B2B eCommerce is a specialist industry that requires experience and some unique skill sets. But how do you go about building the right team that is going to get your organisation to where it needs to be? In this article, we will explore what qualities a B2B eCommerce team really needs to excel.
Leading From The Front
“B2B marketing is more important than B2C. It’s what drives the economy forwards, not just outwards.” – Tom Gatten, CEO of Growth Intelligence
When creating a high performance team, you need to start at the top. Hiring the right leadership sets the agenda for the entire team because support for eCommerce needs to begin in the C-suite. While the job title and place within the organisation chart will vary from company to company, the eCommerce leader must be supported from the very top.
Whether the leader of the eCommerce team has the eCommerce Director or VP of Digital title, that person must possess four key characteristics. These will significantly impact their ability to deliver in digital sales channels, website management, and online branding. These key requirements are:
Broad eCommerce Experience
Your leader needs to have experience across several areas of eCommerce and should specialise in at least one area such as digital marketing or technical site management. It’s not important that the person is an IT genius and they may not even have a data science related degree. However, they do need to understand the digital environment and have expertise with B2B logistics, operations, and processes.
Marketing & Customer Experience
At the end of the day, eCommerce is about selling products and your brand. So you need a leader with a deep understanding of marketing, brand positioning, and how to create a positive purchasing experience.
Their marketing background should be in digital rather than traditional marketing. They should understand what’s possible during a digital transformation and be comfortable with an omni-channel environment.
The B2B eCommerce function is generally handled by both in house as well as contract teams. Your eCommerce leader therefore needs proven experience managing internal teams as well as external contractors.
Successful digital projects require technical talent as well as savvy digital marketers working together, and these types of teams are not always the easiest to manage.
So the best eCommerce leaders must be business-minded, technically savvy, and able to work with and get the best out of a diverse range of staff.
Regardless of whether eCommerce is a new business endeavour or you’re looking to revamp existing processes for an online store, fostering change management within an organisation is critical.
Successful eCommerce isn’t just a case of flipping a switch and selling your products online. It is really a case of integrating many team members working across marketing, sales, customer support, logistics, warehouse management, and accounting.
This means that finding a leader who can speak to both the executive group and general staff is crucial in ensuring the success of the online business.
Building The Team
“When you say it, it’s marketing. When your customer says it, it’s social proof” – Andy Crestodina, Co-Founder & Strategic Director at Orbit Media Studios
Once you have a leader in place, it’s time to start building the rest of the team. And it’s likely to look a little different than you may think.
In-House vs. Outsourced
As your eCommerce business grows and changes, your staffing requirements will evolve too. At any time, you may find your team populated with members that work in-house and others that just put on a jersey when specific tasks are needed. Most B2B eCommerce teams are a blend of full-time staff and specialist hired guns, with the team composition fluctuating depending on the company needs at any given point in time.
A good example can be found in website design. Building a website is a technical job but the content featured needs to be consistent with the brand’s vision, goals, and mission.
So the development of the site needs a blend of technical and creative skills that usually requires a mix of people to develop. The content also needs to remain current, so for most websites it cannot simply be uploaded once by a technical team and then remain static.
Your ideal team mix may see outsourced developers working with in-house digital marketers to get the site up and running. Or, you may outsource research insights and A/B testing while keeping your user experience (UX) team in-house.
When it comes to in-house talent, look at the strengths and weaknesses of current staff in other areas as well. For example, you may already have a data analyst in the Finance Department that would excel when challenged with website analytics. Or the person that puts together your print materials might be perfectly suited for developing digital materials with just a bit of software training.
B2B vs B2C
Don’t dismiss potential team members just because their experience is in B2C. These are experienced eCommerce professionals that have the deep digital commerce, online marketing, web merchandising, eCommerce technologies, and other associated skills you need. It will be up to your company to teach them the nuances of B2B selling as part of the onboarding process.
Recognise that the chances of you finding the person that knows your product, knows your market, and knows digital commerce inside out are likely pretty slim. By broadening your search to consider B2C professionals, you increase your chances of building the right team. However, when hiring someone with experience in B2C, just be sure that they understand that while B2C can be built on one-time purchases with few repeat buyers, the lifeblood of B2B is repeat sales.
Creating a Winning Team Mix
Every team is going to be different depending on your organisation’s goals and circumstances but the following provides a good framework for what a winning team mix will look like.
“If you have a business website, make it stickier; redo the merchandising often and try new things until you hit the right homepage. Then try and beat that.” – Morris Hite, Former Chairman, President, and CEO of Tracy-Locke
Developing your website requires people skilled in both front-end and back-end technology.
The focus of back-end developers is the tech fundamentals that run the website. This consists of the server, the actual application software, and the database.
Back-end developers have very strong technical skills and are also responsible for integrating your eCommerce technology with your existing ERP and other technologies so that data flows smoothly and everyone has access to the information they need.
This role is mainly concerned with how the website visually appears to your audience so they need to have a deep understanding of the user experience.
If the back-end developer is the contractor that builds the house, the front-end developer is the designer that decorates the interior.
A highly skilled front-end developer has the ability to identify specific issues in the user experience and provide design solutions to any problems before the site is launched.
It’s important they understand the difference between B2B and B2C buyers and tailor the experience accordingly. For example, in a B2C transaction, the buyer may be browsing the web looking for ideas or could be making an impulse purchase. When they’re ready to buy, they complete a shopping cart and pay with a credit card.
This scenario requires a front-end tailored to the needs of that type of buyer. By contrast, in a B2B transaction, the buyer is a purchasing agent likely placing an order similar to one they’ve placed many times before.
So the front-end needs to allow the buyer to place orders quickly and pay with pre-established terms via a quick order form.
Full Stack Developer
True full stack developers are skilled in both front-end and back-end development. This position has evolved with Web 2.0 as technology became more streamlined and simplified.
However, today it’s very difficult to find an individual that can wear enough hats to be considered a true full stack developer. That’s because the skills needed to develop an iOS app for the website are so different to those needed to maintain servers on AWS.
As technology becomes more powerful and complex, finding a person with deep understanding of each layer becomes more difficult. But it’s important to have at least one person that understands how the layers come together. Whether it’s the project manager or a full stack developer, this is an essential role.
If your company is long on product vision and customer experience and short on technology, you may consider hiring an external partner or Solution Integrator with seasoned knowledge of your specific industry to develop your initial website and keep the digital marketing efforts in-house. Outsourcing allows your company to focus on what it does best while your external partner can supply the front-end and back-end developers to get the site off the ground.
B2B Digital Marketing
“B2B eCommerce can’t afford to overlook social media. It’s where sharing creates social proof. And communications is at the heart of eCommerce and community.” – Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay and Hewlett-Packard
Don’t forget that your work is only getting started once the website has been built. The website alone is not enough to gain new online customers. You will need to market it to new customers and invest in teaching your existing customers to make their purchases online.
In digital marketing, people tend to focus on specific areas but you may find that one person can fill more than one of these needed roles:
Knows the ins and outs of increasing your website’s organic ranking from search engines like Google and Bing. That’s crucial because three-quarters of B2B buyers say they start their product search online.
The SEO role includes researching and identifying keywords that leads and customers use in their searches, optimising landing pages and content pages for those targeted keywords, and making content recommendations to increase search engine optimisation. This is an on-going effort.
Works closely with the other digital marketing team members to create the content needed. Your content needs to be fresh, relevant, shareable, and a source of information that offers true value to your customers.
Social Media Specialist
Needs to be a real communications expert. They design the strategies that connect your social media presence with your target audience and then manage, create, and publish original, high-quality content across your social platforms.
Monitoring social media is the joint-responsibility of your customer service and marketing teams because social media is a two-way conversation and many times it can be more important to listen than speak.
Email Marketing Manager
Creates and implements strategies to use email marketing to stay engaged with your audience and bring them back to your store time and time again.
This person works with the content writer to reach customers through email campaigns and keep them up-to-date on new products, services, and events.
They do this by running email marketing campaigns, managing the email databases, and creating newsletters and other email marketing materials.
One of the best things about entering the eCommerce arena is the wealth of data and information that is available to you about your customers and prospects once your site launches and marketing begins.
Analysing this data is the job of your marketing analyst and their responsibilities include tracking advertising costs, researching consumer behavior, and exploring market trends and opportunities.
The analyst is intimately familiar with the site’s data gathered by Google Analytics and may work with the front-end developer to split test or A/B test different elements of landing and content pages to see which are the most effective.
“Customer service shouldn’t just be a department, it should be the entire company” – Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos
In addition to new team members, adding eCommerce will require changes to some of your existing supporting teams. Merchandising, customer service, sales, warehousing, order fulfilment, and logistics are impacted as well. The ultimate goal of your B2B eCommerce site is to increase business. So these functions need to be ready to face the increased workload, meet new customer expectation levels, and take on new responsibilities.
eCommerce buyers are different. Surveys show that more than half of B2B buyers want a self-serve customer service model but that doesn’t mean you can completely ignore live, personal customer service.
What it does mean is that your eCommerce site must provide self-serve tools backed up with customer service representatives empowered to handle problems. These individuals may provide on-line chat support or constantly monitor social media and customer service email accounts, which is crucial because 88 percent of B2B buyers prefer email when dealing with customer service.
Your customer service phone number should be prominently displayed on your site. 71 percent of B2B buyers also want the option for live chat but only 4 percent want to interact with a chat bot. Clearly, even when the transaction takes place online, B2B buyers still value relationships.
One of the most important roles in B2B eCommerce is managing product content such as product descriptions, images, videos, technical documents, certifications, etc.
The digital merchandiser makes products discoverable and desirable to online customers. Responsibilities range from working with marketing and purchasing to develop pricing and products, creating a calendar of promotions, and keeping online and offline efforts in sync.
Even with eCommerce, you still need sales support. When used properly, the website should help reps sell more as they focus on helping customers solve problems and deepen relationships.
The modern sales rep understands that the website is not competition, it is a tool. As part of on-boarding the sales force, stress the importance of keeping in touch with customers via emails and phone calls.
Show sales reps how eCommerce has the capability to increase earning potential, as they spend more time booking new business and less time answering questions about existing orders.
Is the fulfilment team in the warehouse ready for an influx of new orders? Are they ready to pull, pack, and ship promptly? Amazon has trained B2C buyers to expect rapid order processing and delivery and these expectations have spilled over onto B2B buyers when it comes to stock items.
Purchasing agents expect orders to be filled promptly and they depend on it when calculating the amount to order.
B2B eCommerce transactions are time sensitive as the items ordered are needed for a key business activity or function so if you can’t handle fulfilment, your customers will quickly find someone that can.
Effective inventory control for eCommerce is all about finding the right balance between customer satisfaction and company profit. Out-of-stock situations are frustrating to buyers and you can be sure they will vent about it using online reviews and social media.
The inventory manager is responsible for maintaining real-time inventory management information, setting stock levels that maintain minimums without building up excess or dated inventory, and minimising inventory carrying costs.
You need a warehouse manager that’s able to renegotiate with shipping and transport companies, make changes to warehouse layout where appropriate, and constantly monitor feedback regarding the quality of services provided.
Now that you’ve got an overview of the key roles, it’s important to think about how to get the right combination to ensure a winning team. It’s more than just filling boxes on an org chart. It’s putting just the right person in each role. Team composition is key so here are a few tips to remember:
- Look for people that embody the digital mindset and culture
- Embrace innovators
- Think in terms of competencies. One person can fulfil several roles on a digital team
- Don’t be afraid to out-source to get the right skill set
Companies with successful B2B eCommerce teams invest in leadership, resources, and cross-functional strategies. The most successful teams streamline the purchase journey, improve customer satisfaction, increase customer retention and in the process become a source of increased revenue.
The Right Tools For eCommerce Success
“You can’t just open a website and expect people to flood in. If you really want to succeed, you have to create traffic.” – Joel Anderson, CEO of Walmart
It’s very difficult to be engaging in the eCommerce space without the right eCommerce platform. You can borrow some moves from B2C, but B2B has its own needs so when it comes to the technology playbook, make sure the eCommerce platform you pick is equipped to handle the nuances of B2B eCommerce.
A simple email address book won’t do for B2B. You must have a robust customer relationship management system that gives every player on the team a 360° view of the lead or the customer. Because B2B is built on relationships, the CRM will help track the data you need to nurture and grow relationships. With B2B, you can have multiple touchpoints with the customer and it’s important that every forward-facing employee have access to complete customer information.
Sales Force Enablement
Sales force enablement isn’t about selling, it’s about meeting the needs of the buyer. Your enablement playbook may include content and information to share with buyers and leads as well as internal research, strategies, and best practices.
Since B2B buying is a process, B2B selling needs a compatible process. When selecting your eCommerce platform, look for customisable and adaptable workflow engines that accommodate the needs of corporate buyers.
Complex Pricing Models
In B2C, the price you see posted is the price you pay. In B2B, prices are negotiated as well as payment terms and methods of delivery. Make sure your eCommerce platform can handle complex pricing models and individual prices for each contract.
B2B purchases are rarely one-off transactions, they are the result of relationships over time. Effective customer support depends on knowing the details of the relationship and the transactions.
Forward-facing employees need access to detailed information about the account and sales history to provide high-touch, account specific customer support when needed.
At the end of the day, building the ideal B2B eCommerce team is about pulling together the right human and digital resources needed to drive growth and customer satisfaction. By recognising the key differences between what skills B2C and B2B teams need to be most effective and creating the right team mix and culture, you will have all the ingredients you need to take your B2B sales to a whole new level.