B2B ecommerce is expanding rapidly with innovative new services and marketing strategies. Much of the innovation focuses on improving personalization by capturing comprehensive user data to tailor the on-site experience. However, offering such personalization is typically the last step in a sophisticated B2B ecommerce site. There are prerequisites to address first.
It can be helpful to identify where you are currently. A digital maturity model can help. Examples include:
- Gartner Research: “Digital Business Maturity Model: 9 Competencies Determine Maturity.”
- Episerver: “The digital agility model for improving customer experiences.”
- Forbes: “The Four Stages Of Digital Maturity: How Does Your Organization Rank?“
In this post, I’ll address digital maturity as it relates to B2B ecommerce, to ensure sustainable growth.
Stage 1: Digital Sales
B2B companies at stage 1 are setting up digital commerce. They may have been in business for a long time with sales processes, but they don’t yet sell products online.
Companies at this stage may be:
- Comparing platforms.
- Reviewing internal software systems.
- Examining existing data, such as prices and product descriptions.
- Structuring their team to support digital sales — internally and through vendors.
- Defining and adjusting current processes for an efficient and consistent digital experience.
At this stage, B2B companies should answer:
- Is their digital commerce targeted at obtaining customers, supporting existing ones, or both?
- How to compensate salespeople for digital sales?
- Can customers view offline orders on the ecommerce site?
At the end of stage 1, a B2B company is selling at least 50 percent of its products online.
Stage 2: Personalization Lite
Companies in stage 2 are, again, selling one-half or more products online. Growth at this stage means improving the customer experience. Enhancements can include:
- Product recommendations.
- Improved search.
- Setting up subscription options to auto-ship products
- Defining customer personas and creating relevant content.
- Implementing time-saving tools, such as a product configurator for customized ordering, an exploded parts diagram to click on the correct item, and a step-by-step wizard that builds a request for proposal for your prospect to use when ordering.
- Building a resource center and answering customer questions through content
Questions to answer at this stage include:
- How can our expertise add value and differentiate us from competitors?
- How will we create content and implement other enhancements?
- How will our enhanced tools support (or compete with) our distributors and channel partners?
B2B companies at the end of stage 2 leverage content and commerce jointly for personalized experiences beyond merely placing an order.
Stage 3: Customer Journey
B2B companies at stage 3 have robust ecommerce activity and seek to automate and use data to improve results. Stage 3 companies are ready to understand their customers throughout the buying process, a so-called “holistic” view, via:
- Creating a customer data platform. Develop systems to capture customers’ interactions with your company both online and off. Use the data to create an experience that anticipates customers’ needs and adds value.
- Mapping the entire customer journey from the outside in, including every point that your customer engages with your brand.
- Evaluating how digital technology can support and enhance your entire business.
B2B companies at stage 3 address:
- How to understand customers’ interactions to increase retention and compete with larger companies, such as Amazon Business?
- How to prepare the required internal cultural change to track holistic customer journeys?
- Quick wins to implement and celebrate?
Moreover, stage 3 companies consider:
- An enterprise-level platform.
- Data-capture processes that are compliant with privacy laws.
- Easy-to-use analytics and reporting tools.
- Expanding the team.
- Vendors to help with implementations.
At the end of stage 3, B2B companies have tools and processes in place to support a holistic customer view and act on it. Stage 3 is not a stopping point. The process is ongoing — utilize data, improve experiences, and test, measure, and tweak.
A Step at a Time
For B2B ecommerce, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the bells and whistles and miss the basics. But there’s a lot of money to be made from moving past stage 1. Stage 2 is when many businesses start to compete. Many implement a few stage 2 wins during the stage 1 launch. Examples include product recommendations and live chat. Both generate high returns, usually, for relatively little cost.
Create value in stages 1 and 2 to fund stage 3, which typically requires a substantial investment. Take it a step at a time, in other words, to get your B2B company where you want it to go.