Thursday, February 28, 2019

Overcoming the key challenges to your B2B e-commerce success

The technology behind e-commerce changed the way companies and consumers engage and do business. It's time for B2B companies to take the big leap forward and embrace e-commerce just as B2C companies have done before.

While many B2B companies have traversed this path and made progress in developing digital channels, most grapple with the idea of weaving these together and evolving from multichannel. As consumers, B2B prospects have learned to anticipate and, in some cases, demand a seamless omnichannel customer experience: with all channels working together efficiently. If your B2B company can’t offer this and still, then your customers can easily find your competition online who are offering what they desire. It’s not only a matter of retaining your customers, but e-commerce also offers you new opportunities. Now more than ever, it pays to embrace digital.

A recent analysis by Forbes shows that the B2B market will account for twice the size of B2C by 2020. According to Forrester, B2B digital commerce market is expected to hit $1.8 trillion by 2023 in the US alone.

Competition is getting tougher; the margins are getting scantier. B2B companies are pressed to venture online in order to remain competitive while minimizing expenses.

However, B2B companies still require the technology and capabilities essential to achieve outstanding experiences. Hence, if organizations want to seize this opportunity they have to consider the following challenges faced by B2B e-commerce players while chalking out their digital commerce strategy.

Data strategy

Data is the building block of creating a great customer experience. However, in a majority of the cases, the data is spread across the organization in different silos. Marketing, sales and customer support teams have a different kind of information pertaining to the same customer. However, a unified view is missing at the organizational level. A good e-commerce strategy should start by combining all data sources at one location to create meaningful insights.

Human interaction

It is no secret that businesses thrive on the basis of relationship they have with their customers. A salesperson who visits your prospects captures various subtle cues and use them to build and nurture a long-lasting business relationship.

Bringing a wall of digital solution in between suddenly might impact that relationship. So, while developing an implementation, have a scope for personal interaction with the prospect.

Personalization strategy

The personalized approach is a key in building engaging customer experience. Unavailability of data hinders the personalization opportunities.

Also, there are multiple stakeholders involved in a B2B business transaction. And every stakeholder has a different role to play in the transaction. Personalizing experience of every stakeholder involved in the transaction is not an easy task. Some UI tweaks can make personalized information available to the user depending on his/her role. But building a holistic and personalized experience needs a thorough understanding of user behavior, prevalent practices within an industry, detailed process flow etc. Only a right mixture of it can produce a personalization approach fit for the complex B2B sales process.

Complex discount structure

It is very challenging to involve dynamic discounting into B2B e-commerce. The discounts vary on various factors such as purchase volume, stock availability, relationship with the organization, sales targets, the value of customer logo etc. Creating an algorithm for the discount — based on the dynamic market factors is very challenging. There is not a great scope for negotiations on an e-commerce portal which further complicates the discounting strategy.

Multi-location presence

If an organization is present in various locations across the world then taxes and shipping rates changes based on point of origin and destination. The differences in total purchase amount could prove to be a deal breaker in some instances. The B2B e-commerce portal should have a provision where the buyer can select from location options based on his contract. Based on this selection a PO should go to respective sales office of the territory and other supply chain partners. The shipping documents and invoices need to be generated as per the law of the land. The overall system becomes very complex and is difficult to manage unless designed properly considering the scope and future scalability need.

Enterprise-wide integration

The B2B e-commerce can’t function in isolation. It would take data from other enterprise systems and push purchase orders, customer related information and other relevant IT systems to the CRM. This calls for tight and reliable integration of e-commerce with other IT systems that an organization has. Any structural changes in those systems would have an impact on the functioning of e-commerce and vice-a-versa. The internal IT team or development partner should have knowledge of the systems on both the ends, only then a seamless integration can be achieved.

Unified experience

The customer can interact with the organization using any channel and mode of communication and yet he would expect to have the same experience and start a dialog from where he/she had left it irrespective of the channel. This is the first step in building a unified experience and should be treated as a hygiene factor. If an organization wants to impress the customer, then their overall experience needs to be managed carefully. Apart from that, a behavioral change needs to be brought in the people of documenting every interaction. If salesperson interaction is not documented in the CRM and other relevant fields are not updated, the customer might see different values on the portal than the promised one in the personal interaction. In-shop, on-site and in-person interactions should be in sync all the time.

With proper planning and the right strategy, a good B2B e-commerce portal can be developed which can propel your business to a new level.

Republished from

Monday, November 07, 2016

Goa, movies and me

I have become fond of movies since my early age. My mama and maavashi used to give money to buy tickets for me and my brother. And in those days, since we were kids below 12, we were allowed to get in to ladies class which was generally cheaper than stall or dress circle or balcony tickets. My affection to movies rose to such level that at one point of time my goal of life was to become ticket collector at cinema theaters so that I can watch all the movies without paying a single dime for it.

Movies have become core of my life. I found myself using movie plots, dialogues and situations as examples to people around if I have to make a simple point or give them some advice. It happens so unknowingly that it takes sometimes a long period for you to know the real cause of your behavior. In my case it took almost 2 decades.

This year I saw some really good movies at Pune International Film Festival. These movies do not follow a template approach where (a) wins the heart of his girlfriend beating all odds in the process, (b) or he raises from rags to riches, (c) or plays a love sacrificing friend for another friend. In these film festivals the heroes are like people sitting in your neighbor. They are the boys or men just like any other ordinary people with very subtle point to make without any extravaganza.

And to have another such great theatrical feast I am longing to attend for International Film Festival at Goa this month. God knows whether my application would get selected for this. People go to Goa for various reasons but for me it's only the movies and some good ones

Goa please call me!

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Know their language

Today in elevator I met a colleague who have kept a wolverine style beard. I told him that he's looking good in this new look. But he was not very much excited to hear this praise. Then he opened up saying that his boss doesn't know the wolverine. He then tried explaining his boss the character with reference to X-Men. His boss was not aware of this move either. He was disappointed that his efforts made no sense to his boss.

I learnt one more lesson. One should know and be able to talk the language of his/her juniors. It's not easy to know everything that your juniors might know but a little curious enquiry will make them happy and as a result productive. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Disowned Bappa

The view of this site reminded me of Bollywood movie scene where unmarried mother puts her baby in a dustbin. She is helpless. After all she is an unmarried mother. Who are we to disown the Bappa in same fashion?

So I have decided that from next year I will make my own Bappa and will not abandon him like this or even drown not to dissolve either. 

Treat Bappa as a member of your family and have proper preparations for his arrival, stay and please avoid such unceremonious farewell. 

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Will more awareness improve sports performance in India?

An afternoon lunch with friend, while Rio Olympics topic was talk of the town, led to an interesting debate - Will viewership improve sports performance in India and score at Olympics?
My friend Abhishek, being an optimistic person, chose to take on the side of YES. And I had an obligation to support NO as I wanted to have a good discussion. ‘Talking while eating is not good’ is a myth, in my opinion. If you are exercising your jaws for chewing then might talk as well. 
His first point for YES claim was - more awareness means more viewership, more viewership means more sponsorship, more sponsorship means more funding for sports, more money means lucrative career opportunity and good career means encouragement from parents to make sports as primary source of living. Very valid and logical point. My counterclaim was simple - are parents considering Cricket as means of living for their kids in India despite it being one of the richest sports? Result tie. 
His second assertion came in - more awareness means more interest. People will at least take a taste of that sports which might become their passion later. Again a superb pitch. If we are not even trying then we can’t improve our winning. My take was simple again - has more news channel helped improve the interest in news as compared to daily soaps? (Note: I am not claiming that watching news is superior to watching melodramatic series.) Result tie, again. 
And there were several other rounds of reasonings. But result was still a tie. 
He was representing the positivity of the society and I was advocating the negativity. When I took the side of NO I started with an assumption that for a thing like sports mere financial support, job security or spark of an interest is not enough to make India as world champion. It needs a change of the mindset of the society at large and deep passion about sports. But while the result of the debate remained tie towards the end of our meal, I was convinced that positivity around sports can really make wonders if we have to excel at it and awareness can help create it. He didn’t specify this point explicitly but throughout his debate he was living it. 
Today is his birthday so this is my way of wishing him a happy birthday. Keep thinking positive!

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Modern practice for modern god

If you walk on the roads of Maharashtra (India) these days, you wouldn’t miss the fervour of Ganapati celebrations. And why not? He is a modern god according to me. He represents medical advancements, in the form of head transplantation, during very early days when only gods used to populate the earth. He can only be stood second to Lord Krishna in his practical dealings of the situations. 
But what fills my heart with sorrow is a fact that all of his devotees have gone too practical and become very much modern. This love for god has really turned in to a great drama. 
People are selling Ganapati Bappa (as he’s called fondly) on roads cloaked in very mean raincoat in the form plastic bags. Few goes on to bargain a price of the god on the steets. Who are we to put a price tag to him! People who are paying premium for an eco-friendly idol of Bappa are glittering their homes with plastics and chinese decorative lamps. What a double standard approach!
The god who made us capable to earn and gave us roof is being bought and sheltered!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Personalization gone wrong

Today I have received another email from Robin Sharma (remember ‘The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari’). No, he doesn’t know me but I get his mailers on a regular basis because I have subscribed to his newsletter. The content is worth reading and I take out time from my schedule to go through it word by word.

This time my marketing antennae caught something weird in his mailer which was directed at my inbox with an aim of trying to soothe or connect with me. We marketers believe that the best form of personalizing an email is to greet a person with his name and our job is done. So even this mail opened like ‘Hi Mandar, …’ but lost sense of personalization in subsequent paragraph. It reads ‘Those of you who have secured your seats from across the planet…’ This clearly tells me that he or his marketing team doesn’t know whether I have subscribed to his upcoming event. So he/they chose to address everybody by leaving the personalization to greeting part of the email only.

They could have easily done two lists, one who have subscribed for the event and other for people who aren’t subscribed, and written two separate copies. But choosing to save little time exposed their gimmick of personalization. Nothing bad with this. This is better than lot many others who don’t even know who have subscribed for their content. But this was not expected something from Robin. Anyways, it’s a great learning for other fellow marketers!