These days, figuring out how to deliver e-commerce can be daunting—more so since the pace of change requires you to move at breakneck speed. As one VP of national sales at a midsize printing company says, “It hit so fast that everyone wants to know what we do now. How do we approach this? We can’t run away from it, we need to run towards it, but what is it?”
So what’s the best e-commerce strategy? As Thoreau wisely suggested, “When a dog runs at you, whistle for him.” In other words: embrace it. Yes, it may be challenging, but jumping in now will deliver big payoffs for your business.
Why should my business embrace e-commerce?
Selling Power’s Gerhard Gschawndtner points out that today’s companies are buying and thinking about their sellers in radically new ways, creating cataclysmic market shifts—and e-commerce lies at the heart of that change. For example:
- 85.3 percent of buyers go online to research purchases
- 42 percent of all B2B spend is electronic
- Leading companies place 60 percent of their orders electronically through supplier networks
Clearly, buyers are voting with their feet, using e-commerce in greater numbers than ever before. And as this flood tide continues to swell, taking action is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. The good news is that adopting a strategic approach and proactively retooling your practices to meet these changing demands will protect your market share while enabling you to:
- Get your products and services in front of more active buyers
- Significantly accelerate the sales cycle
- Collaborate more closely with customers and improve retention
- Track invoice progress and get paid faster
Debunking E-Commerce Myths
Even if you’re excited about the potential rewards of e-commerce, misperceptions can derail your efforts. Here are three common myths to avoid when planning your e-commerce approach.
MYTH #1: “E-commerce primarily benefits large companies with big IT budgets.”
As myths go, this one’s a whopper—since e-commerce can benefit smaller companies just as much as large ones. In fact, e-commerce serves as an instant equalizer that often masks your size so you can focus on competitive differentiators, such as nimbleness. E-commerce resources help to level the playing field across companies of all sizes and budgets, allowing you to:
- Connect to customers who are ready to buy. The high level of no- or low-cost marketing exposure that e-commerce provides can be a major boon to smaller companies, with solutions like Ariba Discovery™ offering direct access to even very large global buyers who would otherwise be difficult or impossible to reach.
- Enhance agility and service. Many smaller sellers pride themselves on their ability to rapidly respond to customer demands. By automating processes and enabling real-time connectivity, e-commerce boosts your speed and efficiency at every stage of the order-to-cash cycle—so you can elevate customer service from good to great with little IT investment.
- Make your size disappear. With e-commerce, the size of your business matters far less than the capabilities you bring to the table. For example, sellers who provide touchless service by integrating with customers through the Ariba® Network are highly valued by buying organizations as technically savvy and easy to do business with—making them more likely to win deals than competitors who lack these abilities. What’s more, cloud-based access enables your company to leverage current technologies without a large IT expense.
MYTH #2: “E-commerce will disintermediate me from my customer.”
With the increasing commoditization of products and services in today’s market, many sellers view their personal relationships with customers as the main asset distinguishing them from competitors—and fear that e-commerce could distance or separate them from those relationships.
The truth is that e-commerce doesn’t end the discussions you have with customers; it simply changes them. And while some aspects of your interaction may go away when you implement e-commerce, other more valuable components take their place. Rather than clinging to old ways of doing business, you can use e-commerce to become a stronger partner and collaborate better with customers to cut costs and work together more effectively. Instead of feature-function-benefit conversations about what you sell, you can discuss strategic concerns that tie your products and services to how your customers do business—making your relationships more sustainable, not less.
MYTH #3: “My e-commerce process is complete when I can deliver information and take orders online.”
Belief in this myth causes many sellers to miss out on the full range of benefits true e-commerce provides. Though the dizzying array of solutions and technologies flooding the market may seem overwhelming, treating e-commerce tactically (automating just portions of the order-to-cash Cycle), reactively (adding only capabilities customers demand), or operationally (relegating it to your IT department) can seriously backfire.
For example, your first awareness that a customer wants comprehensive e-commerce capabilities may come when they tell you they’ve found another vendor who already provides them. In today’s market, your e-commerce approach forms a central part of your brand image, significantly impacting your customer-facing market representation. It should be considered an integral channel with the same status as your direct sales or distribution channels —so devoting significant resources to it makes sound business sense.
David Lloyd George put it best: “You can’t cross a chasm in two short jumps.” The real e-commerce winners are those who treat it strategically, developing and delivering a comprehensive solution that transforms the way they do business. On the other hand, you don’t want to go off half-cocked. Before taking action, talk to your customers to gain a solid understanding of their e-commerce plans and requirements, and make sure that your e-commerce strategy also aligns with your own business values and goals.
So rather than viewing the launch of your storefront website or online ordering tool as the end of your e-commerce journey, consider them as first steps. You can take heart by knowing that the more you invest in building a mature e-commerce solution, the greater ROI you’ll realize.
Ariba offers extensive resources to help simplify and streamline your path to e-commerce success, whether you’re just starting out or have a well-developed solution in place. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
This article is part of the current issue of Ariba Supply Lines. Ariba Supply Lines is a quarterly newsletter that provides valuable tips, best practices, and the latest thinking to take your online business relationships with your buying customers to the next level.
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