03 November 2016

Take Your Distribution Sales Online

Discussions about eCommerce frequently focus solely on the B2C market—how retail customers seek, purchase, and review products and services. However, this adoption of eCommerce has migrated over to B2B commerce, altering enterprise business models and increasing attention on online buying.

Because consumers are increasingly comfortable purchasing products of many types online in their daily lives, they are now more willing to explore online procurement in business environments. Business buyers not only have a higher comfort level with eCommerce, but also higher expectations for a seamless, user-friendly customer experience.

eCommerce Poses Challenges for Distributors
In the 2014 Distribution Industry Outlook survey by NetSuite (The 2014 Distribution Industry Outlook, NetSuite, 2014), more intense online competition was cited as a top concern among respondents. In some cases, distributors were concerned about B2C companies entering their respective wholesale markets. As a result of this threat, 36% of respondents indicated that improving eCommerce capabilities is a top concern, coming in behind revenue growth, launching new products, and expanding the sales force. Improving eCommerce functionality was also cited by 40% of respondents as a top technology priority.

eCommerce challenges for distributors tend to run the gamut—from displaying product information, images, graphics, and logos (22%) to deploying adequate technical functionality (46%) (2015 Survey by Advantage Business Media). For those companies that have implemented eCommerce, improving the customer experience is a key objective.

Although revenue from eCommerce is increasing year over year for the companies that have enabled online sales, more than half of distributors surveyed still receive less than 5% of their revenue from online transactions (Gale, Bein, Polletta, Bennett, “2016 State of E-Commerce in Distribution.” Copyright 2016 by Gale Media, Inc.). However, enterprises can benefit from initiating or expanding their eCommerce presence, such as the ability to target new geographies and direct-to-consumer markets. Risks that companies may encounter include the ability to address geographical nuances and the need to be available to customers 24x7x365. A poor online customer experience can reflect poorly on your brand.

Leapfrog Over the Competition!
With sales transactions moving online more rapidly every year, distributors must embrace eCommerce to remain competitive. Using the experience of enterprises that have already ventured into this territory can help you navigate the learning curve more quickly. You may even be able to “leapfrog” over competitors by doing things right from the beginning instead of having to experiment and test incrementally as you go.

In our opinion, that means first addressing your product information, a key component for succeeding at online sales, prior to deploying any eCommerce solution. Having consistent and accurate product information available to your sales representatives, dealer network, and marketing channels is an essential part of creating a great customer experience, building trust with customers, and providing information they are looking for where and when they want to connect with you.

Put Your Product Information First
Chances are, “product information management” is already taking place in your organization, although you may not actually call it that. In fact, your product information may not be actively or efficiently managed, instead residing in disparate systems, documents, spreadsheets, and databases. A lack of proactive management of product information can result in “information silos” that can affect the quality and timeliness of your product information. Therefore, identifying all of these sources of product information and determining how to effectively manage and maintain it will serve you well as you embark on your eCommerce efforts.

While poor product content can result in product returns, shopping cart abandonment, and reduced customer loyalty, a product information strategy can provide a number of benefits. By putting your product information first and making it central to your eCommerce initiative, you can increase the confidence of the sales organization and customers in your online information, provide control over information displayed on channel sites, and improve the efficiency of your go-to-market process. In addition, as you deploy additional systems to enable eCommerce and web content management, making use of your information will be organized and easy.

Kathryn Zwack, Senior Content Marketing Manager North America, inRiver


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