalized, streamlined and insightful experiences for customers. Companies have survived with a superior sales force OR an outstanding ecommerce experience, but to continue to stay ahead of the competition, companies will need to leverage both.

4. B2B ecommerce experiences should be an extension of B2C ecommerce functionality.
Although B2B buyers expect a B2C ecommerce experience, they have different needs and require additional functionality. Technology must provide the tools required for these purchases. By clearly understanding customer requirements and dissecting the sales process, companies can uncover opportunities for time-saving tools and improved functionality that go beyond the basic ecommerce sale.

5. Listening to customers will help B2B companies stay focused on what is important.
The task of moving to an ecommerce organizational model is daunting. The number of projects to tackle typically outnumber the resources and timelines of the organization. Understanding buyer expectations and priorities will help companies focus on what is important and prioritize projects and resources internally. Staying focused on projects that will provide value to the buying experience and improve engagement are important. Aligning internal and customer priorities will help companies stay focused on what is important and avoid wasting time on a “shiny object” that may not provide value later.

6. It’s not about channels. It’s about touch points.
This theme permeated both the B2B and B2C sessions during IRCE. Companies must stop thinking in terms of channels, but in terms of customer touch points. Ecommerce has become just commerce. Consumers are interacting with companies across multiple devices and multiple marketing channels and they don’t care how the organization is structured or who owns what campaigns or properties. Customers must be the focus for organizations. This means re-evaluating how companies are organized, how the customer is managed and how success is defined across the organization.

7. Transformation requires organizational and process changes.
B2B companies must combat internal challenges and plan appropriately to overcome those to be successful. Many ecommerce initiatives in B2B companies suffer the following challenges: No explicit leadership, no explicit C-level support, heavy back-end integrations and channel conflicts.

8. Technology is critical for success.
Technology is enabling organizations to respond to the changing demands of B2B buyers. Buyers expect personalization, analytics, pricing optimization, flexible payment options and backend integrations. To fulfill these expectations, technology investments are going beyond ecommerce platforms. The need for data is requiring companies to evaluate and upgrade back-end platforms, centralize information and connect disparate systems.

9. Information is important. More product information is imperative.
Leveraging the website for an increase in sales means providing more product information in lieu of a sales persons’ knowledge. This requires more robust product profiles and assets than ever before. Product Information Management Systems (PIMs) were discussed as a way to help gather and manage the product information gleaned from multiple sources throughout an organization. These systems help companies create efficiencies and maintain consistency and accuracy of product information across multiple customer touch points.

10. Define KPIs early to gauge success.
The move to ecommerce is expensive. It requires a significant monetary investment and a commitment of personnel resources. Companies must define the project goals and the definition of success. These will help organizations stay focused. Once defined, KPIs should be defined and an ongoing process of measurement developed to clearly and regularly communicate how the project is performing and to quickly identify issues so adjustments can be made. For B2B ecommerce, KPIs may or may not include increases in revenue, but may be focused more on customer satisfaction, engagement and increases of internal efficiency.

Moral of the story: The opportunity for B2B ecommerce is big. Buyers are now demanding new ways to interact with companies. Those that choose to engage buyers in ways they have come to expect will succeed.

Statistics taken from:
• Forrester Research US Online Retail Forecast, 2011 to 2016
• Key Trends in B2B eCommerce for 2013
• Forrester / Internet Retailer Q4 2013 Global B2B Commerce Online Survey

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