Why is B2B ecommerce broken?
What does someone look for when purchasing online for themselves or their family? Privileged customer status?
Individualised sales news? An intuitive user interface and instant access to their buying history? These are just some
of the components that deliver a personalised buying experience tailored precisely to our own unique needs, tastes
and online behaviour. And with the slick operation provided by these websites, little wonder that they’re market
leaders, selling books, tickets and clothes to millions of us every day! They defined the ecommerce experience that
B2C customers expect and demand – and now they consistently deliver it too.
So, why don’t B2B companies offer the same?
Historically there has always been a marked difference between B2C and B2B selling operations. One has had to
rely on the cunning and inventiveness of marketing to convince us to buy lifestyle items we may not actually need;
the other simply has to undercut the competition in the price of printer ink. And because this difference runs so
deep in the commercial psyche it is no surprise that the momentum for change that we are now seeing comes not from within
but from the consumers themselves.
We can see the massive advantages this opens up, not just by making consumers happier but through a
host of competitive business advantages. Buyers today make less distinction than ever before
between purchasing for leisure and purchasing for business. Hence, any B2B company which fails to offer the same
qualities and efficiencies that B2C consumers experience will soon find itself in trouble. Those, however, that
embrace the opportunities now will get a head-start and secure a leading position within their own sector.
I’ll give you an example.
Kaiser + Kraft, Europa, the leading B2B mail-order company for office, factory and warehouse equipment, now
manages its extensive product range efficiently and centrally across all its online shops and catalogues. So, for each
selected online shop or catalogue, all the relevant product information, pricing and customer-specific details can
be retrieved instantly from a dedicated system. As a result customers are able to quickly and easily find their desired
product among the numerous articles on offer. And to secure that sale and to ensure they become repeatbuyers, the
new online shops are equipped with user-friendly features such as guided navigation and error tolerance for wrong keyword
entry, as well as intuitive search functions. As a result, the company can now realise the customer-retention potential of
multichannel sales to its fullest extent.
For any company eager to be at the forefront of this revolution, the big question is how do we make this happen? What
changes are needed to make this quantum leap and seize the commercial advantage before it’s too late?
This is about developing a game plan. In the B2B sector the traditional focus has always been on tangible,
quantifiable things – supply chain optimisation, lean-manufacturing, procurement, and process improvements – vital considerations but hardly the
stuff to excite today’s media-savvy consumers. To embrace their experience, B2B operators need to get right inside it – one approach is to
adopt the concepts and mindset of the gaming world.
Creating an efficient e-commerce operation is also something that has to be planned with people, not just around them.
And this means involving the right people; not just IT but everyone from board level to marketing, supply chain to sales, back-office to ‘channels’.
Devising a game plan has to be a multi-discipline process of consulting, motivating and involving all key players in an organisation.
By embracing B2B e-commerce we are embracing a fundamental shift, a process of reconfiguring the entire way in
which we do business in order to give the consumer the same experience they already enjoy from their B2C suppliers of choice.
This is exciting. Living through a commercial revolution is big enough by itself; being in there and influencing it right at the start
is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
Jacqueline Toms is marketing director, Northern Europe at Hybris. Hybris is hosting the ‘Game Plan’ event in Berlin on
October 28th and 29th. For more information about how B2B e-commerce is changing, please visit: http://gameplan-b2b-forum.com/berlin/