Manufacturers and distributors of B2B products often ask us how to get started in multichannel e-commerce. Like any other part of your business, e-commerce requires a plan to implement and be successful. As you build your plan and identify the people, processes and tools required to bring it to life, we have identified six critical items to consider.
1. Know your customers like the back of your hand
A thorough analysis of your current customers will allow you to give prospective customers the VIP treatment they deserve. Start by developing personas. Personas are composite customer characters assembled from psychographic and demographic data. To gather the information, use surveys, customer interviews, business intelligence data and workshops.
With personas, we can identify which target customers are most important to achieving your business goals and then identify similarities across persona types. For example, engineers in the aerospace industry represent a growth market and tend to do most of their research online before buying.
Here's an example of a persona narrative in this growth market;
Stewart Williams is a 45-year-old electrical engineer who is researching a solution for a new product line he is developing for his company. He likes to conduct most of his research online before talking to a sales person. He often downloads content to his dropbox folder that he then reads on his iPad on the train during his commute or after his kids go to bed. When researching a new solution he talks to colleagues, uses search engines, goes to trade shows and reviews industry specific blogs and forums.
This profile will serve to identify the types of content and functionality that will move our personas through their buying journey.
2. Content is the fuel for your online sales and lead generation engine
Content is critical in B2B e-commerce because it will not only drive e-commerce conversions, it will also generate leads. A lead from Stewart can be worth a lot more than a single purchase because becoming Stewart’s solution means you are built into his supply chain.
The first step is to align your sales and marketing content with the needs of your buyer along their purchase journey. The buyers journey can be long and complicated, with an equally long and complicated list of content needs! I could write pages and pages about how content is essential to support your b2b e-commerce strategy. For a lead like Stewart, content supports everything from building awareness of your products and services via a simple google search, to supporting him through the purchase with detailed product documentation, to providing him access to easily reorder products or find technical support information.
For more details, check out another blog I wrote: “Content is the New Selling”
3. All devices are created equal! Connected consumers are connected workers
Business buyers’ expectation of finding and accessing information is set by what they have learned outside of work. They use iPhone and Android apps to shop and research consumer products, buy and read Kindle books, receive recommendation emails, they ask their social friends questions on Facebook.
After you’ve aligned content needs and types across the buyers’ journey, you need to determine how to deliver it to the devices that he is using to conduct his research and make a buying decision. Using tools like responsive design, we can shape the experience and define what the differences are in the types of tasks users perform on mobile devices, while remaining true to your brand.
4. Get the most out of your data
Data defines where your visitor is in their journey, and what they might want to see next. Just like your understanding of content, you need to understand the entire decision making process.
To do this, we use journey maps. We look at the typical customer journey for a persona and then create a map of the decision making process. This helps us to identify where users are in their decision making process, the steps they will take and what they need to see next.
5. Integrate systems for the best customer experience
All of your data exists in multiple systems: ERP, CRM, POS, Product Information Management (PIM), Order Management/Call Center, Marketing Automation, Sales Enablement, Business Intelligence/Analytics. To best serve your visitor, these systems must be interconnected: Customers expect a cohesive experience across all of your touch points.
In Stewart’s case, he expects contextually relevant information that is personalized to each step in his buying journey and will influence his decisions. We recommend using his journey map to identify the points in the buying journey where integration between systems will add value to his experience on the site. The key is to identify the pieces of the ecosystem that will create the greatest impact on the personas’ buying journey then build the integrations necessary to support them.
6. MultiChannel e-Commerce – Be always on, available everywhere your buyer is
Now that you understand your customers, their content needs, how they use mobile, how we can optimize the experience to move them through their journey and the integrations necessary to support the journey across touchpoints, it is time to bring it all together in the form of multichannel e-commerce.
Because the previous steps are all in place, it is possible to recognize purchase intent and act on it. Using features such as personalization and outside services such as IP look-up, you will be able to segment customers immediately based on their expected lifetime value to your business. This can be matched with your social, email, pay-per-click or banner campaigns and offline campaigns at trade shows or in physical distribution channels to create a seamless experience for your customers.
We recommend that you follow these steps iteratively and build up to creating multi-channel e-commerce. Start with your customers, content and performance measures and then add the functionality and experiences that most closely align with your customer’s goals. As you test functionality and experiences, build on the things that work and scale back on the things that are not helping you to achieve your business goals.
The last thing to remember is that neither Rome nor Amazon.com were built in a day. In both cases someone took the first small step and continued to build on it. Creating multichannel e-commerce in your company will take time but the rewards will come. You will see them in the form of increased sales, better competitive edge, and larger lifetime value.