I’ve worked in the B2B ecommerce industry for 18 years. I’ve seen it all — good and bad. Here are seven mistakes that often cause failures in B2B ecommerce launches.
1. Ignoring Design and User Experience
B2B companies often emphasize utility over user experience. This can hurt a company’s brand, as well as the perception of quality. Moreover, many companies fail to adequately plan for their site’s mobile experience, which can produce lower search engine rankings, lower conversion rates, and lower results.
At a minimum, produce wireframes of key pages as a part of your design process. Create the wireframes for both smartphone and desktop screens. You can also create wireframes for tablets, or, alternatively, you can assume tablet users will have an experience similar to smartphones or desktops. After the agreed-upon wireframes, create a visual mockup, and then build web pages to match the accepted mockups.
2. Overemphasizing Design
While functionality can trump design, in other cases heavily designed sites are difficult to use. This can especially be true, in my experience, if the designers have extensive print experience. Beware of designs that are image and graphic heavy. They can be pretty, but they can cause slow-loading pages, and are otherwise difficult for smartphone users. Don’t work with an agency that specializes in impressive looking sites if it doesn’t have expertise in functionality.
Focus on the actions that are most important for the users of your site. Make those actions easy. If your business has specific rules — special pricing, shipping — ensure your developers build the site so that it’s easy for your users and your staff to maintain.
3. Poor Product Content
I cannot count the number of times our team has produced the development work, but then waited on our customer to pull together better product descriptions and images. In some cases, the customer was planning to use data out of its internal system, but then realized that the descriptions and product names were too cryptic, and product photography was lacking. Without compelling content, a B2B site launch will be delayed, or the effectiveness of it will be diminished.
Assemble a team to work on your product data as early as possible. At a minimum, put the following information in an Excel file.
- Product name
- Product description
- Image file name
You will certainly have more fields. But if you develop these at the start, you will be in much better shape when it comes time to populating your site with data. For images, ensure they are large — 500 pixels wide by 500 high — so they can be reduced to smaller sizes as needed.
4. Inappropriate Software
I have seen multiple occasions where B2B companies choose the wrong ecommerce platform. They may be working with a design agency that isn’t knowledgeable in B2B ecommerce and therefore builds the site on a basic ecommerce or blogging platform that does not fit the companies’ ongoing needs. This often causes extensive customizations and, over time, creates a platform that is difficult to maintain and becomes a candidate for replacement. Recreating work on the wrong platform is an expensive prospect. Money, time, and effort would be saved by the right choice early on.
I addressed platform selection in January, in “Choosing a B2B Ecommerce Platform: Weighing the Risks.”
5. Incomplete Planning
B2B companies that haven’t launched an ecommerce site often underestimate all of the necessary planning steps. Staff is busy. Developers are busy. First-time companies often outline their requirements, come up with a (skeleton) plan, and move forward.
However, if you don’t do a complete job of planning up front, it can cause project delays and increased costs later on.
Have a technical architect and a usability expert assist with planning. Define:
- User interface requirements;
- Data architecture and integration requirements;
- Shipping, pricing, and tax rules;
- Ongoing maintenance needs.
6. Not Including All Stakeholders
Your planning process will be incomplete if you fail to involve all of stakeholders — all relevant personnel and departments in your company. It’s common for a B2B marketing department to plan an ecommerce site, only to find (after much development has been done), that the system administrators need the data structured a different way. I’ve seen instances when the sales department hasn’t been involved until late in the project, and it feels strongly, for example, that customers needs to be able to create and save multiple quotes for later retrieval.
Identify all the key stakeholders in your company and involve them in the planning process. Consider an outside facilitator to ensure everyone’s inputs are gathered into a single plan. Here are stakeholders I often see as needed parties.
- Chief financial officer
- Information technology departments
- Marketing staff
- Sales staff
- Parts department managers
- Operations manager
7. Poor Communication
In addition to involving the right people, frequent communication and ongoing feedback with the site’s developers are necessary to keep the project on time and on budget. Even with the best planning, you will likely discover things you want done differently. This is a natural part of the development process. It cannot be avoided. It happens because you learn things you didn’t know before and things become clearer once you see the site up and running.
The goal is to tell the site’s developers about any needed changes as early as possible — not when the site is finished and ready to launch.
Meet weekly with your developers. Require them to provide a site where you can follow the development, as the site is being built. Give feedback early and often.
In short, B2B ecommerce is complex. To do it well requires a blend of many skills — design, user experience, software development, and marketing — as well as a strategic understanding of the business. Avoid these seven mistakes for an effective B2B ecommerce site.