Web Marketing and Strategy: Payoffs Aplenty for Marketers Who Push BtoB eCommerce
By Emil Walcek, President, EJW Associates Inc.
In retail (BtoC), eCommerce implementation is critical to public relations, corporate communications and marketing professionals. Not necessarily so for business to business (BtoB) marketers where an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” static brochure-ware website is often good enough. However, any company that ignores new eCommerce functionality risks unmet customer expectations, lost sales, and a tarnished brand. Conversely, if you can find a way to streamline BtoB customer interaction online you create a channel for winning distributor loyalty, customers, and market share.
Timing has never been better for revamping BtoB websites to serve public relations, marketing and customer communications goals. Managers who have taken all potential customer touch points into account with eCommerce have opened up new markets with higher profit margins. In a 2011 survey 35% of BtoB companies “are involved in some way with selling directly online.” However, of those, 58% are increasing their commitment to the channel.
To communicate with a new breed of specifier, manufacturers are tweaking business models, expanding customer offerings, adding eCommerce functionality, and investing in marketing. Is eCommerce for you? Current economic and industry forces make another look worthwhile. For those still operating eCommerce Web at a 1.0 level, upgrading to a 2.0 customer experience can speed a quicker return from expanded market share.
During a review, don’t fall for the shibboleth that business buyers are somehow different from retail customers. It’s been proven, business buyers are people, too. We are not immune to consumer inspirations and enticements. A compelling online experience will also appeal to a growing legion of tech-savvy buyers wielding smart phones, tablets on the job.
Speaking frankly, BtoB eCommerce is simply BtoC eCommerce with longer sales cycles, more decision-makers, custom sales, technical sales, more complex sales channels, larger volume or higher value sales, special customer service needs. In other words, traditional BtoB commerce marketing is often more about making and nurturing connections with business partners. So, what? Could a small change in process work? Your customers may be waiting on your eCommerce solution, i.e. a live-sales online customer engagement experience. What’s good for your present customer loyalty is even better for new customers.
More good news for SMB eCommerce development: it is now less costly to enter. Additionally, the technical gap between retail consumer and BtoB eCommerce development is narrowing. A BtoB eCommerce website might add functions for corporate accounts, order payment options, price levels, volume discounts, quotes, purchase orders, drop shipping, and system integration. Additionally, BtoB eCommerce user interface, content, and creative may encourage realtime chat or telephone contact with knowledgable company representatives.
Many of the basic eCommerce software scripts/libraries have already been developed, enabling easier customization and adoption. Solution providers offer integrated design, development, hosting and marketing services as needed to provide not only custom eCommerce site architecture and hosting services, but also branding, lead generation and customer conversion programs essential for sales success.
All this is not to say that the work to implement a custom eCommerce solution is already done for you. Getting maximum bang for the BtoB eCommerce buck plan for a substantial investment in business process review, an eCommerce functional specification, and integration into daily operations. Rely on your eCommerce solutions team for expertise in general business systems and marketing, in addition to creative and technical savvy.
From 100% Custom BtoB Sales to Custom+Automated BtoC & BtoB eCommerce in 6 months
MATcutter.com, a manufacturer of custom art and photo mats traditionally sold through bulk wholesale channels. The founder saw potential beyond sales awarded based on price, delivery and customer service. Today, the company’s eCommerce is responsible for over half the company’s expanded annual sales revenue from whole new categories of customers paying in advance and netting a higher profit margin. Matcutter.com has also wrestled market share from competitors to gain a market leadership position.
To make the move to eCommerce, MATcutter.com adapted manufacturing volumes, standardized large product selections, and geared up to handle more customers with smaller orders made possible with eCommerce. The site now caters to both retail consumers and business buyers. eCommerce sales have evened out the sales cycles inherent in the company’s traditional bulk/custom side, and production has actually gained efficiencies. The site and its marketing continues to evolve to serve more customers. “As we simplified our user interface, we found that even our bulk/custom customers were adding higher priced onesie-twosie product to their cart just for the ease of it,” says founder Bing Johnson.
Tips for Transitioning to BtoB eCommerce
- Confirm new market, product potential from eCommerce with independent research. You’ll sleep better at night. Survey existing customers and potentially new prospects in new markets. A minimal investment for intel can save $10‘s to $100‘s of thousands later in mis-guided resource deployment.
- Adjust business models, product offerings, or manufacturing processes to accommodate new realities, i.e. smaller orders and new markets. Learning from MATcutter.com, biggest dividends come by adapting.
- Get help beyond your company base to separate eCommerce wants from needs. Search beyond your traditional core to find a BtoB marketing services firm that can mesh with your team. Expect help and guidance with: new market surveys, budget planning, eCommerce website development, website management and hosting, and integrated marketing for lead development and visitor conversions.
Emil Walcek is President of EJW Associates Inc, a BtoB marketing services firm specializing in interactive & eCommerce website development, commercial website hosting, advertising, and public relations services (www.ejwassoc.com).
 E-commerce growing as b2b sales channel, BtoB Online, October 3, 2011