When organizations begin a digital transformation and eCommerce journey, they often focus solely on technology. In reality, there are business decisions to be made and opportunities to explore before technology even comes into play. At the end of your business evaluation, you’ll start assessing internal capabilities. Once you’ve examined your availability and stocking abilities, you’ll want to look deeper into your product and sales processes.
Product Development and Management
When selling products online, you need to maintain consistent, rich product data across channels, including:
- Product-specific information
- Technical details
- Accurate descriptions
- Installation guides
- Maintenance information
- Compatible products
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This information must be consistent wherever a buyer encounters it. B2B companies often have data scattered across multiple locations and channels (ERP, cloud, internal network, etc.), making it difficult to share this information throughout the organization. As part of your digital transformation, rethink how you manage those processes and what information management systems are used, understanding that the information/data required today may be different from what has been managed in the past. As you consider these implications, you may need to bring new skill sets into the organization, as well as IT professionals, to do the work.
Tools such as product information management systems (PIM) can significantly improve your ability to manage and syndicate product data effectively. But product data management is not a one-time effort. Data management needs to be a pillar of your business. There are multiple product information management (PIM) systems that can consolidate and continuously update data across channels, but it is critical to establish clear ownership of and responsibility for that data.
Structure Data for Success
Sourcing data from suppliers is the main focus for distributors. If your supplier list is long, it can be difficult to gain and maintain product information to plug into your system. Those suppliers may also suffer from the limitations regarding product data management discussed previously. Establishing connections and a process to acquire, assimilate, and manage that data is crucial.
For manufacturers, the focus is on internal data dissemination and on supporting multiple distribution channels. From marketplaces to distributor sites to manufacturer marketing initiatives, it’s vital that your product data is extensive and uniform across platforms. Choosing a system and a team to manage all this data across these channels is a crucial part of that.
The Ordering Process
When evaluating your sales process, begin with how orders come in.
- Order type mix relative to customer size and value
- Order complexity with respect to
- Product complexity
- Number of line items
- Fulfillment complexity
Understand that transitioning to an online/self-service ordering model doesn’t happen overnight.
Your current customers will need support to transition with you as you make these changes.
Carefully consider the customer service implications that may accompany that transition.
EDI is the exchange of business information in a standardized format. It allows your clients to send information from their system to yours without any human interaction. By automating data exchanges, many of the ordering processes can be streamlined and keeping data up-to-date is more efficient. In some cases, EDI is the primary technology driving transition to electronic ordering for B2B businesses. However, it requires significant setup and technical capabilities on the part of both the seller and the buyer. For many organizations selling to smaller organizations, the cost and complexity of EDI may be excessive.
Sales Force Culture
- The current structure of your sales workflow will affect the choices you make in transitioning to a digital sales approach. Traditional sales teams are more transactional in their approach. They spend their time taking orders and making sure those orders are recorded and filled.
- Consultative sales teams work to understand their clients’
business to better help them anticipate future needs in
selecting products and services.
Automating order entry (self-service) puts pressure on sales teams to transition to more consultative models. This will require training, and there will inevitably be pushback from those not prepared to make the transition. That being said, you’re going to need the technology to support these types of initiatives. To learn more about digital transformation in B2B eCommerce, check out our guide.