There’s no disputing the internet has made life better in countless ways, providing easy access to knowledge, facilitating information sharing and connecting people located miles apart. However, for some traditional B2B organisations, the internet has caused headache after headache.
Keeping pace with Internet of Things developments can be a very confusing and tedious exercise, especially for those with limited resources. Many have struggled to successfully introduce e-commerce into a business model designed before the online purchasing boom, and it’s easy to see why.
One of the most common mistakes we see is a company trying to force a ‘new school’ e-commerce channel into its ‘old school’ software and systems. Another is implementing an e-commerce platform which has not been created specifically for its target market and client base. In these scenarios, the fundamental error is a failure to build for the customer.
Perhaps the best-known firm to avoid this pitfall is Amazon, with its accomplishments not owed to expensive marketing campaigns or anything complex. Its success has been built on a single core value – the customer is at the centre of every decision.
From redesigning the website, adding new features and enhancing functionality, everything Amazon does is made with the purchaser in mind. Over time, this approach has enabled it to carry out improvements and become one of the world’s most lucrative online sales channels.
Putting the customer first
Customers must be at the heart of every objective relating to e-commerce, with a very distinct difference between B2B and B2C. Those in B2B are professional buyers, typically purchasing or operation managers juggling many priorities and tasks. They will be pushed for time and won’t have the bandwidth to browse, compare and price-check every order. B2B buyers are not paying for a product because they want to, it is being bought as it is critical for business operations or employee safety. Essentially, it’s their job.
On the other hand, those on the B2C side are what we term ‘amateur buyers’. While sometimes procuring equipment or supplies for their company, it’s not their primary responsibility. They might be a small business owner or an end user obtaining a limited quantity of items on an ad-hoc basis. Since orders are generally low volume, expectations are for fast delivery and a lower price.
As B2C shoppers aren’t making regular purchases, they won’t typically expect a highly personalised service such as their own sales rep and be happy with a slightly more limited range of products than their B2B counterparts.
In order to effectively target these different target audiences, two separate digital branches need to be established, with marketing and promotional deals tailored accordingly.
Choosing the right software
But what are the primary considerations for a company looking to succeed online? In today’s highly digitalised world, the majority of people rely on their smartphones and various apps to help them accomplish day-to-day tasks. The same logic applies to an e-commerce website.The ability to add apps, plug-ins or integrations to enhance user experience provides greater visibility of the business and insight into what’s working well and what could be improved.
When choosing software, there are three main options to consider: open source, bolt-on or specialised. Open source platforms are referred to as such because the source code is made available for use or modification as users or developers see fit.
Not only does it mean an ever-growing community of developers know how to use the platforms, but there is also a growing library of plug-ins and apps to enhance the customer experience. However, this can take months to implement and will require additional spend with a design agency, meaning the overall cost can quickly spiral.
Bolt-on solutions are offered primarily by software companies. Traditionally, these would be ERP providers with a ‘catalogue-only’ e-commerce shopfront. The benefit of this option is that with integrated customer, product and order data, it’s easy to manage information between the two systems. The downside is a lack of design, development and content customisation which can create a very dry user experience – potentially leading to lost sales.
Specialised platforms, such as EvolutionX, are constructed for a very specific target audience. What this means is those developing the software understand the needs of the industry and can create new features to meet a company’s unique requirements.
Custom development and complex integrations can be added as a business scales up, helping to fuel growth over time. Access to a team of e-commerce and digital marketing specialists will ensure the online shopfront continues to meet the client’s needs.
Content is king
With the most appropriate technology stack in place, the next focus should be informational, marketing and product content. Without this, a website will not be found by search engines, meaning that customers won’t be directed to the site.
- Informational content
Informational content is the basic but often overlooked material found on the ‘About us’ or ‘Contact us’ page. To achieve local search results, it’s important to ensure the address, phone and website information on other online pages, such as Facebook or Google My Business, accurately matches the website.
Other critical information is the copy published on the homepage. This is what visitors see first and can be the reason they continue to scroll or decide to leave the site altogether.
Remember to tell a good story in a customer-focused and simple way – what can they expect, and what will they want to see? Keep in mind the fact that imagery and videos go a long way towards constructing a great narrative.
- High-quality marketing content
Of equal importance is the marketing content. From informational articles and blogs to videos and social media, these elements should attract and nurture prospects (not close the sale). By creating and sharing material that will help a person visiting the website to do their job better or answer key questions, dealers can position themselves as authoritative figures.
- Product content
It goes without saying that product content is the most important type of information and includes the copy, images and resources on product detail pages.
At a minimum, a business should review the entire online catalogue on an annual basis to replace discontinued items, add new products and update pricing. For those with limited resources or struggling to regularly revise the details on individual product pages, creating SEO content for category pages is the next best thing.
It is an investment in the long-term future of a business as this copy will help to attract and close orders around the clock.
Given the pace of change and rapid development of new technologies, prospering online might at times feel like an impossible task. However, by partnering with a suitable software provider and putting the customer at the heart of every decision, dealers will be well-positioned to capitalise on the e-commerce boom.
Paddy Donnelly is Business Unit Leader at ECI Software Solutions