4 Critical Steps For Building A B2B E-Commerce Organization

Brian Beck

B2B e-commerce operations don’t run on their own. When establishing B2B e-commerce, organizations need to create several new important roles—or risk failure.  Companies that are just beginning the e-commerce journey will also need to figure out how to balance in-house vs. outsourced resources.

You probably won’t find the e-commerce expertise and competency you need in your organization right away. Obtaining the incremental revenue and efficiencies available through e-commerce is an exciting prospect, but it will take some time to develop, so be patient.

If you’re planning to launch a B2B e-commerce initiative in the near future, consider a crawl-walk-run approach. The philosophy applies just as much to e-commerce as it does to organizational structure.

How exactly can you create a well-oiled B2B e-commerce machine? Here are four tactics I’ve seen numerous companies use to build out high-functioning, winning organizations that drive success with e-commerce.

Start with an overarching plan

Success begins with a solid, carefully considered plan that gives a clear idea of revenue and growth potential. Before you do anything else, you need to hit the drawing board and come up with a plan that will work. Figure out the people you need, the kind of technology and e-commerce platform you plan on using, how you’ll fund your new initiative, and your target customers (considering both current customer adoption and new customer acquisition opportunities available through e-commerce).

The plan should contain very specific milestones, with actions to be taken along the way. Break it down into digestible chunks – 3-, 6-, and 12-month goals – and make sure you also have a longer-term vision to put it all into context. However, don’t try to boil the ocean right away. Doing too much at once is a recipe for failure.

When you don’t understand the needs of a successful B2B e-commerce channel, you don’t have anything to work against or a business case to build into. It is critical that you don’t skip this step. Start with a plan right out of the gate.

Leadership is critical

You can’t expect your B2B e-commerce initiative to succeed without strong leadership coming from the top. After all, there are key hiring decisions that have to be made—decisions that impact the entire organization. Existing processes will have to be updated and new working relationships and collaboration structures formed. Top management will need to keep its collective eye on the P&L.

Making things trickier, you likely will need to hire before you start seeing revenue, particularly if e-commerce is a new sales channel for you. You need some push from the top to make things work—all the way up to the CEO and the Board. Take a longer-term view that incorporates overall company strategy, and you’ll be just fine.

B2C models can be a starting point

You don’t have to start completely from scratch; B2C e-commerce organizational models provide an excellent framework to draw inspiration from. Be warned, however, that these frameworks need to evolve to incorporate the nuances of B2B selling—like:

  • CRM
  • Sales force enablement
  • Workflows for purchasing
  • The importance of content
  • Complex pricing models
  • High-touch, account-specific customer support
  • B2B-specific Fulfillment methods (e.g. customer pick up, ‘will call’, sales force delivery of product, etc.)

Team size and role definitions evolve along with revenue growth, and this evolution generally follows B2C examples. But the internal touch points and collaboration structures are quite different in B2B e-commerce.

Hire B2C veterans

When you’re looking to hire for your new B2B unit, don’t dismiss candidates who only have B2C experience. Instead…hire these people! They already have e-commerce experience and skill sets. Blended with the product knowledge already inside your organization, they’ll be unstoppable.

Seeking experienced retail e-commerce professionals provides a way for B2B organizations to build a team that is deep in digital commerce, online marketing, web merchandising, e-commerce technologies, and other competencies. However, hiring organizations still need to be aware that these candidates will likely not have an understanding of their products—or the nuances of B2B selling, for that matter.

Be patient. Put together a blended team of e-commerce pros and product specialists from B2B ranks for maximum effectiveness.

You can’t expect to build a killer B2B e-commerce engine overnight. Like anything else in business, success will involve a combination of hard work and patience. Stick to it. With enough planning and hard work, you’ll reap the benefits of your invested sweat soon enough.

For more B2B strategies, see Vital Customer Experience Lessons B2B Can Learn From B2C.

Brian Beck

About Brian Beck

Brian Beck is Senior Vice President of E-Commerce and Omnichannel Strategy at Guidance. He has over 20 years of experience, including more than a decade as a hands-on C-level e-commerce executive. Brian has achieved high growth rates in excess of 100% per year and has held full P&L responsibility up to $100 million as the lead digital executive in both early stage and multibillion-dollar enterprises. He is an expert in the areas of omnichannel and e-commerce strategy, online marketing and customer acquisition, Web-site experience / merchandising, technology evaluation and selection, and all operational aspects of building online commerce organizations. His recent clients include both B2B and B2C industry leaders such as Brasseler USA, Five Below, Charming Charlie, Johnny Was, Sole Society, Epson, Harry & David, and Teleflora.