We had the chance to interview Brian Beck, Managing Partner at Enceiba and author of the book Billion Dollar B2B Ecommerce, for our Talking Shop video series. During the interview, Brian discusses how B2B companies are transforming their commerce model to meet the expectations of the modern B2B buyer.
Read the summary or watch clips of the interview below.
Is now the ideal time for B2B companies to invest in digital commerce?
As we head into the looming economic downturn, we often hear companies wonder if now’s the right time to invest in digital commerce. But history has proven that it’s often the companies that prioritize digital initiatives who come out on the other end ahead of their competition.
“Downturns are times when companies win market share,” said Brian. As a result of the pandemic, many B2B companies had to rethink how they do business with their customers and shift their focus to digital channels. Now they’re looking at how they can build upon their digital channels to create frictionless customer experiences.
How to convince leadership now’s the time to invest in digital commerce
You know you need to invest in digital commerce, but you also have to convince the executive team that this is the right move. “Ultimately, leadership buy-in is the number one ingredient. A few years ago, when Digital Commerce 360 did a study on why companies hadn’t invested in digital, it was that the leadership wasn’t there,” said Brian.
To help gain leadership buy-in, Brian has seen B2B companies look at digital transformation through the lens of smaller initiatives or MVPs. By breaking down the digital transformation into “bit size pieces,” you can test your commerce strategy, prove the return on investment, and use the data to inform future digital initiatives.
Common B2B Digital Commerce MVP Initiatives:
- One is businesses taking specific business units or portions of the product line to market through eCommerce – this is particularly popular with manufacturing companies. This allows them to get closer to the end consumer and combat distributors buying and reselling their products under a private label.
- “The other major trend I’m seeing is companies that are employing existing marketplaces as a first step in eCommerce.” This helps companies start to capture data around their target customer and build the resources and skills they need to manage a digital commerce strategy.
How composability fits into B2B commerce
A composable commerce approach views each component of the commerce framework as a self-contained unit that can be deployed, updated, and replaced independently of the others. This is attractive to B2B companies because “it’s able to more effectively tie into existing systems, but also in many cases more nimbly launch eCommerce,” said Brian.
What type of B2B business is a good fit for composable architecture? Brian laid out a few criteria that make sense for composability:
- The business sells in multiple countries
- The business has several business lines
- The business has several ERPs, CMSs, etc.
For a B2B company that wants to launch an eCommerce channel, composable allows them to add the necessary functionality without ripping and replacing an entire system. For example, a business could easily add cart and checkout functionality to an existing content website.
But it’s not right for every B2B company. “Every business is different, has different needs. You need to understand your objectives, what your customers want, and your own capabilities to develop and deploy systems,” noted Brian.
Building B2C-like experiences for B2B buyers
Amazon’s 2-day delivery and one-click purchase reset consumer shopping expectations that have now leaked into the B2B world. As a result, it’s no longer enough to simply have a transactional digital channel — B2B buyers need frictionless experiences from homepage to fulfillment and post-delivery.
“I believe that there’s the same level of expectation in B2B for fulfillment, inventory visibility, and other things as there is for the front-end storefront experience,” said Brian. Accurate inventory visibility and fast delivery are no longer differentiators, they’re an expectation of how B2B companies run their business.
When considering what to prioritize, Brian recommends identifying where the friction is in the end-to-end buying process. “You must differentiate on the digital experience that can go to the next level. If you’re a distributor, that means how do I deliver something which is unique and conveys my knowledge of the product and conveys my knowledge of how to use the product in your business.”
How to prioritize systems to deliver frictionless experiences
B2B companies have an opportunity to find best-of-breed systems to create differentiating customer experiences. However, they often rely on several systems to run a business — ERP, CMS, PIM, and CRM to name a few — so how does a business prioritize which ones to upgrade?
“You want to make sure you have something that gives you the flexibility to differentiate in the future,” said Brian. “Sometimes you have to rip off the scab and make some hard decisions about monolith systems you have that may not be serving you in the future.”
How to find and hire an eCommerce team for B2B
“If you’re on the B2B side, look for people that have grown up in B2C,” said Brian. Many of the B2C eCommerce skill sets are highly transferable to B2B. “What’s new to B2C folks is the products, relationships, and legacy of how B2B companies traditionally go to market.” This cultural aspect is so engrained in B2B that bringing in talent from B2C will help fill the gap of eCommerce skills – such as merchandising, marketing, and data.
“Every single day, I hear from executives that are looking to hire people, and it’s hard right now,” said Brian. Employees that come from B2C companies expect to be able to work from home. This is a big shift for B2B companies that have traditionally performed business from an office, plant, or distribution center for decades.
“The key ingredient is flexibility – you have to be flexible in how you’re hiring,” said Brian. “You have to also think differently about what the characteristics are of people that come from eCommerce. In B2C eCommerce, people might have had five jobs in the last ten years. That’s not a sign of their loyalty not being there, it’s more just a sign of how people grew up in eCommerce.”
For more interviews with eCommerce experts, check out our video series Talking Shop.
Composable Commerce: What, Why, and How