For e-commerce agencies, like Trellis, building up digital storefronts is their bread and butter. On the B2C front, brands are well-versed in what they need to do. B2B e-commerce on the other hand, is still in its infancy. Logistics, manufacturing, distribution, biotechnology are inherently complex industries. Add e-commerce to the mix and it can be enough to turn executives off from the idea.
Isaiah Bollinger, the CEO of Trellis, wants to change that. He knows all about the frustrations of B2B e-commerce. His goal: make it a whole lot simpler. We sat down with him to cover a few of the best tips he’s learned from helping dozens of B2B companies go online.
A couple of months ago, Trellis launched a major distribution site with a complex ERP integration and capabilities for real-time pricing and availability per warehouse. Isaiah describes how the beauty of this client was that they understood the MVP approach and the value of getting live and improving later. “Far too many distributors are trying to do way too much in their initial launch and struggling to get live. Alternatively, they're spending years on failed projects because they tried to do more than they could afford.”
Instead, Isaiah recommends starting with just the next step – maybe it's getting a Product Information Management (PIM) solution in place or maybe it's mapping the customer experience. How do you want customers to search for products, reorder, or sign up for a new account?
It might not be perfect the first time, but the most important thing is to get going. “Being willing to experiment and view failure as a learning versus a sunk cost is key to growth. Most businesses are focused on each quarter or next month's revenue and not what they are doing to grow the brand in the next 5 to 10 years.”
B2B e-commerce is all about automation and operations. A lot of B2B companies can't handle scale because they do everything manually. Isaiah’s tip: don’t get sucked into overpaying for creativity. Invest in the technical infrastructure that powers your business.
“Most companies just don't realize that what you see is not what is behind the hood. A car can look awesome but underneath is falling apart,” says Isaiah. Building a great long-term and scalable website takes a lot of time and expertise from great engineers. Unless you’re building a simple Shopify or Squarespace site, Isaiah explains that it’s important to invest early-on in setting up your data and standards.
Most e-commerce experts, platforms, and agencies have focused primarily on B2C. The result is that there is a serious lack of e-commerce talent that truly understands B2B. One of the reasons e-commerce is so hard for most companies is that it goes far beyond building a website. It’s a mix of analytics, marketing, operations, technical skill, design, and other skills like customer service. Isaiah explains that most companies try to put one person in charge of all of these elements of B2B e-commerce and of course they are set up to fail. Some of these tasks include:
It’s important to have an internal champion, but Isaiah recommends either hiring a B2B expert or a B2C veteran that has led complex e-commerce operations in the past.
Companies can waste a lot of time if they don't have the proper requirements to make a good decision on a vendor. Isaiah recommends merchants to consider a few core functions before moving forward with a development plan:
Product and pricing: You need accurate and up-to-date product data and pricing so your customers can buy the right products at the correct price.
Orders and fulfillment: Your orders must sync between your ERP and e-commerce platform so there is seamless integration for fulfilling orders.
Inventory and availability: You need to have the correct inventory and availability so that your customers know how much is in stock and when they will get the product when they buy.
Taxes and totaling: You may have additional taxes and add-on fees. Ensuring there is real-time data for the correct pricing is critical for success.
Setting up the internal infrastructure before you seek out a vendor can help you understand exactly what your expectations are for the e-commerce layer and how the user experience should line up with the backend.
The fact that B2C came online before B2B is a huge advantage for businesses. B2C already figured out what works well: seamless UX, one-click checkouts, well-designed websites. You get the picture. The tech already exists to get this kind of experience out there. So, while B2B may be late to the game, it doesn't mean that the digital tools aren't out there. According to Isaiah, all it takes is the mindset. Building a culture of confidence and reducing a culture of fear is critical to growth. The stagnant companies are the ones that are scared to try new things.
“They take so long to approve projects that by the time they do, they have already lost months or even years to competition moving faster,” says Isaiah. His approach is to see digital transformation as a journey, rather than a destination. This way, you can come in with the right expectations: it takes time, iterations, and investment before you can see results. But once you do, there’s just no looking back to the B2B before e-commerce.
Learn more here about how Trellis is helping industry-leading brands scale their B2B e-commerce operations.
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