One of the biggest challenges that brand manufacturers and distributors face with their B-to-B ecommerce operations is hiring the right team. B-to-B companies need to identify required job roles, and then hire, train, and manage the team. Since most B-to-B companies are starting from scratch, this can difficult. In many cases, poor staffing delays or prevents ecommerce success.
B-to-C retailers learned quickly the key to online success was digital marketing and merchandising. They hired designers, developers, writers, search marketers, and merchandising experts. They engaged outside agencies with expertise in branding and messaging, affiliate marketing, digital advertising, and other skills that were difficult to hire in-house.
B-to-C retailers learned quickly the key to online success was digital marketing and merchandising.
Small-to-medium brand manufacturers typically focus their marketing efforts on print catalogs and traditional advertising. They have deep expertise in product marketing that generally focuses on supporting their direct sales force and sales channel partners. They likely have an online catalog, but that’s about it for online expertise.
Small-to-medium distributors (and even very large ones ) generally have even smaller marketing teams. They typically focus on supporting their sales representatives with promotional activities and email newsletters. Their websites tend to be informational, not transactional.
B-to-B online stores may need to support millions of products, tens of thousands of categories, and hundreds of thousands of attributes. Add that to thousands of customers that may be buying on desktops or smartphones and you have a high bar for success. Without the proper team in place, ecommerce results will likely be lackluster.
In this article, I’ll address the types of activities that are needed to succeed in B-to-B ecommerce. Beneath each activity is a description of the job role to support it.
Note that some of these roles will be combined in smaller organizations, making finding the right person even more challenging.
Critical B-to-B Activities and Job Roles
The good news is that the B-to-C segment has already established the blueprint for success. Manufacturers and distributors need to invest in all these activities to succeed today, as buyers look for the same type of customer experience in all online stores: B-to-B and B-to-C.
- Rich content development. Buyers expect meaningful content for the products they are considering. Most B-to-B buyers research online before engaging a sales representative. Images, short and long descriptions, and technical specifications are the baseline. In many cases, other documents are required, such as schematics, materials documentation, HazMat classifications, and much more. Product reviews and ratings are becoming important. Product forums are creeping into the B-to-B world as well. If you don’t create content, your distributors and resellers will do it. That is typically difficult for them and risky for your brand.
Job role. Hire a technical or creative writer to facilitate this process. Manufacturers should syndicate their rich content to channel partners to protect brand and product integrity. Your writer should have experience with content management systems.
- Online merchandising. It’s not good enough to create snappy home pages and category pages. Images and content links need to change regularly — weekly or monthly. Spread across thousands of categories, that’s a lot of content that needs to be refreshed. Additionally, you must consistently create new categories and content to support seasonal promotions, new products, best sellers, clearance products, and so on. Increasingly, B-to-B ecommerce success often requires microsites by customer or persona to enhance and personalize the buyer’s shopping experience.
Job role. This is difficult to do with a single person. Consider a merchandising team with previous B-to-C experience.
- Digital advertising. Even with an established brand, ensure that your products are visible in a cluttered online world. It’s important to protect your brand with pay-per-click campaigns. These should be geared to attract new prospects, but you will want to run campaigns on your brand keywords as well. If you don’t, your competitors will and you risk losing those clicks to them.
Job role. Even if you outsource the campaign management to an agency, have someone on staff who understands analytics and can manage key performance indicators, and the agency itself.
- Social media. Brand manufacturers should use social media extensively to connect with customers. Even industrial manufacturers use social media. Wholesalers generally struggle with it. But as they increasingly go directly to consumers or create their own branded products, social media becomes an important component.
Job role. Have someone in your ecommerce team create and manage content and conversations on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, and other social channels.
- Promotions. This is closely related to merchandising, but more focused on the actual creation of online promotions. For a distributor with thousands of product categories, hundreds of thousands of products, and hundreds of customers, this can be very complex. Promotions work. They drive sales in B-to-B ecommerce just like they do in B-to-C.
Job role. This position manages complex campaigns across multiple channels. This includes (a) working with the email marketing team to target and deliver those promotions to segmented audiences, and (b) defining required content and working with the writer, designer, and developer to implement. The person responsible for promotions may also be involved in merchandising activities.
- Email marketing. Email marketing is highly effective in B-to-B markets. Develop deep and broad segmented lists so you can create specific promotions for different audiences.
Job role. Staff someone with email marketing expertise. He or she will likely have HTML skills and design skills as well.
- Designer. Larger companies will likely want an in-house graphic artist to design hundreds of online creative ads and images to support campaigns and category promotions throughout the year.
Job role. Smaller companies may want to outsource this activity. But even a mid-sized company will likely want this skill in house.
- Developer. Depending on your ecommerce platform and your company’s size, you may want a web developer on your team.
Job role. A developer should know HTML, CSS, platform specific scripting and development languages, and your ecommerce platform.
- Business and customer experience analyst. This role has many names, but the purpose is to oversee the customer experience for end users. Does your site design meet end user requirements? What enhancements need to be made? Technical interfaces must be constantly reviewed.
Job role. Likely this person will plan store upgrades with the systems team and with web designers and developers. This role varies greatly depending on your company’s size and ecommerce platform.
- Search engine optimization. There was a time when SEO was considered unnecessary for B-to-B companies. But now, with confusion and channel conflict increasing, SEO can help a B-to-B company compete with AmazonSupply.com and other emerging marketplaces. Much of this relates to content. But it’s also critical to have dynamic site maps and good SEO structure, and to populate meta data like URL names, descriptions, and titles.
Job role. Have someone on staff that understands search engine optimization and that can coordinate with your in-house writer and outside agencies.
- Customer support. Customers and prospects shopping on your website will have questions. These could involve glitches on your platform, product inquiries, shipping requirements, and so forth. The questions should be answered quickly, and expertly.
Job role. Create a team for online support — to answer questions and even take orders if necessary. You may also use the team for online chat and for the monitoring of your product forums.