Success factors: How B2B commerce projects succeed

Create business-enhancing digital experiences

Merkle employees work on B2B commerce project

In a study for the year 2018 in Germany, the IFH Cologne reported B2B sales of 1.3 trillion euros in electronic channels. And the trend is rising - the digital transformation is picking up speed. According to a recent survey by ibi research, 82 percent of the companies surveyed are already active in e-commerce. 20 per cent of them are already generating more than half of their turnover with it today. By 2025, this figure is expected to rise to 89 per cent of companies. If you want to increase sales, you have to approach the online challenges from different angles.

Therefore, based on many years of project experience, we have identified the three central success factors for B2B commerce projects: Customers - Business - Technology. If you build your digital strategy on this basis and ask yourself the right questions, you can take off.

1st success factor: customers.

Erfolgsfaktoren im B2B-Commerce: Kund*innen

Customer Centricity is the most important key to success.

Traditionally, an inside-out view prevails in B2B business. Companies view digitisation projects from their internal perspective and focus on their products and services rather than their customers. A rethink is needed here. Because the crucial question is not: "How can we reduce our efforts with regard to our customers", but: "How can we help our customers to do business with us more easily?" That is process optimisation – from the customer's perspective.

Business customers want to be treated not only in their role, but as individuals, too. They want to be addressed personally with content that fits them perfectly. They expect convenient, fast processes. But the reality in B2B commerce is often miles away from customer expectations. According to ibi research, the correspondence between the information offered and buyer expectations in the B2B online shops examined is less than 50%. Try to close this gap! To do so, it is important to obtain a 360-degree view of the customers. You can do this by collecting and combining relevant data across all touchpoints of the customer journey across all channels.

To create a seamless customer experience, there are various approaches. For example, navigation and user guidance in a uniform front end and a single central login. Because customers do not care how your company is organised internally. They only want to log in once and not separately on one marketing, sales and service platform each. Nobody wants to be "passed around" between several departments, because the following applies: Only the organisation knows boundaries – not an ideally continuous customer process. Boundaries between marketing and sales processes can be overcome with seamless CRM Sales Process Integration, for example. By combining CPQ (Configure Price Quote) and CRM, you can offer self-service. Customers can then configure complex products themselves online and automatically receive the right offer.

Our practical tip for you.

Customer centricity means: Involve your customers at an early stage and follow an "Insight to Action"-approach: On the basis of analyses and findings, you can derive what your next action should be. Design Thinking, Lean UX, Rapid Prototyping, etc. are common approaches. Which one is most suitable always depends on the individual use case. In agile development, for example, the Lean UX approach helps to define a small, simple functional scope, obtain customer feedback and gradually expand a digital web service based on it. Customer expectations and market requirements change quickly, so it would be wrong to think that you digitise once and then a project is finished.

Instead, continuous optimisation is required. In a continuous improvement process, you will continuously survey the customer's perspective and requirements, put your service to the test and improve it. There are also various methods for this, from the short, fast Design Sprint to the CX Factory. In the process, knowledge about the customer journey is continuously generated and the customer experience is continually improved through targeted customer experience management.

2nd success factor: business.

Erfolgsfaktoren im B2B-Commerce: Business

Digitise with strategy and overcome organisational obstacles.

Once you have identified the customer requirements, you should compare and balance them with your business requirements. What are your goals? Where do you have the biggest pain points and where does digitalisation bring the biggest benefits? Digitalisation must not be an end in itself, but should follow the business model and strategy. This often requires a rethinking of the corporate culture and organisation. Unfortunately, the marketing and sales departments are often competing with each other, which stands in the way of successful digitisation.

Change management is required here. Only if all those involved put the success of the company above personal gain and pull together can a 360-degree view of the customer and a consistently positive customer experience be achieved. Marketing and sales must no longer work in silos, but must merge their customer data.

Our practical tip for you.

Try to break down silos, for example by forming a new, interdisciplinary digital team and transferring methods such as Design Thinking to the business units. Examine your holistic, overarching internal processes to understand, digitise and optimise them. You should also adopt a B2B2C approach: What experiences from the B2C world do customers want to find in B2B commerce? Here, companies often still lag behind customer expectations. New business areas and digital business models can also be developed on the basis of analyses. One example: The Swiss car importer AMAG wanted to strengthen its position in the digital subscription economy. Together with Merkle, it has developed an online platform with Clyde to offer cars in subscription models.

3rd success factor: technology.

Erfolgsfaktoren im B2B-Commerce: Technologie

Rely on an integrated technology stack.

At the technology level, the implementation of a customer-centric B2B commerce concept requires an integrated technology stack. Customer-side applications should have a uniform layout with a uniform and consistent user interface. Seamless process integration ensures that customers are optimally served via different channels, such as digital, telephone or by a sales representative. A simple user interface is also required on the company side, so that employees can serve customer needs efficiently and in good quality. For example, there should be no additional, non-integrated applications. The following applies to backend systems: the core process integration must be lean and easy to adapt to changes. Data quality and data availability are key success factors for B2B commerce and must be ensured by a backend system. Data is crucial for the development of a successful B2B commerce solution. It should be collected automatically and touchpoint-spanning and merged into a data lake. Suitable visualisation options are also important. The keyword here is "data literacy" – because only those who can intelligently evaluate and interpret the data obtained can work successfully with insights. According to the Namics Data Maturity Study, only a few companies are able to do so.

Our practical tip for you.

Customer centricity requires a uniform IT strategy and quickly adaptable technologies. This can best be implemented with a modern, modular architecture. Existing core processes can be easily connected by means of a "lean integration" approach. Furthermore, we recommend using so-called API-first microservices, which allow accompanying services to be offered efficiently through various channels. Headless commerce also makes it possible to implement an optimal user experience.

The motto "innovate like a startup, scale like an enterprise" has also proven its worth. The transformation to digital B2B commerce is not a project, but an agile, evolutionary process. This aspect should also be taken into account in timing and budgeting, which requires a clear prioritisation of wishes and requirements.

Conclusion: How to build your B2B commerce project on the three success factors

An integrated technology stack, the alignment of customer requirements and business objectives and, above all, a consistent focus on the customer: These are the three key factors for the success of B2B commerce projects. In practice, we recommend a three-phase approach. In all three project phases the dimensions "customer", "business" and "technology" are taken into account. The first step is an analysis of the status quo, in which we analyse your initial situation. Then we develop a vision of where the journey should take us – from both a customer and a business perspective. Finally, in the third phase, the transformation, i.e. the implementation of the goals, takes place.

Your first step to successful B2B commerce

Would you like to figure out the opportunities and potential that e-commerce offers your company in the B2B environment? Where are the first quick wins and which challenges need to be mastered? Then have a look on our "E-commerce Check-up". We would be happy to guide you through the topics presented in a personal meeting!

Get more information on the E-commerce Check-up.

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