Manufacturing firms that have always managed their business-to-business customer-facing sales processes using traditional tools such as phone, fax or email are often reluctant to make the move to online trading. Despite an acceleration in the shift to B2B eCommerce, many of these firms find the idea of adding a digital sales channel worrying or confusing and may lack the understanding or commitment to make integrated eCommerce a business reality.
In such circumstances, we often find the best way to progress is with the support of an eCommerce leader – someone within the business who has a strategic vision of what a digital transformation project involves, a clear view of an end state, and the ability to align all departments around this vision to deliver a successful outcome that benefits all parts of the organisation. In other words, someone who can own the project.
We sometimes see the role of eCommerce leader allocated to a manager working in marketing or IT, but these appointments are frequently problematic because neither department has the pan-business visibility and knowledge required to deliver an eCommerce vision across the organisation. Introducing eCommerce will change processes across all areas of the business, so manufacturers need to identify a leader, (typically from the ‘business management’ function within the company), who has the 360-degree perspective necessary to deliver a successful eCommerce project.
In the sales department, for example, the switch to self-service ordering could interfere with long-standing customer relationships that have been established by the sales team. The eCommerce leader would need to recognise any issues that are likely to be created and collaborate with sale professionals from the earliest stages of the project to agree an approach that would attract the full support of the entire department.
At the same time, implementing an eCommerce solution that fully integrates with accounting systems (such as Sage and Pegasus) so that buyers can see information like personalised prices, shipping details and real-time stock levels, will dramatically increase efficiency by automating interactions that would previously be undertaken by the customer service department. The eCommerce leader will need to work closely with customer services representatives to ensure they remain engaged, motivated, and their roles evolve to align with and fully support the new eCommerce channel.
Without the real-time integration of eCommerce software with existing business systems, companies often see an increase in workload for their IT department. A crucial part of the eCommerce leader’s role is to choose a digital platform that reduces the workload for IT and enables the department to focus on optimising systems in other areas of the business. Again, this requires the capabilities of an eCommerce leader who is willing to collaborate with colleagues and who has a clear understanding of what the technology behind a digital sale channel needs to achieve.
The marketing team will no doubt want to ensure that the digital platform delivers a smooth, slick customer experience that’s as good on a mobile device as it is on a desktop computer. The eCommerce leader must balance this requirement with the practicalities and technology integration needs demanded by the customer services and IT departments. And last but not least, there’s the finance department; self-service ordering brings different kinds of transactions and new customer payment options, which the eCommerce leader needs to understand as part of a departmental workflow that can be fed into the overall B2B eCommerce plan.
With this kind of holistic view of the business and a clear vision for the future, the eCommerce leader can develop a comprehensive roadmap for the successful transition to online trading. While ensuring that workflows from across the business are represented in their transformation plan, the eCommerce leader also represents the voice of the customer – someone who can step in and say which processes and interactions work at a user level, and which don’t.
The eCommerce leader must decide what qualifies as a successful project, and which metrics need to be taken into account when measuring achievements – at a departmental level as well as at an organisational level.