B2B e-commerce is huge – and continues to grow. According to data from Statista, manufacturing and merchant wholesale revenue in the U.S. in 2016 amounted to $5.79 trillion dollars in B2B e-commerce sales – growing at an average rate of about 200% per year for the previous 10 years.
The reason for the growth is easy to identify: research has shown 93% of business customers prefer to buy online when they’ve decided what to buy and simply need to make a purchase (Forrester, Death of a (B2B) Salesman).
In addition to allowing people to easily purchase products, the benefits of a well-designed e-commerce website also include an increase in the average dollar amount of purchases, as well as purchase frequency.
Despite these benefits, however, the path to e-commerce implementation can be tough – especially with regard to overcoming internal objections.
The three most common objections we hear are:
1. “Our sales process is too complicated and no e-commerce system can handle it.”
2. “We’re going to lose customers.”
3. “Our sales people will hate it.”
Let’s look at each one.
Objection #1: “Our sales process is too complicated.”
A manufacturer makes replacement parts, widgets, consumables, etc. and sells directly to end-users as well as through distributors.
Pricing is based on various choices (color, size, volume, etc.) and parts are shipped domestically and internationally from various locations.
“No e-commerce system can handle the dozens of scenarios with our sales process,” a sales VP might say.
A robust e-commerce system can handle these scenarios plus many others.
Buying wizards – tools or widgets within the e-commerce platform – can be configured to help online customers choose the right product by asking the same questions your sales team asks over the phone.
Specific rules can dictate that if a customer in Territory 1 is ordering 100 widget Xs to be shipped to their plant in Territory 2, then the parts need to be shipped from location A by a specific date.
The key to making the system work seamlessly is to spend the time with sales personnel – many of whom have a great deal of tribal knowledge in their heads – to map out the various processes and rules before beginning the e-commerce implementation.
Objection #2: We’re going to lose customers.”
Many companies believe that having someone answer all incoming calls is what sets them apart – especially when it comes to sales.
For family-owned manufacturers, “high touch” customer service has been baked in.
Old school owners and salespeople are often on a first-name basis with their contacts and pride themselves on providing personal service – because this is what keeps people loyal and coming back.
For this reason, moving to a “faceless” online ordering system can bring up fears of losing customers, since salespeople won’t have that constant touch.
The benefits of e-commerce, however, often outweigh this fear.
The in-coming generation of people within purchasing, sales, and procurement are used to doing things online versus over the phone (and often prefer to do so).
It’s 9:00 PM, for example, and the customer had to leave work early to attend a child’s school activity, and is now catching up on work.
If the customer has to call the supplier to place an order, he or she will have to wait until the next day to conduct business – or place the order with a competitor.
It’s not that the customer doesn’t value the relationship, it’s simply that making the decision to place an order online is far easier than waiting until the next day to call it in.
By ordering online, from the competitor, the customer completes the task and moves on to the next thing without having to remember to place the call the next day.
The research, by the way, backs up this scenario.
According to the Forrester report, “68% of buyers prefer doing business online versus with a salesperson, and when they engage with sales, they want that experience to be in a more problem-solving, consultative manner.”
Objection #3: “My sales people will hate it.”
For salespeople, the most common fear regarding e-commerce is that they’ll lose sales commissions.
Salespeople often look at an e-commerce system as competition. If a salesperson works on a deal, but then the order is placed online, why should the company pay sales commission?
In reality, a robust e-commerce platform, with an integrated CRM, is the manufacturing owner’s and salesperson’s friend. Consider the following scenarios.
Sales accountability – With a CRM in place, owners can see which salespeople have been hustling and/or which accounts have been languishing. If a sales person hasn’t spoken with an account in over six months, and then an order is placed online, the owner can make the case that no commission is due.
Conversely, if the salesperson has been in contact with the customer who places a large order, and has been keeping the CRM updated with regard to sales calls, emails, etc., this history is easily viewable by both owner and salesperson.
Customer tracking – When a salesperson puts together an RFQ using a PDF or print catalog, he or she has no clue if the customer is interested in the product because it’s next to impossible to track website visits.
With an e-commerce and integrated CRM platform, salespeople can provide RFQs through the system and then track whether the customer visits the website and/or views other products. The system can include rules about abandoned shopping carts, too.
For example, a customer places 100 units of a specific SKU in the shopping cart but doesn’t complete the purchase. Sales can call the customer to say, “We have a deal on this product,” in order to help close the sale.
Relationship building – When salespeople are tied up taking orders by phone, they’re not free to resolve customers’ special requests or urgent issues (e.g. customization, shipping/routing, or other issue).
By allowing customers to place orders online, an e-commerce system frees salespeople to focus on high-value relationship building activities – including solving problems and re-activating languishing accounts.