12 Aug Why We Created the X eCommerce System
It all started with the statement “I don’t know what I don’t know.” The CEO of an industrial distributor said this to me a few years ago after a keynote address I gave to an association. He continued, “Listen, Justin—I believe what you’re saying. To survive, we must embrace digital and eCommerce in our business. However, we just don’t know where to start, what to do when, what technology to select, whom to hire, and how to manage this new channel.” This was the first of many times I would hear the phrase, “I don’t know what I don’t know.” That simple phrase started a quest to build a system to help distributors (and, more importantly, their owners) through their digital transformations.
I’ve seen businesses at all stages of digital development—from green screen order entry to sophisticated, highly customized eCommerce websites. What connects each business is a core challenge: your customers are expecting more and more online, and your organization needs to have a system in place to help meet that challenge. After working with over fifty distributors of all sizes, we developed a system called the X eCommerce System, or XES for short. This system has transformed how distributors understand and implement their digital business.
At B2X Partners, we talk about your digital experience in a simple term: the Digital Branch™. Like your brick-and-mortar branches, your Digital Branch requires planning, resources, technology, and products. Unlike your physical branches, your Digital Branch opens opportunities for optimization, analysis, and marketing that can be fast, responsive, and constantly forward moving. Beyond that, opening and driving your Digital Branch is critical for your business to stay relevant and competitive.
Here is where we’ve seen businesses struggle:
- A distributor decides to implement eCommerce. Its head of IT leads the project to build the website. The website is highly customized to its customers’ pricing and catalogs but is very hard to use. Adoption is low. Leadership concludes: “Maybe it works in other industries, but in ours, customers aren’t interested in buying online.”
- A distributor invests in driving its digital business. It hires a VP with a background in business-to-consumer (B2C) eCommerce. While initially enthusiastic, the new VP is quickly overwhelmed by the amount of new information needed to understand the business’s customers, services, and products. The VP answers leadership questions with jargon and evasion—and it takes eighteen months for the company to remove the individual. The company has lost eighteen months of developing its Digital Branch.
- A distributor invests in an eCommerce website. It launches the site to its customers and begins promoting it with online advertising, swag, and Six months after the launch, management learns that their lead salespeople are telling customers: “Sure, you can use our website to research, but just place orders with me—I can get you the best price.” Site adoption remains low.
- The head of marketing of a distribution company selects a software platform for the eCommerce site. The platform vendor sold the software on its functionality, user-friendliness, and modern bells and whistles. The platform never successfully integrated with the distributor’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. The website project stalled after two years and over $500,000 in cost.
- An eCommerce website launches. Everyone is thrilled with how the website functions and the fact that it is mobile friendly. However, after the effort of launch, no team is put in place to manage the site, so website content and product listings quickly become out of date.
From the outside, seeing these problems—and maybe even identifying solutions—is easy. Any huge digital undertaking will encounter stumbling blocks along the way, and we can’t promise that this book will remove those. But with a clear system in place, you can understand the mechanics of your Digital Branch business—quickly identify issues, challenges, and opportunities—so t3hat you can avoid some of the missteps we’ve seen before.
Distributor eCommerce is a complex business. You have complex products, complex technologies, and complex customers.
The X eCommerce System is about shining a light on your business, best practices, and opportunities so that you have the power to make fast, clear, and forward-thinking decisions to drive your Digital Branch. In describing this system, we break out the seven components critical to a successful Digital Branch. While it’s not easy, it is doable. More importantly, staying relevant and competitive in a world that is becoming more and more digital is necessary.
– Justin King, President of B2X Partners