10 B2B eCommerce Strategy Considerations
Monday, March 21, 2016
Layer One - Vice President of eCommerce
Where did that Strategy go?
A new competitive threat emerges and its time to review your eCommerce strategy. The who, what, where, and when questions emerge and its obvious the strategy has not been updated in some time. That 3-5-year strategy was developed, first year or two executed, then it ended up shelved on some far off distant file share. Somehow tactical advances continued, but the strategy has not evolved and has long been forgotten.
eCommerce is a journey that when successful, will never reach a final destination. An evolving strategy needs to provide that journey’s direction. Your strategy should be updated at least yearly; assuming you have a strategy.
Here are 10 areas that you do not want to overlook next time it is updated.
- Drivers and Objectives
- Mergers and Acquisitions
- Channel Partners
- Digital Innovation and Disruption
- Incentive Programs
- Data Quality and Integration
- Global Expansion
1. Drivers and Objectives
Although this seems obvious, it would surprise you how many organizations do not do this. Not only should companies review their corporate objectives and align their eCommerce strategy, but it is even more important to understand the business drivers of Channel Partner and Customers. Input should be gathered in advance of your annual business strategy allowing for its incorporation. Your Partners, Corporate Accounts and End Customers should be solicited for areas that would make you easier to business with, enable their growth and reduce cost.
Again, this should be obvious. Metrics and Key Performance Indicators need to be adjusted to align with other factors in your strategy. Business objectives will change and how they are measured through metrics will need to change as well. It is important to identify and measure the correct outputs and have the right tools in-place to acquire them. Review and revise these yearly allowing them to evolve with your strategy.
3. Mergers and Acquisitions
For many Manufacturers and Distributors, this is an afterthought. This is not just about your acquisitions. Handling consolidation of Channel Partners Corporate Account and Retailers should be accounted for in your model. Identifying the operating rules for merging new brands and products into your eCommerce model (people, process and technology) and accounting for Partner acquisitions that will involve data changes (i.e., locations, procurement, shipping, invoicing, security access) will not only prepare you for the event, but give your M&A team information to be used during their evaluation processes.
4. Channel Partners
In today’s environment, the Buyer/Seller Relationship Rule still holds true; “the organization or channel that owns the relationship, stipulates what data and information standards will exist and be exchanged? This ownership can vary whether working within a marketplace, mass-distribution, retail, limited-distribution, direct or other model. Has your Channel Partner model changed? Have you added new Channel Partners? It is likely your eCommerce model will need too adapt to these changes.
Omni-Channel considerations for B2B not only include a consistent experience across your communication channels (i.e., marketplaces, publications, mobile, websites, exchanges, partner integration), but those provided by your Retailers, Distributors and other Channel Partners. Is information being used consistently across your organization for all channels to market and do your Partners have access to the same information? If not, how can you make this information available to them? If they are creating it on their own, using third party services or other sources beyond those you provide or use, odds are inconsistent information is being communicated.
6. Digital Innovation and Disruption
Are you asking the questions, “What would revolutionize our business model?” and “What would bring our company to its knees?”. Discussing digital and eCommerce concepts that could impact your business model should be an on-going discussion. Both of these questions can lead to innovations that can direct your strategy around obstacles, create competitive ones, or leap frog them all together. The Digital ecosystem is always changing. Look at the simple change from simply sharing web site content in the 90's, to focusing on “self-service” in the millennium, and now with millennials taking over the workforce, it will be about “being serviced”. Do you know what “being serviced” means for your partners and customers?
7. Incentive Programs
The first thing that may have surfaced in your head is we are already providing loyalty programs, gift cards, on-line coupons, rebates and Partner incentives. These areas are important to B2B companies and need to be reviewed on an on-going basis. However, are you also looking at internal employee incentives for generating leads and sales through social avenues, on-line orders and call center services that may make the difference between a conversion and an abandoned shopping cart. Incentives around blog postings that can generate leads and actions that result in the conversion of an abandoned shopping cart should be considered. This area is ripe with innovative potential.
8. Data Quality
B2B Manufacturers are famous for poor data quality. Whether it be due to configured products with unlimited variations, complex specifications or the lack of formal industry standards, this is an on-going struggle. Data quality used to be an Information Technology discipline, however small to mid-market organizations are creating business data stewards to manage customer, product and pricing data. Large organizations are creating centralized Information Management groups within the business to drive standards and control processes that the IT organization could not. If you participate in an industry that has created a standards group with a data exchange such as the Electrical industry, you are fortunate. Even if the product data being exchanged is via EDI VANs. This has allowed Distributors to obtain data from one source verses each of their multiple suppliers. However, it has not resolved the growing need for zero latency transactions. Configured product, price, availability, order and invoice transactions may require real-time capabilities as B2C experiences become more the norm for B2B. Data standards groups are still critical, however looking to the future, real-time integration that eliminates latency will be required. Integration capabilities are truly becoming more open and reusable. Third party, cloud-based solutions with pre-defined connection points have emerged that are enabling a reduction in latency while reducing the size of large IT integration teams. Although this space continues to mature, digitally focused companies need to constantly review the state of their data quality and integration approaches associated with people, process and technology.
Security involves more than technology and needs to be reviewed on-going with any eCommerce implementation. How you prevent a security breach as well as communicate a breach in the case it occurs is critical. Methodologies for managing processes, application code and technical environments exist with compliance standards (i.e., PCI compliance). Technology measures should exist at each layer of a segmented infrastructure from your Internet access down to security within an application and database. Third party services exist that can scan your eCommerce solution for vulnerabilities and recommend improvements. Include your security, IT and legal organizations when reviewing security considerations as part of your strategy.
10. Global Expansion
Reaching global customers is easier than it has ever been and it will only going get easier. However, there are many considerations as you enter the global marketplace. Ever changing regulations of each country related to taxes, privacy, and incorporation will need to be considered as well as Import/Export compliance. Handling of proper payment methods need to be defined as well as considerations around technical infrastructure. The performance of your site may suffer if not architected correctly. This may include everything from how different technologies are integrated into your web experience to how it is hosted (load balancing, Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), server locations, connectivity).
In summary, do not wait until your fiscal year planning process to begins, a security breach occurs, or a new competitive threat is introduced before updating your eCommerce strategy. If you have not already included the above in your review, it may mean it is time to pull it back off that file share.