Guest author: Andy Pickup, Digital and Marketing Director, MKM Building Supplies (UK’s largest builders’ merchant with over 90 physical stores open to trade and public).
“The days of orders arriving only via the phone or fax machine are changing as mobile-loving B2B customers choose suppliers who offer frictionless digital selling experiences”, says Andy Pickup, Digital and Marketing Director, MKM Building Supplies.
It’s widely accepted that B2B usually lags behind B2C in eCommerce but that is starting to change as companies realise they can no longer rely on people phoning in or faxing over orders during office hours or popping into a store before closing time.
Today’s business buyers want to shop for work items just like they do when buying for themselves. That means researching and placing an order at any time of the day on whatever device they choose. The expectation is so engrained it means doing nothing is no longer an option for a B2B company. If they don’t transform to embrace digital sales, their customers will just start ordering from a rival who does.
For us, as the country’s largest independent builders’ merchant, we are noticing a change in our customers’ behaviour from walking around a store with notes on a bit of paper. We have seen some of our older customers coming in a lot less since Covid and instead we have an increasingly younger set of customers who are used to accessing everything on their mobile phones.
In fact, we know that by far the biggest use of our in-store wi-fi is people checking our competitors for prices and stock availability on their mobile phones. This is almost certainly true for many B2B businesses. Customers are more digitally savvy, they expect to be able to do everything they need on a mobile phone. They expect features, such as face ID login, remembering credit cards and being able to browse and order as easily on a mobile as a desktop. If the online purchase experience doesn’t live up to these expectations, they will simply shop with your competitors.
Listening to customers
The best way to get a hook on these expectations is to chat to your customers and, for us, that has meant being in-store seeing what people want to do. It’s about taking the friction out of dealing with us, such as remembering what customers often buy so they can be ordered again, through a ‘buy again’ button. If someone repeatedly wants the same type of order, why not allow them to set up a subscription. Then there are features such as suggesting additional, complementary purchases.
You’ve also got to keep on innovating. The day you launch a site is just day one, you’ve got to keep finding new ways of shifting the needle. Rather than try to concentrate on dozens of things, it’s best to focus on elements, such as how you make it easy for people to buy from you and then how you encourage them back. You might have a cart abandonment strategy to work on or an incentive on checkout for their next order to make sure they come back again. It might be offering free delivery on orders over a certain size.
It’s good to keep on trying to improve because users spend most of their time on other websites than they do yours; so if yours is not up to scratch, they’ll go elsewhere. It’s worth remembering though that one of the most important parts of user experience is people remember the good bits – the peak end rule. So, you don’t have to instantly be great at every part of the user journey, you just need to work out what your customers want you to be the best at – that could be an easy log-in, seamless checkout or great content.
That is why we decided to focus on just four or so KPIs. You could literally go mad measuring everything, be it average order value, time on site, but we’ve decided to focus on the ones that matter to us most. We also benchmark performance against rivals, so we know our site is at least as fast and convenient to use as anyone else’s.
Building a digital sales strategy
The best advice for B2B retailers taking this leap into digital selling is to start off by getting buy-in from multiple stakeholders across the business. Digital can’t be a small team sitting in a silo all on its own. You have to include IT from the beginning and all the way through, because they will need to be involved with ensuring whichever platform you choose can be integrated within your ERP. You also need to get sales and marketing and the finance people involved too. These executives are all stakeholders who need to be in the loop from the start, and they need to be constantly updated on progress and be made aware of any issues.
For us, there is the extra complexity of being a franchise model. So we had to work hand in hand with our store owners and their staff to show that we were not trying to take sales away from them, nor cannibalise orders. We had to show we are all about making their lives easier and helping them to make more sales and serve customers better.
Research is vital, from discovering what customers and your own stakeholders want, to finding out which digital sales platform might be right for you. It’s always advisable to see if a vendor has worked with companies of your size in your sector before. It’s also never a good idea to be the platform’s biggest or smallest customer. If you’re the biggest, you’re going to be worried whether they are big enough to work with you. If you’re the smallest, you’re going to be concerned you’ll be overlooked.
It obviously helps if a B2B company moving into digital sales has a very clear idea of what it wants to achieve. Having a firm hook on how you want to improve systems to achieve a particular goal is vital, so you can work out where the gaps are and how you fill them. That should help you pick a platform and, in our case, we also chose to work with a systems integrator, Greenlight Commerce.
The big question all companies face is whether they have the skills to scope out and then execute a digital sales strategy completely on their own. You have to remember that the best people are expensive and so it can make sense to work with a systems integrator who has the right people. You also need to ensure they can integrate a variety of platforms because if they favour one over others, you’ll find whatever you ask of them, that platform will always be the answer. You’ll get shoehorned into that platform, regardless of whether it’s the best fit for your needs.
Once you’ve got everything in place, and you’ve made the commitment to embrace digital sales, it’s worth remembering that, despite all your best efforts, things will go wrong, issues will crop up. That’s why you need to have an open and honest communication channel with your internal stakeholders as well as your vendor or integrator. You’ve all got to pull together. It’s vital to remember, you’re not going to get it right on day one. It’s all about continuous improvement and innovation as you position a business to remain relevant to customers who grew up with mobile devices and, at the same time, power up the growth that comes from taking orders on a 24/7 basis.
Catch the discussion highlights below or click here for the full recording.
Andy Pickup has over 19 years of experience working with high street retailers and blue-chip companies. His career has been focused on helping businesses to create digital transformation strategies which revolve around harnessing data, technology and marketing to elevate customer experiences for business growth. He was recently in conversation with Greenlight Commerce Managing Director, Kevin Murray, on the key aspects of Digital Selling for B2B businesses.