A Service First, Sales Second Approach to B2b E-Commerce
There has been a lot of industry conversation about making the B2B e-Commerce experience more like B2C. Most B2C sites are naturally focused on selling - making sure customers can find the right products and easily place an order - but B2B sites frequently need to deal with more complexity and offer a wider breadth of services than a basic order entry system. At Fender, I wanted to expand the focus of B2B e-Commerce to be anything that could make it easier for our global network of dealers and distributors to run their businesses. This has led to a ‘service first, commerce second’ approach that provides access to all the product information and ordering capability our users are looking for, but also includes a suite of tools and services they can use for their day to day business operations.
To identify these features, it is important to recognize and understand how the needs of your B2B customers are different. By investing this time up front to research and provide these customer service-oriented components first, you are already providing your users a compelling reason to visit your site. What are the elements you can provide that help you stand out from your competitors? Can you analyze their inventory to propose how to fill gaps of trending items, or make recommendations on how to increase inventory turns? With a core framework in place and users already intrigued by your offering, then you can deliver on the “price of entry” features like 24x7 self-service access, availability from any device they choose, access to the same product information and images which are available to consumers, verification of their final contract pricing, and an easy path to order entry.
For us, the challenge is less around how to write the logic, but more on how to visualize and render the final product for the customer
To accomplish this at Fender, we chose to custom-build a new B2B e-Commerce site by taking a microservices approach which allows us the flexibility to scale globally, reuse components, and customize features as needed. We used this framework to enable each user to personalize the experience to meet their needs – whether that is for our external customers or our internal employees. We took into consideration that our dealers have different needs by region, and different jobs inside a store, so our site is designed to be as flexible and scalable as possible. Thus, not only can a user choose their language and regional settings, but they can configure the layout of the different modules to prioritize the features they use most often. So the finance person can prioritize open invoices and credit status, the buyer can easily copy/paste a bulk order, and the clerk out on the floor can easily lookup product information or search for a serial number.
Beyond orders and sales, the B2B platform can be used to enable many additional value-add services. For Fender, that meant building a portal for dealers to leverage so that it would improve their business productivity through immediate access to information they need to communicate with their own customers. Information such as real-time inventory availability, serial number look-up, product details, marketing support materials, and more. In addition, providing access to rich and comprehensive product images and content helps them determine which products they want to buy, and allows them to download the assets to reuse in their own stores or on their own websites for their marketing purposes.
Another service to consider is enabling custom or built-to-order products online. While some might say this is too complex to have on a B2B site, I believe it can, and should, be done to provide an exceptional customer experience. Giving end-users the ability to configure components yields a sticky site as users are wanting to experiment with the different options available to them. At Fender, we are still exploring this functionality and we are very excited about the possibilities. For us, the challenge is less around how to write the logic, but more on how to visualize and render the final product for the customer. Having the final image rendering would provide a richer experience.
Finally, while the main driver for your B2B e-Commerce system is probably your customers, don’t overlook the importance of what the platform can offer your internal employees to support their daily activities, especially as the roles of sales and customer service are evolving. The B2B platform should free up time from some activities like re-entering phone or paper-orders and instead enable high value activities like introducing new products, relationship building, and supporting sell-through. This allows sales and customer service to become trusted advisors and strategic partners which cultivates brand loyalty and increased revenue.
The dealer portal helps us to stay ahead of our competitors by using cutting-edge technology platforms in an industry where technology takes a back seat to the art. This can be challenging but pushing forward on the newest technologies enables us and our customers to progress and adapt quickly. With the first phases of our B2B journey now complete, we are turning to the roadmap for improving the core functionality and developing new features based on feedback that we continue to collect from our users. By continually delivering requested updates, we are showing that customer feedback is paramount, and our commitment is to invest for the future, both for Fender and for our global dealers.
So far, my favorite feedback quote from one of our dealers has been “Overall, you have created something outstanding. My comments are picky. I use your site every day and I really enjoy the quick customer service. Thank you for making it easy for us.”That pretty much says it all doesn’t it?