Breaking Down Barriers to B-to-B Online Commerce
B-to-B commerce organizations have always operated in a complex multichannel world. Engaging customers in this world remains increasingly complicated. It requires a focus first on breaking down barriers — i.e., taking the necessary steps to minimize channel conflict with internal sales teams and outside partners and then going directly to the business buyer. For companies that can move nimbly to navigate the channel complexities and bring value directly to the business buyer, the future has never looked brighter for B-to-B online commerce.
The B-to-B Online Opportunity
B-to-B online commerce continues to grow at a tremendous clip. According to a recent report from Forrester Research, in 2009 — the latest year for which data was available — the U.S. Census Bureau reported that B-to-B online commerce totaled $352 billion, net of electronic data interchange (EDI). That's up from just $25 billion in 2000, a 34 percent compound annual growth rate in nine years. In addition, many B-to-B companies predict that e-commerce will soon comprise 50 percent of their total sales.
Challenge Dominates the B-to-B Ecosystem
As great as the B-to-B online opportunity is, so are some of the challenges in deploying a successful B-to-B program. One of the biggest barriers may be your own organization. An existing channel strategy and architecture often looms as the most formidable obstacle. Many organizations aren't structurally or culturally ready for the challenges of a robust, direct-to-business-buyer e-commerce operation.
In a sense, with any direct-to-business-buyer sales effort, channel conflict is unavoidable. Many businesses were built largely on the strength and growth of their traditional channel strategy. The sales pipeline, its accompanying organizational structure, and incentives and compensation are specifically designed to funnel sales efficiently and in large volumes.
Attempting to bypass any partner in your channel operations by going direct-to-business-buyer could conceivably threaten to upend an established and, potentially, well-functioning system. If carried out strategically, however, a well thought out B-to-B e-commerce plan can provide the best of both worlds: opening new revenue sources while boosting the success of the entire organization and all of its channel partners.
Keys to Optimizing Your B-to-B Model
Evolving your channel strategy to go direct to buyer requires a nuanced approach that fits your overall company goals and appetite for risk. The following three areas of focus can unlock significant additional revenue from your B-to-B e-commerce program: