Digital Strategy Questions to Ask Before Adding a D-to-C Channel to Your B-to-B Business
As COVID-19 continues taking an immeasurable toll on our lives and businesses, wholesale vendors and retailers have had to shift sales strategies fast. The online channel, however, continues to see significant growth during the pandemic, positioning companies with existing e-commerce websites in better shape to weather the storm. In fact, McKinsey & Company reported how in just three months, e-commerce penetration in the U.S. market grew more quickly than it had in the previous 10 years combined.
Facing uncertainty within traditional go-to-market sales channels, such as tradeshows and in-person meetings, many B-to-B vendors have asked themselves the following: Should we establish a direct-to-consumer (D-to-C or B-to-C) strategy?
There isn’t a simple answer, as the D-to-C market presents huge opportunities, with just as many risks. With a successful D-to-C channel, you'll likely grow sales, increase margins, and achieve business diversification.
However, you’re essentially building a brand-new business. You're starting fresh with little or reduced brand recognition, facing greater competition, and potentially introducing channel conflict with your existing customers, all while navigating new, complex marketing, distribution and customer service requirements. (But, did I mention — higher margins!)
Let’s explore e-commerce and marketing considerations to think through before adding a D-to-C channel to your B-to-B business.
Building Out the D-to-C Experience
The first question to ask yourself is probably the most important, as it directly impacts all levels of your marketing and operations strategy. Will your D-to-C website piggyback off your existing B-to-B site, or will you stand up a brand-new e-commerce website?
We typically recommend companies build a standalone D-to-C website, separate from their B-to-C site. With two distinct websites, you can easily apply differing business rules without the complexity of overlapping these requirements on one site.
Everything from analyzing the customer journey, optimizing for user experience (UX), delivering artificial intelligence-driven product recommendations, managing seasonal flux, automating marketing, and creating content becomes easier when you have distinct audiences per website.
Alternatively, tacking D-to-C functionality onto an existing B-to-B site requires your website to support two distinct e-commerce experiences and rule sets. You’ll need a very firm grasp on requirements, including how to handle product and pricing visibility pre- and post-login, varying customer service policies and support, refunds/returns, and different credit card authorization processes. While it may seem complex, it is possible to achieve, and lets you “test the waters” to see how the market reacts to your new channel.
Marketing Your New D-to-C Channel
If your B-to-B marketing efforts are largely successful, it may be tempting to set your D-to-C marketing on autopilot and mimic the traditional B-to-B cadence. This is asking for trouble. While a personalized, multichannel experience remains essential for both B-to-B and D-to-C markets, the customer cycles are vastly different.
Make sure to develop separate D-to-C and B-to-B campaign calendars, with touchpoints targeted to each audience’s personas, interests and needs. Proactively personalize the customer journey with separate merchandising and messaging strategies, including different email cadences, promotions and website content. Simply put, make sure your messaging for D-to-C customers is consumer-oriented, while messaging for your retailer customers is targeted to their needs.
For example, holiday shopping sales cycles will be different for your B-to-B audience vs. your D-to-C audience. For wholesale customers, you may start promoting holiday products to retailers in August, when they're likely to start stocking up their inventory for the busy holiday season. Those same products should be promoted directly to consumers as the holiday season approaches, in early November. You can leverage theme overlap, but copy, imagery, offers and send schedules need to differ to suit different audience needs.
To reduce manual effort, use a marketing automation tool to deploy programmatic email campaigns based on behavior, such as click and visit history, abandoned cart information, and order history. Marketing programs enable you to engage customers at-scale, but you’ll need to fine-tune your strategy to ensure the B-to-B audience stays segmented from D-to-C. Also, make sure to think through your data maintenance and privacy compliance plan to ensure you don't harm deliverability, reputation or recipient experience.
Don’t forget about social! A strong social media presence is expected in the D-to-C space, particularly as you’re growing your brand. Like your website, you’ll need to decide whether to communicate to both audiences within one social media account or separate B-to-B and D-to-C accounts.
Align your marketing and social media strategy to build an interactive community, boosting engagement and driving traffic and conversions on your website.
SEO and PPC
Search engine optimization (SEO) is essential to get your D-to-C channel off the ground and in front of the right customers. Remember, you’re building credibility and widening your reach from scratch — you can’t lean on the success of your B-to-B SEO strategy because you’re targeting a brand-new audience.
You'll also need a thoughtful strategy to avoid pitting your B-to-B and D-to-C websites against each other for search rankings. Dive in and do your research to get to know your new audience. How does search intent, decision making or sales cycles differ? Answering these questions will help you create the right content and optimize the website for each audience’s needs.
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is another critical way to gain new D-to-C customers. A solid PPC plan complements your SEO strategy by driving targeted leads to your website — a quick win to kick-start your new channel.
When choosing to venture into the D-to-C market, identify distinct requirements for both sides of your business to determine the best path forward. Take note of your goals, strengths and constraints, and focus on delivering the best possible experience to both types of customer. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; a digital partner can make this transition smooth.
For 18-plus years, Joe Harris has led Whereoware in selling, managing, and delivering award-winning B-to-B and B-to-C websites, data-enriched marketing programs, and mobile solutions. As partner and chief revenue officer of Whereoware, Harris propels revenue-driving strategies to create long-term client and business value.