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B2b ecommerce in Europe

How B2B companies can start with ecommerce

More and more business-to-business companies are embracing proven B2C concepts and strategies when they start selling online. Whether it’s about marketing or order management, there’s a lot to learn from business-to-consumer retailers. But what are the steps B2B companies should take when they start with ecommerce?

Digitization is not only changing the way companies sell their products and services to customers, but also how companies sell to other companies. And the B2B industry seems to implement the success stories of the B2C industry. Things such as predictive marketing, personalization or even something seemingly simple as online ordering, were traditionally B2C concepts and strategies, but are now finding their way into the business-to-business industry.

Ecommerce News Europe spoke with Harold van der Horst, who works as the marketing director EMEA-West at Intershop, about how B2B companies can use ecommerce platforms to improve customer satisfaction, boost sales and improve the bottom line.

‘Ecommerce changes the way business gets done’

“A study by Forrester from last year showed that over half of organizations put “ecommerce platform” on their priority list of technology investments. Back-end integration and mobile sites and apps were other popular responses”, Van der Horst says. “For us, it’s clear. Digitization, and ecommerce in particular, is changing the way business gets done.”

Tech investments

Other research, by Frost & Sullivan, shows the B2B ecommerce market could be worth 6.7 trillion dollars by 2020, twice the size of the B2C market. “But it’s not that easy to go into ecommerce, as a B2B organization”, Van der Horst emphasizes. “These companies often face challenges related to technology, people, and processes.”

According to Van der Horst, transitioning to B2B commerce digitization is more than just having access to and making use of new technology. “It’s a complete new mindset. Many B2C companies see their competitors outselling and outpacing them, so that’s why they want to start selling online. But it’s also because the B2B buyer has changed. Now everyone wants an “Amazon experience”, whether you are buying electronics for your home or supplies for your business.”

So, instead of just processing orders, B2B salespeople also need to give advice, upsell and be available 24/7. And ecommerce seems to be the perfect way to do this. It helps the sales person, but also functions as a sales channel itself.

Key to developing a strong ecommerce presence as a B2B organization, is using an ecommerce platform that’s advanced enough to have the newest features and functionalities, but also agile enough to understand and work with business nuances. The traditional B2B software may not be fulfilling enough, as it’s not about just running an online catalog anymore. Customers demand more.

But it’s not only customers, which worries B2B companies. They also have to deal with the fact they often use tons of different, dynamic prices across every selling channel. And what about companies that sell internationally? They will have to collect multiple taxes and fees and deal with different currencies.

Van der Horst says that, whatever ecommerce platform you choose, there’s some work companies need to do beforehand:

1. Understand your customer, your goals and your needs

“It’s simple: your customers don’t care how they buy something, they just want it when they need it and at the best price. So, get to know your customers and help them wherever they need it.”

2. Benchmark against your competition

“When you go into the ecommerce business, your company may be entering new markets and welcoming new customers. So, you should evaluate how your website may be viewed in comparison to your competitors. You don’t want to copy them, but you should be looking at what they are doing and how customers responds to that.”

3. Map out a roll-out plan

“Don’t start with all these bells and whistles, but take it slowly, learn from mistakes and add new categories or sales targets one by one. But in order to do this correctly, you need to have a plan. Ask yourself questions such as “how many items do you sell today and how many do you expect to sell?”, “will you only sell locally, or do you want to go global?” and “what languages, currencies, taxes, and shipping options are going to be necessary?”.

4. Focus on training, organization, and feedback

“Starting with ecommerce, can have a great impact on your organization. So you need to train your personnel, you maybe need to reorganize your business and you should listen to what your employees have to say about your ecommerce project.”

5. Enable continuous innovation and flexibility

“Once you’ve chosen a ecommerce solution and you’ve implemented the new platform, the work doesn’t stop there. You will add new features, you will face problems and you will discover new things. So, you need to constantly adjust, anticipate, analyze and adapt.”

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