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A little over two years ago, b2b2dot0’s SAP B2B ecommerce service was christened with a single order for 685 products valued at $9490.85.  Since then  we’ve grown to 13 B2B ecommerce websites and 10,000 registered users who  have:

  • entered 100,000 orders valued at $185M
  • purchased 5.5 million products
  • executed 167,000 business goals (place order, check status, reprint invoice etc.)

Along the way we’ve learned an awful lot about what it takes to  implement and support this level of ecommerce activity.  On the occasion  of this second anniversary of that first order, I’d like to share some  of our more important, and hopefully useful, insights with the  community.

I’ve picked many of these items because at one time or another,  people that we’ve spoken to thanked us for pointing them out to them.   I’ll organize them by things we’ve learned about Customers, Project  Management & Operations.  Today’s post will focus on the Customer  (because they do come first!).

Customers aren’t created equal.

  • They have varying roles and privileges.   For example, some of your customers aren’t allowed to see discounts  (pricing conditions), while others should only be able to work with  invoices. In fact, some don’t want to place orders at all, they just  want to track them.
  • They have different usage patterns. You have power users that visit your website daily and casual users  that show up infrequently.  Usability features that you implement for  the power user befuddle the casual user and features that you implement  for the casual user will probably annoy the power user.
  • They have different comfort levels  with the web. Some of your customers love exploring new features on  your website and others get stuck doing things the first (inefficient)  way they learned to get the job done.
  • They speak different languages.  While English is universal, it isn’t the only language in the world that people enjoy doing business in.

The challenge is to be very explicit about what your customers look like and to cater to them as required. 

Customers can handle the truth.

  • Real data in real time builds trust.  What do you have in stock?  What is my price?  When will I receive it?  What happened to the order I placed last week?   While you may not be able to answer these questions perfectly when you  launch your B2B ecommerce initiative, your goal needs to be to converge  on providing this level of information as quickly as possible. 
  • Trust leads to repeat usage.  If website users have to make additional calls to Customer Services to  get the information they need to manage their business, they won’t be  coming back to your website any time soon.
  • If you’re not able to provide this level of information, let them know why and what to expect in the interim.

Make it easy to communicate with you.

  • Surveys.  We’ve  collected over 200 survey responses.  Some of them provided positive  reinforcement for our efforts.  Other surveys pointed us in the  direction of improving our training and education.  We’ve also received  great ideas and reinforcement for our product road-map.
  • Issue tracking.   Real time integration with an issue tracking system is a very cost  efficient way to manage the more time sensitive interaction with  customers.   Besides, if you’re training your customer to go to the web  to transact business with you, you should make every effort to have your  website become a “one stop shop” for all interactions.  Some customers  would prefer not to talk to you at all.

Form a Customer Advisory Group

  • This is probably the single most important thing you can do. I’ll discuss it more when I write about our Project Management lessons.
  • They will help you plan, test and refine your B2B ecommerce website.

B2B users by day are B2C users by night.

  • “B2C-like” usability is infiltrating the B2B experience.  Customers expect a simple and information rich experience when they come to your website.
  • There is a growing reliance on product information  during the purchasing experience. Descriptions inform product selection  while images can confirm them.  It won’t be long before reviews and  ratings will also infiltrate the B2B purchasing process.

Change is difficult.

  • Your customers are used to doing business with you in a certain  way.  Letting go of emails and phone calls might be hard for some and  impossible for others.  Think about incentives, marketing, training and  positive reinforcements to make the transition easier.  Of course the  most effective approach we’ve seen has been the “mandate”.  But not all  of our clients have been able to pull that one off in the competitive  marketplaces that they operate in.
  • Almost 30% of our registered users require significant prodding to  adopt the B2B internet channel.  Just because you built it, there is no  guarantee that they will come to it.

My next installment in this series will focus on the Project Management  lessons we’ve learned along the way to implementing our 13 SAP B2B  ecommerce websites in 10 different countries around the world.


(from Prague, Czech Republic)

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