The B2B Digital Commerce Playbook

Timery Crawford
Senior Content Marketing Manager
Customer relationships: They’re the North Star of a successful B2B organisation. But what those relationships look like is shifting rapidly based on changing customer expectations. Phone calls and in-person visits have turned into emails, Slack messages, and online orders. Recent research suggests that 80% of business buyers expect to conduct more business online.
This shift impacts the bottom line. Nearly one in three B2B organisations report that 50% or more of their overall revenue already comes from digital channels. And 55% expect that this will be the case within the next few years.
Boosting sales and strengthening customer relationships by building better online experiences may seem like a no-brainer. But when faced with so many competing priorities, just getting started can be a challenge. Whether you’re starting from scratch or replacing an aging legacy platform, you’ll find steps on how to quickly get your digital storefront up and running.

Chapter 1

How to Build a Long-Term Plan

Focus on your top priorities — and use a phased approach for everything else.

Every software implementation should begin with a clear vision for the challenges it will solve and how it will improve your business. Resist the temptation (and pressure) to include extra features and extend the scope if you want to avoid delays and overblown budgets.
For your deployment to be efficient and effective, start with a candid assessment of your most important business goals. Then consider whether you can begin with a single business unit or geography as a proof of concept. Your efforts should support your ability to deliver on those priorities without distractions. The best way to focus your efforts is to ask these three questions:
  • What do customers really want and how can we improve their experience?
  • How can we show early wins using a minimum viable product (MVP) approach and start getting a return on investment (ROI) as quickly as possible? This could be starting with a subset of features, products, or a single business unit or geography.
  • How can we deliver with a phased approach that allows us to guide and adjust the implementation based on real-time market information?
For example, the GE Renewable Energy team had a long wishlist of what they wanted to improve when replacing their previous commerce site. But research revealed that search was a point of friction for many customers. Buyers were having a hard time finding the right part, so they were leaving the site and picking up the phone to place orders instead. Therefore, the team agreed that user experience and search were the top priorities of the first launch.

Give your customers a seat at the table.

It’s easy to assume you know what customers want. But actively getting customer insights can lead to surprises and help shape your digital commerce plan.
For example, the GE Renewable Energy B2B commerce launch didn’t start with the deployment itself. The team engaged a consulting company to develop a market segmentation, based on several interviews with customers and online surveys. The team then used this customer data to understand the most common pain points, prioritise deliverables, and plan out the roadmap upfront.

“It took some time for us to define our strategy, but we wanted to understand what was really critical to our customers.”

Livia Miyabara

Marketing & Strategy Leader for GE Parts and Repairs

Customer insights can come from a wide variety of sources. For best results, conduct research with at least three separate sources with a mix of both qualitative and quantitative data. Try leveraging:
  • Customer interviews and focus groups
  • Feedback from sales and customer service teams
  • Website metrics (page views, time on page, abandoned cart numbers, or results from A/B testing, and more)
  • Data from surveys or polls
  • Revenue numbers and other sales data
  • The number of customer phone calls or in-person visits — plus their results
Take the experience of a large consumer goods company based in the U.S. For years, the company ran a fully staffed call center to take orders from small accounts. When they added digital commerce, the team expected that it would streamline processes and cut costs, but as the company analysed sales, it was pleasantly surprised that revenue per customer was increasing steadily, as well. In fact, customers liked ordering on their own and responded more readily to automated cross-selling messaging than to the call center reps. That feedback gave the company confidence to invest in enhancements to its landing page and build more sophisticated cross-sell and upsell capabilities.

Chapter 2

How to Align Your Team and Get Cross-Functional Support

Share the benefits of digital commerce with sales.

The sales culture for a typical B2B company has historically focused on making calls and filling quotas — not devising easier ways for customers to interact with the company’s brand. As such, there may be some hesitation on how digital commerce will impact the day-to-day sales role.
Ecommerce solutions streamline order processing, which empowers sales teams to make more strategic use of their time. According to the Salesforce State of Commerce Report, 63% of B2B sales leaders report that digital commerce has freed their teams from the logistics of order processing and allowed them to become strategic advisors. Sales reps become much more than order takers, as they now have new insights and more time to devote to learning more about the business climate, their industries, products, and customers.
To help sales become an ally, share details of your implementation as early as possible — and be proactive about when they can expect changes. In addition, partner with sales leaders to determine how reps will be compensated for digital orders, ensuring that they will be advocates of the storefront with their buyers. Focus on how B2B commerce will help them (and even ask them to brainstorm how they’d like to spend their day when they have more free time). Be sure to mention how they’ll have:
  • Fewer mundane tasks, such as updating spreadsheets
  • Less time spent on repeat orders and more time spent on finding new business
  • Access to new insights based on ecommerce data
  • The bandwidth to provide more personal experiences to high-value customers
  • Revenue numbers and other sales data
  • The opportunity to be seen as more of a trusted advisor, instead of an order taker

Since the deployment of its new site, Ovation Medical has seen 65% of sales come through B2B Commerce and its repeat order processing time has been cut in half. As a result, the productivity of sales reps has doubled.

Bring in cross-functional stakeholders as early as possible.

The faster you begin selling, the sooner the system starts paying for itself. But if key stakeholders in the organisation aren’t aligned around the business case or strategy, the project can stall in midstream. On the flip side, if you get too many stakeholders in a room, you’re unlikely to be able to make decisions quickly. In short, a smooth implementation requires determining who has decision rights and including them from the very beginning of the project.
Trade-offs between features, cost, and speed inevitably crop up in the planning process. It’s critical that everyone contributes to these decisions, so a consensus emerges around the overall rationale for the project. Full alignment is key to success.
It may seem obvious to bring in cross-functional stakeholders into your plan, but often with so many priorities, a critical function gets left behind. Make sure you have alignment with:
  • IT — This team may have concerns around technology integration and impacts to uptime. Make sure to set up a process to gather analytics to measure the success of launch.
  • Sales — This group may have concerns about how a digital storefront will impact salaries and day-to-day work. Proactively determine the compensation of sales reps for digital sales. Show the value of the insights they will gain from the digital experience, and how they will benefit. Ensure they get commission so they encourage buyers to adopt.
  • Customer Service — Consider integrating service options within the commerce site to deflect cases and help service reps increase efficiency. For example, service teams can add knowledge articles to the site or integrate a customer service chat.
  • Legal — Consider privacy and data governance concerns like GDPR in your plan. Make sure terms and conditions on your site are reviewed by a legal representative.
  • Marketing/Business Units — Integrate with the new product launch process so that product details like names, descriptions, and images go live on the commerce site. Align with marketing regularly to make sure promotions for the site are ready for launch.

Use your digital commerce strategy as a recruiting tool for high-performers.

High-impact salespeople are drawn to companies that prioritise digital innovation. They have often worked with the best sales technology available, and they don’t want to go back to the days of spreadsheets and order taking. That means companies that prioritise their digital strategy can take their pick of the top talent when they need to add to their team.
To do this, make sure you add in language around your digital commerce strategy in the job description — either in the experience or requirement section. Also give candidates a preview into your plan during the interview process, and take note of how they react.

Chapter 3

Your Checklist to Launching Fast

Develop an MVP plan.

  • Survey existing customers to identify top pain points
  • Consider company goals and sales team pain points
  • Select your top three priorities
  • Work on the roadmap: What features will launch in what release?
  • Identify the working team

Get internal buy-in across functions.

  • Create a proof of concept (POC) based on the MVP plan
  • Use the POC for feedback and buy-in
  • Connect the MVP plan with the pain points it will address

Establish a communication cadence with key stakeholders to get and keep their support.

Develop a communication plan with existing buyers to drive adoption.

  • Enable sales on using a POC storefront so they can demo the site to buyers
  • Consider posting instructions on how to use the new website, like video tutorials

Go live and celebrate.

Track results and report on key metrics.

Grab a coffee and begin planning for the next launch.

Next Steps

All journeys begin with the same thing: a single step. Using this playbook, you have a guide to help you go from planning to quickly launching a digital commerce storefront that grows your business.
For more information on driving growth with easy, connected commerce built for B2B buyers, check out Salesforce B2B Commerce.
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