When you’re a B2B company in a traditional industry and you don’t sell the world’s most intriguing products, the very idea of selling online is often met with resistance.
In many cases, internal stakeholders don’t believe customers even want to buy from them online, so the time, expense, and complexity of launching an ecommerce site can seem both daunting and a waste of resources.
But none of that is true.
B2B buyers want to make work purchases in much the same way they’ve become accustomed to making purchases in their personal life.
They want a B2C-like online shopping experience, and B2B businesses who ignore this fact are going to get left behind.
And the time? The cost? The resources to get it done?
All will be well spent when the orders start flowing in and revenue increases.
But before that can happen, you must get buy-in from internal stakeholders in your company, and in this blog post, I’m going to show you how to do it.
As the chief marketing officer for GE Industrial Solutions, I’m going to share my experience launching the company’s ecommerce site and discuss two approaches you can use to help reduce the friction around selling online and create fusion when it comes to innovating within a traditional industry.
Let’s dive in.
Innovation Leads to Growth
Language plays an important role in this process, and one of the keywords I’d like you to keep in mind is “innovation.”
GE’s electrification business is 130 years old, and you don’t get to be 130 if you don’t innovate in some way, shape, or form along the way.
I’d like to think that GE’s story—from both a product and ecommerce perspective—can be summed up by an unrelenting focus on innovation.
Our business’ ecommerce journey began about 18 years ago.
There was a recognition that the way people bought B2B products was changing.
We had the traditional brick-and-mortar distributors that our salespeople visited to sell our products, but we also created a closed, authenticated ecommerce platform that distributors could use to buy products.
It was very innovative at the time, and we started flowing thousands of orders through the site. It was very successful.
But we got complacent.
Over the course of the next 15 years, we didn’t put a lot of investment into the platform.
Meanwhile, our competitors got up to speed with B2B online selling and started building their own ecommerce sites.
We weren’t innovating from a functionality perspective, and our competition was outpacing us with new features that distributors were using to buy from them.
We knew we needed to update the platform if we were going to compete.
We may have had the name recognition, but others were providing similar products to distributors using the online tools they were looking for—and that’s all that matters.
We knew our new platform needed to be upgraded, responsive, and it had to have a B2C user experience.
Ultimately, we knew we needed to take an omnichannel approach.
After presenting our plan, we got initial buy-in from the leadership team and the investment we needed to upgrade the site, but we still encountered challenges from many areas of the organization.
We had a lot of work to do to convince people across many different departments that rebuilding our ecommerce site was a business imperative.
Approach 1: Reduce Friction by Changing the Mindset
As we started our ecommerce initiative, we kept getting questions from people across the organization.
“When are you going to be done with that ecommerce project?” or “When are you going to be done with that marketing project?”
We realized we had a language problem on our hands.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with projects—indeed, as marketers, we typically think in terms of projects—that word is loaded with connotations.
By their very nature, projects have a start date and an end date. They have a set budget and a project manager. They also typically have shifting resources, so someone may work on a project in addition to their day job.
With projects, the desired outcome is that you deliver them on time and under budget and within the scope.
And this is where words matter, where vocabulary becomes important.
We realized that calling what we were doing a project was really limiting our abilities.
To ease friction and get buy-in, we needed to reframe our marketing initiative.
So, we took a page from IT’s playbook.
IT talks about things in the context of products, not projects, which really changes the way everyone views them.
We reframed our ecommerce initiative as a product, and changing that one word made a huge difference.
We gave it a lifecycle, ongoing investment, and a dedicated team.
We started thinking in terms of continuous delivery. There would be no set end date—we would just keep improving the product to deliver the best possible online shopping experience for our customers.
While we didn’t actually change the way we were working, reframing it as a product really got people to rally around what we were doing.
We reset the mindset.
Approach 2: Create Fusion with an Ecommerce P&L
Next, we created a business around our ecommerce product, which was a little more controversial than our first approach.
Knowing we had a clear revenue goal, I decided I was going to own that number.
I would be measured based on whether I hit it—no different than a salesperson or a business leader needing to hit their financial targets.
We set quarterly operating plans for our ecommerce order growth and created a dedicated, cross-functional ecommerce team.
We operationalized our strategy and I ran the organization much like you would run a P&L, which established credibility with all of the other business leaders and teams.
It was exactly what we needed to get buy-in from key stakeholders in the company.
It Takes Trash Can Moments to Get to the Big Light Bulb
Over the ensuing months we successfully rebuilt our ecommerce platform as a product with a P&L.
We delivered a great tool and hit our growth targets, of which I was very proud.
But I was even more proud that we had been willing to experiment and that we had innovated to grow the business.
The fact that we were willing to take some risks was the greatest achievement.
We tried tactics that were fun along the way but wound up as failures, too.
One of them was running Friday flash sales, which seemed like a good idea—especially since they were working so well for retailers we were consulting.
We ran five or six of them and learned that our customers weren’t waiting around on a Friday afternoon to buy a circuit breaker at a reduced price. It’s not like selling shoes online.
For all of the similarities to B2C, B2B definitely is unique in many ways.
Generally speaking, B2B buyers expect a B2C experience, but you have to test certain tactics to discover what attracts and converts your customers.
I like to think of failures as trash can moments. You test a lot of things and the ones that fail wind up in the trash bin.
But you just keep trying and experimenting until you hit on your big light bulb moment—when you uncover the secret to your success.
Innovate and Lead the Way Forward
I’ll be the first to admit that it can be challenging to generate enthusiasm for products like circuit breakers, transformers, and switchgear.
They’re not the first products that come to mind when people think about buying online.
But with a little innovation and internal buy-in, you can create an ecommerce buying experience that appeals to your B2B customers, grows your business, and transforms your company into an industry leader.
Just remember two things:
- Language matters. It’s not a project; it’s a product.
- Create an actual business around your ecommerce strategy with P&L.
And reset your mindset.