Categories: SAP eCommerce


George Anderson


The Best Question in B2B Ecommerce

It’s a well-known fact that intelligent goal setting drives results. Whether it’s the OKR method that Google used to scale up, the classic SMART goal system, or another method, all great goal systems have one thing in common: They force you to define where you want to end up, and they insist on specificity.

While B2B ecommerce looks different at every manufacturer, all successful projects have one thing in common: they set specific, well-defined goals by which the success of the project will be measured. To arrive at your specific, well-defined goals for ecommerce, it’s essential to start with a single question. In this post, we’ll ask that question, then explore the cascade of secondary questions that pop up once you’ve answered it.

But first, the question.

What percentage of overall revenue do you want to flow through ecommerce?

This question is a game changer. It places ecommerce in the context of your entire business. Ecommerce is no longer just an architectural headache for IT (by the way, it shouldn’t be—Corevist integrates to SAP ecommerce out of the box). Ecommerce is no longer just a marketing project. It’s a new way of doing business that has the power to make you better, faster, stronger in the digital age.

So… what percentage of your total revenue do you want to flow through ecommerce?

If you think this question is too aggressive, think again. Grainger, a bellweather in the B2B ecommerce industry, is targeting 80% of their revenue to come from their B2B website within 5 years. Last year, they got close to 50%.

MSC Industrial Supply, a distributor of metalworking and industrial equipment, sees 57% of total sales coming through ecommerce. That’s not a target, but real revenue numbers.

Granted, both of these companies are distributors. But the principle is key. Ecommerce is a life-and-death proposition for distributors. As we’ve covered elsewhere, manufacturers must start thinking like distributors to compete in the digital age. Asking this simple question is one way manufacturers can begin to define their online strategy with the same precision that distributors do.

So go answer that question right now. It doesn’t have to be 100% accurate, but it does have to be specific. What percentage of your total revenue do you want to get through ecommerce? And how long do you want to take to get there?

Once you have a first pass at an answer, it’s time to explore the follow-up questions.

The follow-up questions

Got that answer, even if it’s rough, a little inaccurate, or even just a wild guess?

Great. Now it’s time to continue exploring the scope of your project through a series of supporting questions. (You can always go back and adjust that total revenue figure.) Here are the questions you’ll have to answer as ways of getting to your goal. In the OKR goal framework, these questions will lead you to the KRs (key results)—the specific, concrete initiatives which will support your overall objective (reaching that percentage of total revenue coming through ecommerce).

Here are the questions. For each one, we’ll give you a project you can launch to get an answer, and we’ll explain what the deliverable is for the project.

1. What’s our baseline customer attitude toward ecommerce?

Whether you’ve already launched ecommerce, or you’re still in the research/planning phases, what’s your baseline customer attitude toward ecommerce? (Remember, if they don’t adopt ecommerce, you won’t hit that target percentage of revenue coming through the digital channel.) Don’t guess on customer attitudes. Don’t hallucinate. Ask them!

  • Project: Customer survey on attitudes toward ecommerce.
  • Deliverable: Quantified survey results of attitudes toward ecommerce, broken out by customer segment.

2. Which customers have already adopted ecommerce, and what’s holding them back from buying even more?

You’ll want to pick the brains of your customers who are already buying online. What do they like about the online customer experience? What don’t they like about it?

  • Project: Customer survey for committed ecommerce users.
  • Deliverable: Quantified survey results of attitudes toward ecommerce, broken out by customer segment.

3. Which customers have logged in to the ecommerce site only once?

For customers who received an invite to ecommerce, logged in once, but never came back, you need to find out what went wrong. Was it a lack of education? A resistance to change?

  • Project: Customer survey for people who haven’t adopted ecommerce.
  • Deliverable: Individual, qualitative responses that shed light on the experience of people who logged in to ecommerce once but never came back.

4. What ecommerce value are we not communicating to customers?

For the purposes of discussion, we’ll assume you have a platform like Corevist Commerce that offers intuitive mobile usability, rich content, real-time inventory/ATP, personalized pricing, and more—i.e., we’ll assume that the ecommerce platform itself isn’t the problem. If you have a great ecommerce workhorse up and running, but some subset of your customers hasn’t adopted it, it’s possible you have a communication problem. Your customers may not know that ecommerce offers an easier way to do business with you.

  • Project: Marketing and communications plan, broken out by customer segment, communicating the unique value-add that ecommerce provides each segment.
  • Deliverable: Growth in ecommerce adoption within each customer segment.  

Next steps: Build a plan

Customer responses can be very illuminating, especially when they’re broken out across customer segments. They’ll show you the unique pitfalls and opportunities which your organization will face in getting to your goal (that certain percentage of revenue coming through ecommerce). Once you’ve started to answer these questions, you have the data you need to build an intelligent plan.  

Moving forward: FREE case study

Want to see an intelligent plan in action? Download this FREE case study on Mannington Mills. You’ll learn how this leading manufacturer of flooring started with a Corevist Ordering Portal integrated to SAP, then added a catalog with rich content to meet the needs of their customers. The result? 150% sales growth in the digital channel.

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