Introduction to Building a B2B eCommerce Strategy

Introduction to Building a B2B eCommerce Strategy

If any of the following situations describes you and your business, it’s time to get proactive and develop/implement an eCommerce strategy:

Top 10 Reasons Why You Need an eCommerce Strategy

  • You feel like you’re spinning your wheels, directionless
  • Your customers are buying online and existing or start-up competitors are enjoying that business
  • Your website lacks a powerful online value proposition/identity
  • You approach eCommerce as simply a ‘technology thing’
  • Your business isn’t integrated; your digital platform operates in a silo
  • You feel like you’re spending real money but not gaining advantage
  • Your digital support team doesn’t have enough people/budget
  • You can’t answer the question ‘what’s next?’
  • You’re continually playing defense
  • You’re rationalizing success

If any of the above realities hits close to home for you, you’re not alone.  Many companies jumped on the eCommerce bandwagon with considerable enthusiasm during the last decade — with many eCommerce sites built, launched, and occasionally applauded for their cutting-edge presence — only to fall short of success due to inadequate planning.

In truth, even with a sound approach and the support of an increasingly loyal base of online-savvy consumers, the online channel still only represents a small percentage of overall revenue for many distributor businesses – perhaps less than 10% of sales in the next year.  However, a number of companies in the industry have made significant strides in the digital arena thanks to a robust online presence. Grainger, for example, has established itself at the forefront of eCommerce, generating $4 billion in online sales in 2015, which accounted for forty-one percent of total sales and an increase of thirteen percent from the previous year.[1]

The takeaway message?  As technology improves and customers expect (and become used to receiving) more from suppliers, a firm’s online presence must be enhanced in order for that firm to establish its site as superior to competitive sites, tap into its share of today’s growing eCommerce opportunities, and achieve its online revenue potential.

Overall, when a business wants to obtain significant results from an eCommerce site but the goal seems out of reach or the starting point is unclear, a targeted eCommerce strategy is the best place to start.


The Heart of the Matter

At its very base, a robust eCommerce strategy is a great way to help you differentiate your business from your competitors and provide customers with a viable and user-friendly way of buying from you in today’s increasingly digital age, as confirmed by the following well-known marketing mogul and entrepreneur:

“Make your product easier to buy than your competition, or you’ll find your customers buying from them, not you.”
— Billionaire investor and businessman Mark Cuban

Some basic questions apply when approaching and developing your online presence:

  • First, what is an eCommerce strategy? An eCommerce strategy is a written document that outlines a comprehensive plan to establish vision and objectives for your channel. Begin with a current state analysis to identify strengths, weaknesses, and capabilities.  These results are used to draft the goals and objectives that are aligned with actionable online tactics and to map out an attainable plan for making real online impact.
  • Then, do I really need an eCommerce strategy? The approach to establishing an eCommerce channel is comparable to the steps a company would take when opening a new branch or location – e.g., the process explores market trends and growth potential and results in the development of financial goals and an operation plan for the new location.  An online strategy provides a similar framework in order to keep organizations focused, secure appropriate stakeholder buy-in, establish how the initiative is resourced, and provide a way to measure success.

Not sure where to start?  We have a Done for You Starter Strategy.  Training, templates – everything you need to start your strategy.

Begin with these four fundamental analyses to gain insight into the current state of your business

  1. Site Review & Competitive Assessment
  2. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Analysis
  3. Analytics Audit
  4. Customer Interviews


Site Review & Competitive Assessment

Customers use an eCommerce site to do their job, so it’s important to examine methods that will enhance their efficiency and productivity and create a better overall experience than offered by the competition.  When a comprehensive user experience analysis is performed on an existing website, important comparisons can be made with competitive sites.  Look to leaders in the industry as well as out-of-category competitors to understand a broad range of tactics being used.

A site review and competitive assessment should answer the following questions:

  • Is it simple for a customer to register online?
  • Can a customer easily find products through an onsite search?
  • Does filtering make a product search more efficient?
  • What kind of product information is available without logging in?
  • Does product information include detailed specifications and quality images?
  • Is the overall look and feel of the site current and inviting?
  • Are robust self-service tools available in My Account?
  • Is the site mobile-friendly?
  • What incentives encourage a customer to return?


SEO Analysis

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a powerful marketing tool. When used well, SEO is an effective method for enhancing a company’s online visibility by influencing the way a search engine ranks the site.  Businesses should focus on ensuring products that are unique to them or represent strengths in their product mix are easily found by customers using search engines. A comprehensive SEO analysis conducted on an existing site and on multiple competitive sites will help identify opportunities for improvement.

 A SEO analysis should examine the following issues:

  • Keywords — What keywords are important to your business? Where does your site rank for those specific keywords? Where do your competitors rank with the use of those same keywords?
  • URL Structure — Is your URL structured correctly? Are keywords in the URLs?
  • Page Content — Do pages offer unique content on a specific topic? Are keywords included?  How well are your product pages optimized?
  • Tags — How well are H1 tags and meta descriptions working with page content? Are images properly tagged?
  • Site Performance – What’s the page load time on your site, including mobile?


Analytics Audit

A properly-configured site will generate a wealth of data that will help companies understand customer behavior and sell more product.  Web analytics provide invaluable insight into how customers search, navigate, and use an eCommerce site and an audit can identify areas where a company can influence customer behavior.

 An analytics audit should answer the following questions:

  • How are customers finding your site?
  • How engaged are customers when they reach the site? Are they going to your category and product detail pages?
  • Do customers return to the site? How often?
  • Where do customers drop off? Is there a specific area in checkout where customers frequently abandon their transaction?
  • How do customers find products? How well is onsite search performing?


Customer Interviews

With so many online providers competing for a consumer’s business today, it’s important to understand why a customer chooses to do business with a specific company. Towards that end, communicating with customers directly can be a more personal and highly-effective way to gain valuable feedback on user experience.  Engage with clients to understand the biggest obstacles they face when using the site and determine what part of the experience customers enjoy and/or what facets they appreciate most about competitive sites. Overall, direct feedback can help a business gather valuable first-hand insight that can be applied to improvement in customer experience.

Seek to answer the following questions from customers:

  • How do they typically buy from you?
  • Do they buy online very often? If not, why?
  • What challenges do they face when attempting to buy products online?
  • In what ways could your company make the buying process easier for them?
  • How do they typically conduct a search for a product?
  • What type of product information do they need?
  • What other sites do they use to conduct business?



After all analyses are complete, the acquired information can be used to align strategic objectives and tactics to address gaps that were uncovered.

Fundamental components of an effective strategy include the following:

  • Define clear goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) for the online channel and identify tactics to help reach those goals. Outline KPIs around traffic, engagement, and conversion to understand how new marketing efforts and site updates are impacting the business.
  • Keep the customer in mind. Answer questions like ‘how can we get more customers to register on our site?’  ‘How can we keep our customers coming back to order online?’  ‘What can we do to make the online experience seamless?’
  • Identify quick hits that will make an immediate impact in your online presence and which should be executed right away. In the same way, identify tactics that take more time to implement and use a phased approach for their implementation process.
  • Determine if your organization is in a position to execute this strategy on its own. If not, determine the best way to leverage outside help.
  • Examine whether your current eCommerce platform can support your goals. Is it as simple as making changes to a current site or is it necessary to completely redesign the site and add substantial new functionality?

An eCommerce strategy is the foundation required for an online channel to achieve positive results.  It aligns an organization around a clear vision, outlines a specific roadmap to meet objectives, and establishes the definition of success.  Don’t waste time deliberating what course of action will get you results; rather, begin constructing an eCommerce strategy that can be utilized as a roadmap to online success.

Key Takeaways

  • Don’t wait — investment in an online channel can pay off in a big way, so start now
  • Investigate competitive sites, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and learn from them
  • Stay focused on the needs of the customer, because they’re the heart and soul of your business
  • Avoid getting overwhelmed by identifying/prioritizing quick hits vs. long-term tactics
  • Stay focused by establishing clear-cut goals from the beginning


Start by Asking

  • How does our website compare to our competitors’ sites?
  • Are we meeting our customer’s needs?
  • Do we have enough internal support to develop and maintain an online strategy? How can I leverage external support?
  • What’s the best way to make an immediate impact?
  • Have we established the proper timeframe for completion of the strategy?