The first two parts of this article described why businesses need to develop a B2B ebusiness strategy and provided a list of potential ebusiness solutions that could be adopted. But how do you know which solution(s) make sense for your business and how do you avoid the barriers and overcome the roadblocks that can detract from a successful implementation?
To begin answering these questions requires a thorough review of the internal and external drivers that will shape your ebusiness strategy. You also need to be aware of the common barriers and roadblocks that will impede the adoption and success of your ebusiness solutions and proactively decide how you will avoid them.
As with any strategy development exercise there are internal and external drivers that will shape your plans. Below are some of the specific drivers to consider when developing your B2B ebusiness strategy:
Business Strategy – Your B2B strategy must be aligned with your overall business strategy. This seems obvious but not every organization actively uses their strategic plan to guide project selection and investment. Due to the potential customer-facing and organizational impacts of ebusiness projects, it is critical that they have full executive-level visibility and support.
Tip: Create a clear link between the business goals on the strategic plan and the specific ebusiness initiatives that support the goals. Include specific examples and estimates for how the ebusiness initiative will support the strategic objective and pre-define the metrics that will be used to measure actual results.
Customer Requirements – Oftentimes companies are forced down a B2B solution path by one of their largest customers. Although a customer request (or demand) is a good excuse for making an ebusiness investment, waiting for and/or reacting to these requests is not an effective way to build your strategy. Your company should proactively review and understand your customer’s expectations and identify the most appropriate solutions for all customer segments, not just the largest or most demanding customers.
Tip: In some cases you may identify a need before your customers know they have it. In these cases using a prototype or pilot solution to validate customer’s interest in the solution is an effective way to minimize your investment risk.
Competitive Pressure – Another typical driver for a company’s ebusiness investments is to match a competitor’s offering. Again, reacting to the competition isn’t an ideal way to develop your ebusiness strategy. That being said, most companies have strong competitors that beat them to the punch from time-to-time. When this happens you can benefit from being a fast-follower by learning from your competitor’s actions and improving on their solution.
Tip: Two methods to use to stay ahead of the competition is to look at what ebusiness solutions are working in similar industries and adapt them to your own and also to migrate a proven solution from one region or geography to another where it doesn’t exist yet.
Sales Growth – Companies are under constant pressure to grow sales and a significant part of your B2B ebusiness strategy development effort should be spent looking at solutions that can drive growth. B2B ebusiness solutions such as ecommerce websites and targeted email marketing can offer a relatively inexpensive way to grow sales by expanding your customer base and by increasing the average order size. The goal of investing in these solutions should be to expose your products to more prospective customers and to expose current customers to up-sell, cross-sell or complementary products.
Tip: These days building a full-featured ecommerce website can be done fairly quickly and inexpensively using ecommerce platforms such as Magento or WooCommerce. These platforms allow B2B companies to offer websites that have similar features and look-and-feel as the best B2C site.
Customer Retention – As a general rule it costs less to retain an existing customer than to acquire a new customer. Your B2B ebusiness strategy should include solutions that improve customer service and/or increase your company’s stickiness. Ebusiness solutions offer many ways to do this including examples such as customer self-service portals, easy-to-use ecommerce order sites, and system-to-system integrations with your largest customers.
Tip: To ensure customer adoption of the ebusiness solution your sales and customer service teams must be aware of the solutions and actively promoting them to your customers. This may require addressing channel conflicts and adjusting sales team incentives.
Cost Reduction – Another constant pressure that companies face is how to reduce costs. Using ebusiness solutions to reduce inventory, shorten procurement lead times, or simplify the process of working on complex product design and development activities are ways to support your cost reduction goals.
Tip: When working with suppliers your goal should be to implement a standard solution that can be rolled out to the broadest group of suppliers with limited incremental costs on your part.
Barriers to Change
Even with a well thought out B2B ebusiness strategy there are still many reasons why a company won’t move forward with a solution or won’t achieve the level of success with it that they had hoped. Several of the more notable barriers and roadblocks that can be encountered are listed below. Being aware of these may help to recognize why your initiatives aren’t moving forward as expected and give you a starting point to address the issue.
Complacency – If it’s working, why change? Successful companies often don’t see a need to invest in B2B solutions such as an ecommerce website until their customers start demanding change or, even worse, move their business to competitors that are easier to work with.
Investment Required – The perception is that B2B solutions are expensive while the benefits can be difficult to quantify. In fact, many ecommerce platforms offer very full-featured free versions. Also, you can adopt a prototyping/pilot approach to building your solution that will allow you to minimize investment risk while validating the benefits.
Lack of Awareness of What’s Possible – Is there a B2B ebusiness champion or expert in your company? If not, then it’s likely that you aren’t even considering these solutions simply because of lack of awareness.
Organization Position and Strength – Your company’s ability to successfully implement some types of solutions is dependent on the size and strength of your business relative to your customers or suppliers. For example, an industry leader with a loyal customer base is in a more realistic position to host an industry exchange than their smaller competitors.
Sales Commission Design and Internal Channel Conflict – Careful thought should be given to your compensation and incentive models when introducing an ecommerce website. If this isn’t well planned then your sales team may (unintentionally or not) undermine the success of your ecommerce platform simply because they are focused on the other activities that have a clear payoff for them.
Sales Force Skillset – A successful ecommerce platform often means that a traditional sales team can spend more time with their prospect’s senior executives on business development and consultative selling rather than working with the purchasing agent expediting customer’s transactions. Not every sales agent has this advanced skillset.
Changing Customer or Supplier Behavior –For any B2B ebusiness solution with either customers or suppliers you will need to consider how you will get them to adopt the solution. You should strive to design your solution with compelling benefits that encourage adoption rather than relying on costly customer incentives or damaging supplier “threats”.
Customer and Industry Readiness – As you consider your B2B ebusiness options care should be taken to understand your industry’s experience with the solution and readiness for it. If you are offering something brand new then be prepared to spend a significant amount of time educating customers and/or suppliers.
Developing a B2B ebusiness strategy requires recognition that action is necessary (see Part 1 of this article), a good understanding of the types of solutions that are available to you (see Part 2 of this article), and a thoughtful review of the drivers that will shape the selection and prioritization of the investments to be made. Successfully implementing ebusiness solutions will require persistence to overcome the barriers and roadblocks that can hinder adoption.
No strategy or solution will be perfect – the key is to get started on the highest priority activities with a commitment to continuously monitor and improve your solutions.