January 20, 2014, 12:37 PM

2014 will be the year many companies start to execute their B2B e-commerce strategies. Forrester Research analyst Andy Hoar says they must focus on three tasks.

2012 was the year most B2B companies started thinking seriously about e-commerce. 2013 was the year that they started making plans.  2014 will be the year that they start to execute their B2B e-commerce strategies.

The good news is that there’s still time. The bad news is that, in many cases, companies are playing catch-up.  And to further complicate matters, a new B2B standard has emerged.

Success in B2B e-commerce is no longer about being better than direct competitors.  The new comparison standard is the B2C “Amazon-like experience.”

Keeping in mind that all B2B buyers are also B2C consumers...B2B buyers have no less tolerance for a slow site (on a laptop or mobile device), an incomplete catalog, or poor customer service.  

So what’s it going to take for your B2B company to approximate an “Amazon-like experience?”  It will take achieving world-class performance in the following:

  • People.  Look for leadership with B2C experience.  Admittedly, this is not a deal-breaker; there are many talented individuals who have never set foot inside a B2C enterprise.  But if you have the option to hire someone with B2C experience…do it.  They bring a test-and-learn mindset, understand the value of rapid time-to-market, and most of all understand that the customer experience trumps everything.  Remember…it’s easier to teach a seasoned B2C e-commerce practitioner your B2B business than it is to teach your seasoned B2B professional the art and science of e-commerce. 
  • Processes.  E-commerce is all about data.  To support a world-class B2B digital selling operation, you need a world-class data and analytics infrastructure consisting of talented data analysts and leading software and services.  But what will drive the success of your data and analytics program will be proven methodologies for collecting, analyzing, and reporting on cross-channel data patterns and insights.  In addition, as a B2B company engaged in e-commerce, you will necessarily need to reevaluate paths to profitability.  You may very well be able to sell higher-margin products and services online, but then again you may be forced in the other direction—toward selling lower-margin products and services online.  Either way, how you think about and achieve profitability could change with e-commerce (for example, necessitating new cost structures, per user/overall spending targets, customer lifetime value and loyalty models).  Leading B2B e-commerce professionals visit and revisit these topics frequently.
  • Technologies.  In Forrester’s recent Q4 2013 Global B2B eCommerce Online Survey done in partnership with Internet Retailer, just 26% of B2B companies said that their current B2B e-commerce technology systems are capable of effectively supporting an “Amazon-like” customer experience.  Not surprisingly, 49% of B2B e-commerce professionals in that same survey indicated that they plan to “change or upgrade” their B2B e-commerce platform technology solution in the next 18 months.  Fortunately, there are several world-class B2B eCommerce Suite options available at a variety of price points and levels of functionality to help you sell online.

How does your B2B company measure up?  

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