To B2B or B2C … or both?
That is the question for many office supplies dealers and other distributors competing in today’s rapidly changing online market. In ecommerce, blending these diverse customer groups is at best a lesson in patience, preparation and perseverance.
Should the two be combined into one online ecommerce solution? Conventional wisdom says the two should be distinct; that is easy to say when money and resources are plentiful.
Big dealers split their ecommerce into independent websites to more easily accommodate two different selling strategies. This split in online shopping sites allows each website to accommodate marketing, merchandising and product mix based on the types of customers being served, without compromising the needs of either group.
However, this often is not a viable option for the smaller dealer. Regardless of industry, there is pressure to keep up with the competition, while spending less to achieve a share of the online marketplace. Because they have fewer resources, smaller dealers may be forced to blend the B2B and B2C shopping solutions into one, or risk losing potential sales.
So how do we successfully blend the two approaches?
It is critical that we recognize and understand the inherent risks involved with blending B2B and B2C strategies. We often hear from B2B customers, “I don’t want my people to see (vendor’s product here) …” or “We can only purchase items on our contract.”
The needs of the B2B customer are too diverse and often too restrictive to accommodate the free-wheeling strategies employed in B2C shopping. When we force consumer-style marketing into the B2B shopping experience we can quickly alienate, confuse and often anger some of our biggest and best customers.
How do we honor these restrictions, market to all customers, and not compromise our biggest and best customers? The reality is that you do not have to abandon current marketing or merchandising strategies, but simply change the style and focus to accommodate a wider variety of needs. You can accomplish this with selling “solutions.”
The concept of “solution selling” isn’t new by any means, but it is vital in a blended B2B and B2C approach to selling on the web. With this strategy, you do not have to abandon marketing activities, but rather focus them around “product types,” or “product groups.” A simple change from a consumer-directed ad containing a specific, brand-name product and price becomes a generic call to action for the shopper to “see our lowest-priced chairs,” or “green your office.” Thus, you can influence the shopper’s activities without compromising pricing or product mix. With smartly crafted ads and imagery, the regular consumer will still be enticed to look at what you have, as will the business customer.
Speaking of vendor-sponsored advertising: These ads must also be changed or rethought. When using a solution-based marketing strategy, vendor ads and flyers traditionally found on consumer websites really cannot be prominent. Does that mean vendor ads cannot be used? Of course not, but they need to be used with discretion, and redrafted to be more generic. Remember, many B2B customers cannot participate in vendor-sponsored contests, giveaways or discounts. Do not be afraid to work directly with your vendors to create new ads. They want to sell product as much as you do, they generally have dedicated marketing staff, and they are willing to help in all facets of ad creation.
For B2B customers restricted from specific brands or products, you have effectively not shown them a specific brand or product they may not be able to purchase, and you have not stated a price they do not have. Will a customer sometimes be directed to a group of items they cannot buy? Yes. This can’t always be avoided. When it does occur, at worst you have planted a seed for them to contact their salesperson to add items, or negotiate changes to an existing contract.
With this change in strategy, it is vital that the marketing and merchandising agendas be in synch. Because solutions ads are generic, the merchandising group must be involved in prioritizing items based on the marketing goal. When a shopper clicks on a solution-based call to action, this is where you can make up for not naming a specific brand. Through proper item prioritization you can be assured that the most margin-friendly items, such as proprietary brand items, are displayed on the website first, or, when sponsored by a vendor, brand-specific items.
The final piece is good backing from the top of the marketing organization. Because let’s face it, sometimes you will take risks in advertising, sometimes B2B customers will not like something on your website, and you’ll need a strong marketing leader to back your agenda. Blending the two approaches of ecommerce can be challenging. To succeed requires a well-orchestrated effort between marketing, merchandising, vendors and website teams. But with careful thought and planning, you can succeed with a blended B2B and B2C ecommerce website.
Brett Vest is a Managed Services leader with more than 20 years of experience in ecommerce development, marketing, integration, and implementation. For the past eight years, he has worked in the Microsoft Dynamics space as well as the ecommerce space at ENAVATE, combining his skills to assist customers with their implementation and support needs. Brett resides in Atlanta, Georgia, with his family and enjoys the diverse city life, sports, and outdoor activities.