Outsourcing B2B E-Commerce: Strategic Investment Or Optional Approach?

Dilip Keshu

Starting an e-commerce channel can be relatively fast, easy, and inexpensive – if the right skills and know-how are already in place. However, selling through online commerce requires a level of digital maturity that many B2B businesses have yet to reach. Although Forrester estimates that B2B e-commerce will generate $1.13 trillion in 2020, only 2.1% of the $9.39 trillion market is represented.

For years, I have met with a wide range of companies who approach BORN because they want to create a meaningful online presence. Many of them are struck by the heavy burden of the investment itself, especially when their digital strategy is undefined. Others are overwhelmed by the mounting requirements of 24×7 convenience provided across all devices, as well as features such as social access and omnichannel ordering.

All of this leads clients to ask: how can B2B players keep up with pace of e-commerce evolution if they have yet to get the setup right? And what makes e-commerce complex in the first place?

The gap between digital infancy and maturity

B2B firms often make the mistake of launching an e-commerce platform that has a very vanilla experience. By experience, what I mean is the interface that customers interact with. Later, these firms find that this uninspired interface fails to engage customers and motivate them to complete a transaction. Instead, buyers are more likely to look elsewhere if they cannot find what they want at the moment they want it, in an experience that is at once intuitive and stimulating.

Don’t get me wrong: Implementing an e-commerce platform is a critical step. But it’s only the start of a long journey towards e-commerce maturity, not an endpoint in and of itself. At BORN, we have developed an e-commerce philosophy rooted in eight fundamental pillars. This framework, which we call the 8Cs, gives our customers the level of specialization they need to be successful:

  1. Creative design: Every site must be laid out in a format that has minimal complexity and maximum ease of use. Design isn’t about looking pretty; it’s much more deeply connected to usability.
  1. Content production: In addition to being high-performing, an e-commerce site is expected to speak directly to the customer through content and images that prove that the company understands that customer’s business, needs, and history with the brand.
  1. Commerce: The digital store should not be presented as just a catalog resource. It needs to be a channel that drives users to make purchases. There is a fine balance between branded content and clear calls to action that move customers along the purchase journey.
  1. Cohesion: E-commerce often requires the support of approximately 12 other systems in order to fully function. These range from payments, content, and CRM, to customer service, sales, and finance. Through the seamless integration of relevant applications, B2B companies are better equipped to deliver a frictionless shopping experience that adds value to a buyer’s business.
  1. Conversion: To drive high conversion rates, B2Bs need a strategy that balances the art of engaging customers with the science behind driving purchase behavior. For example, key functionality such as search should be optimized to allow for keywords based on partial product names and descriptions, as well as item number matching.
  1. Cognition: The use of analytics, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence can help B2Bs movebeyond simple responsiveness to a synchronized, predictive, and holistic value chain centered on customer expectations, needs, and satisfaction.
  1. Channels: E-commerce is rarely an entity independent of other operations. Today’s customers, including those in B2B, demand the flexibility to interact with the same business across multiple touchpoints – whether ordering online and picking up in person, or canceling orders via text message. More often than not, e-commerce means providing a suite of fully interconnected services and communication points.
  1. Completeness: A commerce site must deliver against four stages with its audience: impact, interact, transact, and react. In other words, the e-commerce experience must follow the buyer from pre-purchase decision-making to post-purchase satisfaction and loyalty.

As these eight fundamentals suggest, there is much more to e-commerce than setting up an online shopping cart. B2B companies can choose to hire talent and create a team of existing employees to support these efforts. However, this is by no means an easy initiative to set up or maintain affordably and successfully. The technology alone can cost anywhere from monthly installments of $250 to a payment of over $5 million, depending on the platform and specific business requirements. Once you factor in compensation of the workforce needed to customize, evolve, and support a commerce program, the initial investment can quickly rise as high as another $1 million. There are few businesses that can assume the costs and responsibilities of e-commerce without some form of external support.

6 benefits of e-commerce outsourcing every B2B should consider

To keep costs low and quality high, most firms need to translate our eight pillars into a model of e-commerce specific to their business goals. More importantly, they need insights that help ensure that all operations are relevant and effective enough for an e-commerce channel. For over half of BORN’s clients, these are the two primary reasons why outsourcing becomes part of their digital road map.

Although traditionally thought of as a means to reduced headcount and overhead, outsourcing offers B2B businesses critical advantages such as:

  1. Increased focus: Allow a third party to execute core e-commerce activities, while executive leadership moves the broader digital agenda forward.
  1. Higher quality: Capitalize on an experienced team that seeks to constantly optimize best-in-market digital experiences. Rather than ramping up in-house knowledge, tap into skilled professionals who can identify relevant gaps and opportunities in the digital environment, with an eye to increasing customer satisfaction and maximizing conversion.
  1. Strategic financial management: Conserve capital expenditure and achieve digital aspirations with significantly reduced operational overhead and associated costs.
  1. Consistent innovation: Access market-leading technology, expertise, and best practices that are typically out of reach due to financial and resource constraints.
  1. Competitive speed, scale, and flexibility: Accelerate the time-to-market cycle by increasing process efficiency and leveraging a global resourcing model that would be near impossible to build from scratch.
  1. Greater efficiency: Liberate internal resources from managing maintenance e-commerce tasks so that they can prioritize crucial product and service improvements that customers have demanded.

Most B2B companies quickly realize that the benefits of outsourcing e-commerce activities go deeper than cost savings. Working with partners can help minimize risk and provide access to both expertise and round-the-clock service—all of which are desirable components of a digital go-to-market strategy.

In fact, with careful consideration and planning, almost all B2B businesses can benefit from e-commerce outsourcing, whether using a partial or fully outsourced model. This investment is not only an economical path to a new revenue stream, but also an excellent way to execute best practices and make the customer experience a clear competitive differentiator.

Interested in evaluating if an e-commerce outsourcing strategy is right for you? Check out the BORN white paper “Is Outsourcing Right for Us? Three Key Questions to Ask.”

Dilip Keshu

About Dilip Keshu

Dilip Keshu is an entrepreneur who runs the award-winning, international digital agency BORN. He is a charter member of TiE, a global not-for-profit organization that assists entrepreneurs and young professionals. Dilip is also on the board of Sconce Solutions and an advisor to Blue Cloud Ventures and an Industrial Advisory Board Member of Rutgers University’s Professional Science Master’s Program.