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Launching a successful B2B ecommerce site out of the gate depends on how well it’s implemented. Most companies don’t make the right investments in implementation upfront, which could be deadly. A poor ecommerce launch could compromise your competitive place in the market and long-term viability. The list of reasons an ecommerce implementation may fail is long. In this brief, Episerver’s identified the seven most common problems associated with an implementation and provides tactics on how to avoid them. While we can’t guarantee a perfect launch, we can say that avoiding these “7 deadly sins” of implementation will provide significant headway in setting you up for success at launch.

Episerver has spent the last 10 years creating an industry leading B2B ecommerce platform that provides powerful, online buying and selling tools that generate faster time-to-value and lower total cost of ownership than other solutions. B2B businesses often have complex selling models that must accommodate the internal and external sales teams, customers, suppliers, and distributors. It is important to address the unique needs of the various customer groups when selecting a commerce and ordering portal platform. In this brief, Episerver will provide you with tactics to avoid seven common issues that arise in B2B ecommerce implementations, so that you can show an immediate, tangible return on your investment, and start to deliver the online experience your customer expects.

1. Launching A Site Without Investing Time In Developing A Launch Plan

More often than not, looking at industry trends and other successful companies in our space, we expect that if we launch a well-designed site, people will use it – the “if you build it, they will come” ideal. However, this is a fallacy. The best platform, partner and design won’t help adoption if key stakeholders in the process do not understand it’s value.

A well-defined and communicated site launch and onboarding strategy is the key to mitigating this situation, but are typically overlooked during the intense testing and implementation processes.

How to Avoid

Ensure early on in the pre-implementation planning that all stakeholders are aligned on the key objectives of launching the ecommerce platform. Ensuring everyone is measuring success with the same yardstick will help avoid perceptions of poor performance out of the gate. Understand that introducing a new channel for your customers to interact with is simply not enough to entice them to do so.

Using a variety of channels, communicate the value proposition of the new ecommerce site clearly to the various intended audiences. Consider creating “how to” videos, or having in-store demonstrations with your sales representatives, showing current customers how to look up their past orders, or easily re-order. If one of the goals of being ecommerce enabled is acquiring net new customers, ensure you have a marketing launch plan to get the brand and store in front of prospective customers. This plan should include fundamental digital marketing tactics such as email, SEO, paid search, display retargeting, as well as more traditional channels such as advertising in store, or including information on customer’s invoices.

Episerver Tips

  • Don’t overlook the value of SEO. Your prospective and current customers may have heard you have an ecommerce site, but if they can’t remember your site’s URL, and can’t find you on Google, they’ll look elsewhere.
  • Ensure launch and marketing plans allow for an appropriately phased approach. You may want to roll the site out as a beta to existing customers first, as it may take a while for Google & Bing to index your site, and properly build email lists.
  • Your own employees can make or break a successful ecommerce launch. If employees don’t know how to use the site or are not incentivized to help their customers with using the site, they won’t.

2. Using a B2C Site To Build a Complex B2B Experience

Until recently, most large ecommerce platforms billed themselves as a good fit for both B2C and B2B companies, but trying to make a simple B2C platform work for a highly-complex B2B business is like trying to fit a “square peg in a round hole.” As buyer behavior and marketplace expectations have exponentially grown, it is now, more than ever, quite apparent that B2B is not B2C.

B2B companies have often made the mistake of purchasing a B2C-centric ecommerce platform hoping to have that “Amazon-like” experience and adapting the rest of the platform to work for some fundamental B2B features, such as punchout capabilities, product configurators, and customer specific pricing. Understanding the core differences between a B2C platform and a B2B platform and how that translates to your end customer’s needs is crucial to your long-term success.

How to Avoid

Understand the key differences between a built for B2B platform and a B2C platform, and compare that to the requirements for your business. While many platforms can be customized to meet B2B requirements, customizations generally add-up in terms of upfront implementation costs, and down-the-road upgradability issues.

Ensure you understand the core requirements of integrating business systems with your ecommerce platform. Many times, integrations are made unnecessarily complex simply to comply with legacy business rules that may not make sense nor are they needed in ecommerce, such as manual order reviews, stock quantity overrides, manual volume pricing discounts, and more tasks traditionally handled by customer service representatives and account managers. Use the features of a built for B2B ecommerce platform to handle these inefficiencies for you, reducing your cost to serve the customer.

Episerver Tips

  • Understand what business requirements require customizations to the platform and the impact on long-term support and upgradability.
  • Take a hard look at integration requirements between back-office systems and the ecommerce platform to decide if they are providing a necessary function, or simply enabling potentially unnecessary legacy business rules.
  • Many companies are able to prioritize customer-requested features on a B2B platform that ultimately lead to better adoption, most of which are features that can’t be accommodated on a B2C platform. Talk with your customers and look at the best-in-class competition to better understand how platforms built for B2B are more effective than the B2C counterpart.

3. Relying on Basic Search Capabilities To Drive your Business

Let’s state the obvious: simply having a search box on your site is not enough. While in recent history searches we’re as simple as if the keyword appears in the headline or “tags” on any of my pages on my site, return them all in a list, technology, and user expectations have surpassed basic search features. Today, users expect to find what they’re looking for on your site very quickly. To borrow a popular idiom from SEO: “The best place to bury a dead body is the second page of search results.” Today’s site search requirements should mirror and surpass user-experiences on major search engines.

How to Avoid

The key to a great site experience is understanding how your customers look for the products they most commonly order. It’s very common in B2B companies for different people to refer to the same product in a variety of ways. Whether it’s being searched for by dimension, quantity, brand name, generic name, or other industry jargon, your site search needs to serve up the correct results. A site search provider that allows business users (not developers) to easily adjust the attributes of your products that are being indexed, add search synonyms, and enables boost and bury adjustments will provide a much more tuned and evolved search experience.

Search faceting is extraordinarily important in many use cases such as MRO distributors where a catalog (or even a category!) contains hundreds-of-thousands of products. Allowing refinements on the material, dimensions, or even search-within-a-search will better enable your customers to find what they are looking for. Many modern-day buyers’ external search experiences on Google, Bing, Amazon, and others have also led them to expect conveniences of auto-complete, universal search (searches product index as well as site content), and even spell-correct on their searches.

Episerver Tips

  • Understand the level of effort and technical knowledge needed to properly tune the site search in your ecommerce platform. This isn’t a “one-and-done” task and should be consistently evolving as more content is added, and user expectations change.
  • Use analytics tools to track common search queries that may be returning zero results. Use these insights to tune your search engine.
  • Consider using your search functionality as a marketing vehicle. Have a branded product with better margins? Boost their presence in searches. Have a promotion on a certain type of product? Temporarily boost their results during the promotion.

4. Assuming That B2B Customers Don’t Care About a Well-Designed Website

A well-designed site is more than just an engaging visual experience, it’s also optimized to make navigating the complex products, pricing, and purchasing process easier for B2B buyers. The most effective B2B sites will offer better usability overall than similar B2C sites. Typical B2B product catalogs can have tens-of-thousands, if not hundreds-of-thousands or more items in their catalogs. All of which can have multiple variations and are typically bought in volume with discounts or pricing set at the customer level. As a result, one could argue that design is even more critical in B2B than in B2C.

How to Avoid

Consider (or better yet, test) how your customers currently navigate through your inventory, whether online, in a physical catalog, or in-store to find what they are looking for. Do they search by product compatibility, dimensions, application, brand, or category? Organizing your site’s product taxonomy to reduce the number of clicks to get to the item your users are looking for is key, while still being intuitive enough to navigate. Some companies may choose to allow customers a few different navigation options, such as application and product category, as well as the native site search to maximize convenience to the end user. Some companies even choose to present their site as a “visual search” layout, taking up screen real-estate with category item photos as well as the text to help users find their category more quickly, instead of using that space for promotional purposes.

While product catalog taxonomy is critical, there are many other ways to design your B2B site for better conversion than what the typical B2C site would offer, including surfacing recently purchased products to the top of the shopping workflow or creating product detail pages that are optimized for product variations with easy add to cart button, unit of measure and quantity fields inline with the variation being chosen, e.g. a screw that has multiple sizes and lengths. Well designed B2B shopping experiences handle reorders, high-volume transactions, inventory and integrated specifications seamlessly, and should convert at a higher rate than the poorly designed counterparts, making it easier to do business with you.

Episerver Tips

  • While multiple navigation and taxonomy options for customers can be beneficial, beware not to overload the customer with too many taxonomies, risking confusing the customer and having them defaulting to non-online purchasing.
  • Ensure categories are searchable via the onsite search.
  • Make it super easy to reorder. That’s it.
  • Utilize pop-out menus and breadcrumb links to allow users to navigate back and forward with a minimal amount of clicks.

5. Providing Incomplete or Insufficient product Data

The foundation of a successful B2B ecommerce website is providing your customer with all the = information (and likely more) that they need to make a purchase decision. By this point, most B2B ecommerce companies understand the research patterns today’s purchasers make online, and a majority of it comes in the form of research done via a search engine. It’s no longer good enough to simply take syndicated content or offer only minimal data points, like product name and price.

How to Avoid

Invest in product content to ensure differentiation amongst the competition. Many industries and manufacturers now provide syndicated content to many distributors, but simply posting that information is not enough, and forces you to rely on customer loyalty or price competitiveness to differentiate. Major search engines are not going to show a full page of results where every site’s content is exactly the same, as that would be a disservice to the searcher.

Differentiate your product content strategy by adding additional product images, 360º interactive images, additional specification tables, specification calculators and fit/application information, as well as supplemental documentation such as installation guides, warranty information, and additional safety information. Furthermore, do not neglect the cross-sell, up-sell, and kitting and bundling opportunities that exist on the product page. Remove the barriers to your customers getting all the parts they need for a specific application by utilizing bundling or product recommendations.

Episerver Tips

  • Do a current-state content audit to understand if your current data has gaps, and prioritize filling those first.
  • Make the product detail pages easy to read, with relevant data displayed prominently, not hidden in modals or tabs.
  • Don’t forget about the installation guides, compatibility charts, and other documentation your customers may want to come back for, and make sure they are easy to download.

7. Expecting Your Site to Drive Revenue Out of the Gate

Not all sites will generate revenue at launch, but if there’s a good launch and onboarding plan, they will likely reduce cost-to-serve for the existing customer base – another key measure of success in ecommerce. By using a robust B2B ecommerce platform, companies can enable their current customers to self-serve many common B2B tasks online. Most of these tasks are typically done by visiting a branch in person, or calling, emailing, or faxing a customer service representative. By empowering the self-serve, you avoid a contact with your representatives and bring the customer back to your site, where they will not only self-serve but likely start buying as well.

How to Avoid

The single most important and easiest way to avoid this preconceived perception of failure is to have well established and socialized “success metrics.” It’s easy to fall into the trap of solely equating success to increased contribution on top-line revenue, but for many ecommerce enabled companies, that’s a mid-to-long term goal.

The reduction in the cost-to-serve your customers by enabling them to self-serve requests such as retrieving old invoice copies, reordering last month’s order, or checking the status of a placed order is not insignificant. This time and effort savings can assist in enabling the customer service representatives and salesforce to help grow share-of-wallet with a customer, and better spend time identifying and solving for their true needs.

Episerver Tips

  • Create a presentation of success metrics that are easy to deliver and understand, and socialize broadly. This is critical for the entire company can not only understand the value proposition of the site internally but help drive those metrics to realize success.
  • After creating and agreeing on success metrics, make sure to implement analytics to track against and report on those metrics.
  • Common value levers to measure success: reduction in cost-to-serve customer, increase in share-of-wallet for current customers, increase in the physical service territory, net-new customer acquisition, transparent inventory management, and satisfying customer’s changing desire to self-service.

7. Having No Infrastructure in Place to Measure Your Customer Experience

For a majority of ecommerce implementations, there is a database or system of record for transactions, usually the ERP. While the ERP’s transactional data will still likely be the source of truth for measuring transactional-related success, additional analytics platforms, such as web analytics, will also be crucial to measuring behavior on the website. Behavioral and acquisition data can be complied and cross-referenced with transactional data to get a much more robust and actionable set of data to assist in measuring success and fine-tuning the design and interactions on the site.

How to Avoid

After defining success metrics for the launch of the ecommerce platform, ensure there are analytics and reporting capabilities in place to measure those and more. Many times, companies try to measure success by looking at basic statistics: how many users registered, how many orders placed, and how much revenue that accounts for. A well-defined measurement strategy and analytics implementation plan can help you gain much deeper insights, pain-points, and areas for optimization to assist in the success of the site.

Consider three main categories in web analytics: acquisition, behavioral and transactional data. Acquisition data informs you how visitors to the site arrived: was it via an organic Google search, from a monthly newsletter email, or by clicking on a digital ad? These measures are key indicators on what digital marketing tactics are successful, and what opportunities exist waiting for you to capitalize on.

Behavioral data measures what visitors are doing while they’re on the site. Did they use the site search functionality? And if so, what keyword did they search for? How long did they spend on the site before they checked out, or abandoned? How many visits did it take before they transacted with us? Those and many deeper insights can be captured and tracked through behavioral events on the site.

Lastly, transactional data does not have to be the actual ecommerce transaction. These could be self-service events, account registrations, contact form usage or live chats, webinar sign-ups, or any other goal or event completion.

While there is a lot of data that can be captured on a website or ecommerce store, it is best to start with a strategy, and then work backwards by taking your success metrics and goals, and turning those into individual customer events, metrics, and KPIs that need to be captured in order to report on the metrics included in your strategy.

Episerver Tips

  • While it’s important to have a robust analytics implementation plan based on your measurement strategy, don’t be afraid to have a phased approach. It’s better to start with basic tracking as a baseline than none at all.
  • Once tracking all necessary data is identified, consider the various audiences of that data. From executives to analysts, different people will want to ingest that data at varying degrees of depth. Set up executive dashboards for quick glances with more in-depth custom reports for better insights, making your data easy to access and consume.
  • For more advanced set-ups: use your analytics data to perform A/B or multivariate testing with your customers to help you refine the most optimized experience for your broader customer base.

About Episerver Software

Episerver helps B2B organizations grow revenues across both online and physical sales channels—and reduce their cost-to-serve—via a hybrid channel strategy that optimizes digital commerce and turbocharges the productivity of account-based sales and service reps. With Episerver’s connected commerce product suite, leading global manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors drive better offline and online/self-service customer experiences, leveraging data-rich websites such as buyer portals, customer portals, supplier portals, and sales portals. Episerver’s solutions fully integrate with leading ERP, PIM, CRM and content management systems (CMS), and can be flexibly deployed on-premises or in public/private clouds.