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When a b2b company moves over to ecommerce, it fundamentally changes the nature of their business. Most notably, the focus of the sales process switches to customer self-service, away from the traditional model of representatives taking orders in the field or over the phone. It’s s significant shift that brings a number of challenges – but the rewards are there for companies whose senior executives are prepared to make the strategic choices that drive successful transformation. Here we identify some of the issues and look at why the most successful b2b ecommerce implementations are board-level strategic initiatives.

Managing channel conflict
As business buyers increasingly prefer to purchase online and more manufacturers sell directly to their end-customer, transferring revenue from traditional sales channels (for example, sales people, distributors or wholesalers) is a complex business challenge that requires strategic planning and careful management.

Lack of internal resources with digital skills
Smaller businesses in particular typically do not have access to in-house resource with the digital skillsets necessary to plan or implement a comprehensive ecommerce strategy.

Content, content, content
Content can be another obstacle to ecommerce migration. Business buyers who research and purchase online require access to detailed product data so they can make informed decisions. But often, the product descriptions, specifications, photographs and background information they need are siloed by manufacturers and difficult to syndicate. With distributors generally relying on manufacturers to also supply them with this product-related content, the problem is then compounded further down the channel.

Systems and process integration
Manufacturers, distributors and wholesalers have existing business systems that support their operational processes – from accountancy and inventory control, to supply chain management and CRM. Ecommerce platforms must seamlessly integrate with these systems in order to provide customers with the real-time information they need to make purchasing decisions – from account-specific pricing and discounts structures to product availability and ordering history. Without the right platform and specialist assistance, integration can be a complex and time-consuming problem.

The impact of board-level support
Typically, b2b ecommerce projects driven from the bottom-up quickly run into problems. Most of them fail to fly when senior executives realise that transitioning to ecommerce will have far-reaching implications and dramatically change the way the business works. In other words, it’s a major strategic initiative and not simply the launch of an online store. That’s why there needs to be senior executive leadership and support right from the start.

Ecommerce projects that include the CEO and CFO and a multidisciplinary team from IT, marketing, sales, and operations generally run smoother and faster because they’re appropriately budgeted for and driven by aggressive timelines. These projects are properly planned against an agreed digital strategy that aligns with overall business goals and is based on an accurate assessment of opportunities and challenges. This includes identifying the best target market and products, customer impacts, channel implications and any organisational changes that are required.

From here, a business case and digital roadmap can be developed to establish desired outcomes, identify priorities, determine deadlines and create budgets around anticipated ROI. With requirements clearly defined in this way, stakeholders are in a much stronger position to select the most appropriate ecommerce provider and technology platform.
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