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For more and more B2B companies, e-commerce is a logical part of their commercial strategy. But how do you get sales? And what other challenges do you have to take into account? An inventory.

I asked various B2B companies (both in terms of size and activities) about their experiences during a roundtable. One investigated the possibilities, the other had already created and implemented a successful model. What they all agreed on is that B2B e-commerce is a totally different way of doing business than just working with sales staff in the office and field. Or as one of the roundtable participants put it: "We want to move from boxes to customer-oriented digital initiatives."

The motivation to engage in e-commerce is fairly homogeneous: all want to serve the customer optimally and see how the online channel fits within that ambition. The most important plus points mentioned are:

- Make transparent information available 24/7 in combination with offline knowledge of employees;

- Lowering the threshold to order;

- Automate repeat orders for frequent customers and expand the portfolio;

- Use data insights for data driven and predictive selling;.

- Use data to determine additional opportunities in the order - how can you apply cross- and upselling?

To achieve all this, organizational changes are needed. First of all, a good digital team must be put together that will manage the new digital touchpoints, in addition to sales. In addition, something will have to happen with the data you collect through the e-commerce activities. "We have made everything better and easier for the customer. That results in a huge amount of data that we are not yet using," was one of the comments.

Including sales in the change

An important question that came up was: if you are digitizing, how can you ensure that sales and e-commerce work together? First of all, it is important that the sales staff are included in the change, was the consensus during the roundtable. "We are on the eve of the update of our online ordering environment. It is an order process environment in which we used the input of sales people to shape the redesign. Half of the project team consisted of sales, both representatives of freelancers and multinationals. In this way we identified the major pain points. This benefits the quality and reliability of the platform. Being heard is therefore an important step.

Another good tip: "We emphasize the positive points. In the past, the representative had to submit a quotation and take back the signed proposal. Now that we do this online, there is much more time and space for advice. The turnover is simply in the name of the representative.

Secondly, the online turnover should not be at the expense of that of the sales staff, because then they are not motivated to bring the new e-commerce channel to the attention. "The representative must drive digitization. If you do not include that turnover in his target, it is killing for your e-commerce. We therefore give a bonus if a certain online share has been reached.

Don't think e-commerce can replace your sellers either. Acquisition is usually done by the representative. Customers who only use the web shop are not loyal. Omnichannel customers order more often and more, is the experience of the roundtable participants. "More interaction with customers is not an end in itself of digitization. We want to reduce the costs of order processing.

Not everyone comes along

E-commerce is therefore an addition to the representatives, but they must be able to deal with it. “We have a top-bottom approach. The best employees are lighthouses that are an example for the rest. We invest in training and consultation. Random pick doesn't work, you have to start with the better sellers. If you have a top 3, then number four wants to be part of it. Our company is divided into divisions and regions. If you identify the lighthouses everywhere, you take the rest with you. There are always people who don't pick it up, but 85 percent go along with it.”

So the offline excelors do not automatically become the online toppers. "In the first year we appointed key users who worked on e-commerce one day a week. These included people who had never reached their target before and who now work four days a week and already received their bonus in the eleventh month. That also convinced the rest of the usefulness.”

Another good tip: don't forget the relationship with the suppliers. Channel conflicts may arise when a B2B party introduces an e-commerce solution that allows the end customer to order directly from you. You can't do much about that friction. "We respect to a certain extent the margin of the brokering. But they irrevocably lose the customer if they do not add anything to his experience. You have to educate the middleman well and say what you are doing. Without e-commerce you die - without distributive trading too?