Whether you’re new to B2B e-commerce or have used it for years, convincing company leaders to invest in your e-commerce initiatives can prove challenging. Though you may think a simple business case will do the trick, a multi-tiered approach is far more likely to garner the results you want. The question is, what tactics work best?
In a session at SAP Ariba Live in Las Vegas, global enterprise e-commerce manager Anatoly (“Toly”) Shilman from Kimberly-Clark and enterprise group e-commerce VP Martin Rohde from Hewlett Packard Enterprise joined SAP Ariba’s Kory Manley to help answer this question. Drawing on their own successful track records in optimizing e-commerce, they suggested the following strategies to turn company leaders into e-commerce champions.
- Focus on the new reality. Though the complete picture of how e-commerce will impact businesses hasn’t fully emerged, the digital revolution is clearly here to stay. “Everything is changing,” Toly says. “You have to take a deep, dark look at what’s going to make your business work in the next five, ten, fifteen, twenty years, because the way you did business before is not the way you’re going to be doing business.” According to Martin, this presents large opportunities for those willing to invest in e-commerce: by fully embracing it, your executives can position themselves—and your company—as industry leaders.
- Meet urgent needs to win hearts and minds. Be strategic about finding key stakeholders willing to explore new e-commerce solutions to address issues they’re struggling with—for example, the CFO with a cash flow problem or the VP of supply chain who needs help with demand shaping. If they’re not an e-commerce evangelist yet, make them one by solving their challenges with e-commerce solutions.
- Be bold. “You need to have the courage to take a new direction and do something different, even if it feels unnatural because it’s not how the core business has worked for the past 50 years,” Toly says. Though leadership may fear the shift, you can help them over the hump by adapting your business model in ways that keep the best of the old while encompassing the new. “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf,” says Toly. “There’s no company out there—no matter how big—that can’t make adjustments.”
- Don’t try to copy competitors. When it comes to emerging technologies, it’s risky to imitate the competition. Instead, stay true to your company and product mission by homing in on what makes sense for your business. Whether through new mobile apps, personalization, new content strategies, or other innovations, you must show leadership how unique e-commerce approaches can distinguish your brand from everyone else’s.
- Build a story first. “Show and tell always wins,” says Martin. Sure, numbers are important—especially for those leaders who tend to focus on them—but stories have more staying power. “While 90% of statistics are forgotten, 90% of stories are immediately remembered,” Kory notes. Telling the right story helps leaders believe in e-commerce, so you gain the full buy-in you’re looking for. And unless they get as passionate about e-commerce as you are, additional funding, staffing, new initiatives, and new products will always be an afterthought.
- Capitalize on consumerization. Many leaders use e-commerce constantly in their personal lives, yet don’t want to invest in it for their business. To overcome this dichotomy, connect leaders’ buying habits to their customers’. Show them real-life examples of how their own buying behaviors have changed. Then ask them, “Do you see how our products can be the same thing?”
- Get in on the ground floor. Guide leaders to see e-commerce startups and emerging companies as opportunities to influence new technologies. “If you’re not attending and sponsoring events, exploring the entire ecosystem of what’s possible, and encouraging your employees to have the entrepreneurial bent, you’re missing out,” says Toly. By getting in early, you can help shape and customize new products as they’re developed to solve your specific problems.
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew. “Never promise a complete revolution of the entire B2B e-commerce suite,” Martin says. Instead, do one small thing and do it well: automate e-invoicing. Improve supply chain visibility. Eliminate a customer pain point that’s tied to key metrics. Then help demonstrate the link between e-commerce and enhanced performance by frequently sharing your progress and results.
- Understand the funding process and financial metrics before making your case. Talk to finance managers and key financial stakeholders first, and make sure the numbers in your business case have been vetted at the highest levels. Unless you can say to leadership that the VP of finance has seen your proposal and supports it, you have no credibility.
- Be opportunistic. For example, pay attention to pain points after earnings announcements, then find a way e-commerce can fix them. Leverage commonly used company metrics like cash flow, net-new revenue, and net promoter scores to identify areas of opportunity.
For additional tips and ideas on boosting leadership buy-in for your e-commerce initiatives, watch the complete Slideshare of this presentation.