B2B Beat: 6 Tips for Diving into the Deep End of B2B eCommerce

November 15, 2015

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When the B2B marketing sector talks about how the buyer’s journey has increasingly moved online, the assumption is that the purchase itself still takes place offline and requires the involvement of a salesperson.

That, however, isn’t always the case. Many B2B companies, following the lead of Amazon and other consumer marketers, are embracing ecommerce. Forrester Research projects that B2B ecommerce will increase from $692 billion in 2014 to $1.1 trillion in 2020, a compound annual growth rate of 7.7 percent.

With those kinds of numbers, many companies are understandably looking to keep pace with the B2B ecommerce trend. Hisco, an industrial distributor, is an example of a company that is beefing b2b beat manup its ecommerce, led by its CEO Bob Dill. “It was basically a corporate mandate to dive right into the deep end of e-commerce,” said Tom McElroy, Hisco’s Senior Vice President of Marketing, who in an interview with B2B Beat shared his experience and insight for other marketers in helping shape Hisco’s path to implementing an ecommerce platform.

Hisco took its dive into ecommerce by acquiring All-Spec.com, a distributor with a strong ecommerce presence; by hiring executives such as McElroy, who was previously the general manager of the U.S. Dell Outlet; and by partnering with Insite Software, a provider of ecommerce suite software.

Hisco understood that changes in the buying process were leading prospective buyers to do their research online and also making them more open to actually transacting online, as these buyers did in their personal life on Amazon and other B2B ecommerce websites.

“The (Hisco) leadership recognized they were falling behind in serving the customer across all relevant channels,” McElroy said. Hisco also noted that several other industrial supply houses, such as Grainger, had established ecommerce leadership positions in the sector.

But with its acquisition of All-Spec, Hisco made its move to embrace the possibilities of ecommerce. At the time, Hisco was essentially starting from scratch. “Prior to that, the company had a very simple, almost brochure-style website,” McElroy said.

Since the All-Spec acquisition, Hisco has transformed its website and implemented ecommerce capabilities from scratch. Hisco has committed to continuously improving the customer experience with its ecommerce platform. “I will tell you that the website we stood up in February of 2015 is a fair bit different than the website we have now.”

From a standing start almost two years ago, the distributor now generates about 12 percent of its revenue from ecommerce sales. For B2B companies looking to get started with ecommerce, McElroy offered six pieces of advice:

1. Culture is crucial.

“The most difficult (part of implementing ecommerce) is the cultural aspect,” McElroy said. “For 43 of our first 45 years, Hisco was a direct sales only company.” Demonstrating to the sales team that the ecommerce platform would ultimately help them sell more was a critical task. “Having a very capable and high performing sales force embrace bringing their customers into the digital age has been one of our larger challenges just to help make sure that they inform their customers on the right capabilities, the productivity improvements that their customers would see by buying online,” McElroy said.

2. Fully grasp your business processes.

“Understand your processes first,” McElroy said. When implementing an ecommerce system, many long-standing organizational processes will need to be changed or upgraded. For example, McElroy said product data might be a limiting factor. “It would probably be in your best interest to do a product data cleanup effort before you spend all the money on pushing poor quality data into an ecommerce environment,” he said.

3. Plan your cross-sell and upsell strategies.

Ecommerce platforms offer the automated capabilities to, for instance, ask customers buying a set of fasteners if they also need anti-seize compound to go with it. Making the most of this opportunity requires planning. “It’s worthwhile to plan out what those strategies are going to be in advance, so you’re not sort of fumbling your way through it,” McElroy said. “You have to have a clear articulation of your value proposition and how you’re going to apply it in that online environment.”

4. Avoid custom coding.

McElroy is a believer in leveraging the base package of the software as much as possible and avoiding “a quagmire of unique codes.” He said, “You should look toward working with your technology partner to include your enhancements in their future platform as opposed to creating your own dynamic Java script applications.”

5. Be sensitive to customer desires.

B2B companies with new ecommerce platforms must fight the desire to move all of their customers online. “Be prepared to transact in a way that your customer wants to transact,” McElroy said. “Don’t try to artificially create a push online where the customer is completely satisfied and very pleased to continue to fulfill demand in a non-ecommerce way.”

6. SEO cannot be underestimated.

As B2B buyers increasingly research and buy online, having strong search engine optimization is essential to educating prospects and moving them along the path to purchase. “We’ve fully recognized that a majority of the research is done before they want to talk with a human, and we’ve put in place through multiple areas, including our LinkedIn page as well as other external areas, efforts to ensure that our SEO is the best it can be,” McElroy said.

Every day, McElroy is applying what he learned at Dell and the new things he’s learning at Hisco to the industrial distributor’s omnichannel strategy. “At this point, we’re only really getting started,” he said.

B2B Move of the Week

Earlier this month, Magento Commerce named Mark Lavelle as its CEO. Magento, which was formerly a part of eBay Enterprise, was acquired earlier this year by a consortium of private equity funds. The company will market its open-source ecommerce platform to B2B and other companies. Lavelle was previously senior VP-strategy and business development at eBay.

B2B Resource of the Week

Marketers are increasingly asked to prove the return on investment of their programs. Metrics and analytics help make that possible, and a new ebook provides marketers with the basics of how to leverage metrics and analytics to boost the performance of their programs. Download the new guide today: The Sophisticated Marketer’s Crash Course in Metrics & Analytics.

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