Three Common Pitfalls of B2B Digital Transformations

If it happens once, it is an anomaly. If it happens twice, it is a coincidence. Three times, a curiosity. Four times, a pattern. This is how I have learned to observe businesses as they plan the digital transformation of their e-commerce in efforts to meet customer expectations.
B2B businesses usually feel that their business is more complex than other businesses. They are convinced that their situations are uniquely challenging and that no two B2B businesses are alike. It is true that many B2B organizations have evolved over decades with unique processes and ways to do business. However, my tried and true approach to observing businesses has led me to understand that many patterns exist across many B2B companies across many industries and that businesses can learn from commonalities they share to avoid mistakes others have made. I offer the following as guidance for these e-commerce businesses to consider when planning a digital transformation.

Your product catalog data is bad

No, really, it is bad. B2B businesses typically have just enough catalog information to fill the input boxes of a green screen application that has been with the company longer than any of its employees.  Descriptions are archaic abbreviations truncated to fit the column width of a terminal now found in museums. Categorization and notions of a catalog taxonomy are nonexistent. SKUs are duplicated and overloaded. Product data has had no quality or integrity enforced for many years.
In short, your business runs on a list of SKUs and product codes in an ERP system to which your staff and customers have become accustomed. They have learned to use these codes to do business, and there has been no need to cleanse or make this data more robust. Do not underestimate the effort to move from how your legacy ERP system runs EDI transforms to a digitally enabled way to engage your customer.
Merchandising a product requires a significant effort to create the appropriate B2B content, SEO data, and cross-sell and upsell relationships. Marking these products and promoting them requires the creation of ad copy, compelling visuals, personalized messaging, and compelling collateral like videos, brochures, manuals, and spec sheets.
Digital transformation projects in B2B start with an understanding of the need to create the correct digital content that will deliver a more compelling customer engagement. B2B businesses often get so focused on what other e-commerce sites look like or what a platform or vendor’s demonstration showed that they fail to look inwards and understand the task ahead of them. In some cases, B2B businesses must first look at how they augment or complement their existing marketing and merchandising teams to create the digital content required to be successful.
Your product data is bad. It doesn’t have to be. But plan for the work required to fix it.

You undervalue the online customer experience

I often hear B2B businesses say that they don’t need to worry too much about the customer experience online because their customers can only buy from them. They state that their products are not flashy and do not need a lot of compelling experience around them. Even if you have a contractual obligation that forces customers into a monopoly, they do not have to like doing business with you. B2B businesses often fail to understand a number of consequences that this kind of thinking has. I offer these warnings to such businesses:

  • Your customers should be your best advocates. Prospects you set up with reference calls should hear delighted stories from your customers and their experience doing business with you.
  • Your customers are a source of lead generation. Your customer base will bring you new business opportunities when they evangelize your business. Your customer will be at tradeshows, conferences, industry events, and probably even have friends in prospective businesses.
  • Your customer contracts do not last forever. Contracts expire and with them, your chances of continuing to do business with customers who are so frustrated with you that they feel the need to purchase elsewhere.

Do not underestimate the need to focus on customer experience. Be maniacal about customer satisfaction. Think as if you have to compete with Amazon (because you just might be).

Blindly replicating outdated business processes

These digital transformation projects are supposed to be just that, transformative. You are supposed to rethink how you ought to do business with customers. You are supposed to innovate and revolutionize. You are supposed to eliminate outdated and painful processes. Often I witness these businesses become their own worst enemies. They bring up archaic processes that only one customer uses. They mention that one time something happened and a process must now make sure that same thing never happens again.  They find outliers and 1% scenarios that become reasons not to innovate or transform.
Do not let existing processes dictate what transformation can take place. Challenge the status quo.  Often you will find that no one knows why processes even exist, or that a better system or solution can become its replacement. Remind people why you are transforming in the first place. Transformation is not duplicating what already exists. Stay outside the box.
B2B businesses understand that they must adopt a greater digital presence to be relevant in their markets today. They will be much better prepared to be successful by avoiding these common mistakes.

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Mike Rabbior

With 10 years at Perficient, Mike possesses deep expertise in nearly every business vertical and technical domain.

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