B-to-B Marketers Should Take Another Look at E-commerce

E-commerce opportunity is evolving fast, but only 25 percent of B-to-B marketers are taking advantage of it, according to a 2012 Oracle study. Time for another look. The typical B-to-B companies selling online are classic catalogers like Edmund Optics and Seton, which were fast to supplement their print catalogs with e-commerce. But with the new functionality now available, just about any business marketer can find ways to reduce selling expense and attract new customers by integrating e-commerce into their go-to-market strategies.

E-commerce opportunity is evolving fast, but only 25 percent of B-to-B marketers are taking advantage of it, according to a 2012 Oracle study. Time for another look. The typical B-to-B companies selling online are classic catalogers like Edmund Optics and Seton, which were fast to supplement their print catalogs with e-commerce. But with the new functionality now available, just about any business marketer can find ways to reduce selling expense and attract new customers by integrating e-commerce into their go-to-market strategies.

A worthy example is Dow Corning, which found itself under huge price pressure as the silicone category grew commoditized. To meet the market demand for lower prices, Dow Corning launched an entirely new brand in 2002, called Xiameter, where customers could buy trailer-loads of certain products at a 10 percent to 15 percent discount through a newly built e-commerce engine. Xiameter sales grew so successfully that in 2009, Dow Corning moved as much as 2500 of its 7000 products to the site. Today, Xiameter represents 40% of Dow Corning’s $6 billion in sales.

Another example is Symantec, which created an online store specifically to serve its small-to-medium business customers in North America. Today, 100 percent of Symantec’s $300 million SMB sales run through this channel, which is operated for them by the SaaS outsourcing supplier Rainmaker Systems. Symantec is enjoying not only lower selling expense, but also admirable revenue growth, with sales up 25 percent and trial-to-conversion rates up 33 percent in the first year.

Why are these online ventures working so well? It’s thanks to new technology combined with changes in buyer behavior. The growth of consumer e-tailing has clearly been a contributing factor. Business buyers are people, too. So, their increasing comfort with e-commerce in their personal lives spills over to their jobs.

But business buyers also expect consumer-like functionality in e-commerce. And a seamless experience. This is where the new technologies come in. Platform suppliers like Rainmaker are building systems specifically designed to support B-to-B buying processes, with consumer-like features and ease of use.

So what are the e-commerce success factors for business marketers as they look to take advantage of these opportunities? Here are some tips:

  • Review your customer segments and product lines for e-commerce potential. Small and medium business customers may be a perfect fit. Same for high-volume, repetitive-sales product categories, like replacement parts or warranty renewals.
  • Examine your sales and marketing process for elements that can be automated with e-commerce technology. Look at quote management, contract pricing, channel partner support, purchase order processing, order approvals, cross sell and upsell, licensing, renewals, reactivation, winback-there are more than you may think.
  • Select software that was built specifically for the complexity of business markets. Companies that buy consumer solutions and try adding B-to-B capabilities will quickly be frustrated.
  • Select software that provides consumer-like e-commerce functionality. Ease of use is the competitive watchword today, according to Forrester’s recent study “Thrive by Adopting Proven B2C Principles.”
  • Make sure you connect your e-commerce with your existing accounting, manufacturing and other systems. Xiameter customers, for example, get their order confirmation, shipping notices and invoices out of Dow Corning’s SAP, which also communicates with the manufacturing plants to get the order produced.
  • Consider using cloud-based suppliers, where you can get up and running in less than a month, and leave the technology to someone else. Rainmaker Systems offers not only dedicated “sales assist” from its call center, they will even deal with their clients on a revenue-share basis.
  • Remember that e-commerce is global by definition. So look for technology that offers multiple languages and currencies, and supports tax and customer compliance.

How are you integrating e-commerce into your sales and marketing?

A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Melissa Campanelli’s The View From Here: Sears Experiments With a New Google Email Tool

The most interesting news of the week came to me via an email alert from Chad White, research director of Smith-Harmon, a Responsys company, and founder of the Retail Email Blog. The alert said Sears was testing a new Gmail functionality and, in the words of Chad, “was pretty cool stuff.” It directed me to his blog posting on the subject.

The most interesting news of the week came to me via an email alert from Chad White, research director of Smith-Harmon, a Responsys company, and founder of the Retail Email Blog. The alert said Sears was testing a new Gmail functionality and, in the words of Chad, “was pretty cool stuff.” It directed me to his blog posting on the subject.

Knowing that Chad is an authority on email — and a very smart guy — I decided to take a look.

Sears, according to Chad’s blog post, “will be wrapping up beta testing of a potential new Google offering called ‘Enhanced Email,’ which allows a form of browsing to occur within an email viewed within Gmail.”

In a limited test of the functionality last month, White wrote, “Sears was able to include seven ‘pages’ containing 20 best-selling products that its Gmail subscribers could browse using the navigation within the module without leaving the email.”

Here’s where it gets even cooler: When a subscriber hits the “next” link in the module’s navigation, White wrote, “the current set of products slides out of the box to the left and the next set of products slides in from the right in one smooth motion.”

Pretty cool, indeed.

For his blog post, White interviewed Ramki Srinivasan, the manager of email innovation at Sears, who said the set of products for the browsing module is displayed at the time of open, not the time of send, “which allows the information to be as current as possible.” He also said the test saw “higher opens, clicks and revenue per email,” but stressed that it’s too early to make any final assessments on the functionality.

In closing, White said Enhanced Email is just one more sign that the inboxes of the future will allow much more activity to occur within them. As a result, marketers will have to come up with “new ways of measuring email success and of thinking about email strategy, particularly the relationship between email and website landing pages,” White said.

Have any of you experimented with Enhanced Email? If so, would you like to tell us about it? If you haven’t yet tried it, are you interested in checking it out? Let me know by leaving a comment here.

Google Analytics Gets More Robust

Last month, many online marketers got just what they were waiting for: news that new functionalities representing a major upgrade to Google Analytics were coming.

Last month, many online marketers got just what they were waiting for: news that new functionalities representing a major upgrade to Google Analytics were coming.

In an Oct. 22 blog post, Google said it has been speaking with its customers, Web analytics experts and customers of other analytics tools about additional functionality they’d all like added to Google Analytics. The company said it wanted to make Google Analytics “as powerful, flexible, and useful as a Web analytics tool can be.”

The new features include advanced segmentation, custom reports, a data export application programming interface, integrated reporting for AdSense publishers, multi-dimensional data visualizations and an updated user and administrative interface. Some of these features are still in beta test mode.

While all of this functionality is good news to Google Analytics users, the big news here is the application programming interface, says Jim Sterne, president of Target Marketing, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Internet marketing strategy consultancy. He’s also the founding director and president of the Web Analytics Association.

“The major complaint about Google Analytics was that the data were inaccessible,” Sterne says. “Now, with the API, people can download their data and slice and dice it all they want with whatever tools they like. This is a big step forward. Google Analytics was a wonderful tool for the price — now it’s an astonishing tool.”

In effect, Google has created a more robust Web analytics tool that will undoubtedly help online marketers improve their competitive edges and marketing optimization programs.