Business-to-business merchants are in an adapt-or-perish period of digital transformation, requiring them to rethink their operations from the ground up. It is not enough merely to begin moving clients online or simply to digitize existing systems.
Many experts suggest it is necessary to fundamentally reimagine an existing business. This can require an interdisciplinary approach that taps the expertise of divisions across an organization, generating collaborative solutions to redefine how to address customers and the markets they serve.
For example, consider my experience with a domestic shoe brand manufacturer. The company wanted to find a better method for staff members to enter manual orders into its fulfillment system. Because manual data entry is highly error-prone and expensive, continuing that process had the potential to result in unnecessary costs and a loss of operational competitive advantage. (Manual processing of a paper-based order has been shown to result in costs as high as $70 per order, versus computer-processed orders that cost less than $1.) For the shoe manufacturer, opening the door to improving order processing led to a broader look at its order processing system and changing market. Once the company initiated a true eCommerce needs assessment, it was able to look more holistically at its business needs.
Eventually, the shoe brand embraced an end-to-end, B2B eCommerce solution. The platform not only moved sales transactions online but shifted all aspects of the company’s business to the new digital system. As a result, the company was able to provide its customers with a cost-effective experience that was superior to its competitors’.
Senior Management Support is Key
As this company and many others have found, the real challenge in undertaking a major digital transformation is the need to generate support from upper management. Adoption of a major eCommerce system typically requires input from multiple parts of an organization, including finance, sales, IT, marketing, and senior management. Unfortunately, when some executives see the price tag, they drag their feet about making the necessary investments. In a 2018 B2BecNews survey, more than one-fifth of B2B manufacturers said that “lack of support from top executives” is the biggest challenge in undertaking significant B2B eCommerce initiatives.
So how can external business partners and internal “change agents” convince the C-Suite to get on board?
The first step is to understand the needs of decision-makers across disciplines and foster consensus to secure their buy-in. By demonstrating the resulting benefits, it is easy to make a strong case that an enterprise-level eCommerce solution will improve efficiency, enhance customer engagement, and ultimately drive sales growth.
“Show Me The Data”
To present the benefits in a compelling manner, executives need the data to see the problem and appropriate solution. Presenting authoritative reports from research and consultancy companies like Frost & Sullivan, Gartner, and Forrester can illustrate how B2B companies are executing and benefiting from digital transformations. These reports include market data on the volume and type of B2B eCommerce sales as well as information about B2B buyers’ digital buying behaviors.
A particularly strong case can be made using data that shows how your competitors have been able to increase buyer interest and sales volume using eCommerce systems. If customers are going to competitors who offer user-friendly online buying options, a statistic like “55 percent of B2B buyers will make half or more of their purchases online by 2020” can help support an argument that forgoing an eCommerce system will keep your firm from acquiring new customers.
It also helps to provide a financial analysis that demonstrates a solid business case for the investment. The total cost of an eCommerce platform, including both the cost of the platform and implementation and operating costs, can be significantly less than the revenue generated by the system based on average order size, reorder frequency and other sales metrics.
Work With Key Stakeholders
We’ve found that although there is typically an executive sponsor to a major initiative like digital transformation, other parties play central roles in decision-making — among them a company’s chief financial officer, its head of marketing, and the executive in charge of running eCommerce. A CFO will obviously be most concerned with the cost of an eCommerce platform and its short and long-term ROI. You can address those concerns by spelling out how the B2B eCommerce solution will help the company expand its existing customer base and increase profitability.
A head of marketing will be focused on customer acquisition and retention and whether a new B2B eCommerce solution will improve the company’s marketing metrics. You can make a strong case that a full eCommerce platform provides a 360-degree view on customers and that it will enhance marketing efforts — and lower costs — by compiling data from all customer touchpoints in one place.
Typically the person to get on board will be the head of eCommerce since that person is often the most informed about the benefits of an eCommerce system. As a vendor, one option is to support eCommerce executive as they make the case for investment in a new platform by suggesting the company engage in a pilot project so all managers can experience the potential benefits.
Remember that how you relate to each department head can help build your case for adoption. Learn to understand each groups “language” and priorities. If you can convince one C-level executive to champion the eCommerce initiative, you will often have an easier time generating buy-in from other members of the leadership team.
Getting to Yes
Getting executive buy-in and investing in a new B2B eCommerce system can have far-reaching implications for your company’s ability to compete in the future. Doing your homework, making a solid financial case for the business benefits, and building strong consensus across all key stakeholders and decision-makers will help get you on a path toward true digital transformation, a process that’s essential for survival in today’s marketplace.