The unprecedented global event of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many enterprises across the globe to fast-track their digital transformation. CXOs and executives irrespective of industry verticals are planning to take up or have already embarked on this strategic initiative. Their common goal: to gain competitive advantages over the competition, provide better products and services to their customers, and improve the overall customer experience (CX). Digital commerce has been a top priority for organizations with digital transformation agendas, as digital commerce can drive the top line and significantly reduce the operating cost to increase the bottom line as well.
B2B organizations are no exception. Many B2B organizations have been forced to go digital. Along with the traditional sales channel, many B2B organizations are enabling digital commerce channels as well. As per Forrester, today around 42% of total global B2B transactions are made through digital channels – 18% through self-service eCommerce and 24% through rep-assisted eCommerce.
However, not every digital commerce transformation delivers the intended results. In fact, as per McKinsey, around 70% of transformations fail. B2B organizations face one, or more of these common challenges during their digital commerce transformation initiatives:
- Traditional vs digital channel
- Complex and disconnected technology stacks
- Acute shortage of right digital talents
In order for B2B organizations to overcome these challenges and achieve their intended business objectives, let’s take a closer look at these hurdles and analyze the best way to handle them.
1. Traditional vs Digital Channel
Traditionally, B2B organizations depend on their well-oiled machinery of ground salesforce, dealer, and distributor channels for sales. Thanks to a robust supply chain and this traditional sales channel B2B organizations have achieved significant sales growth in the past. But the times have changed. The pandemic has disrupted the global supply chain (both in-bound and out-bound). It has also made it difficult for the salesforce to travel (due to travel restrictions) and meet the prospects or customers physically in order to convince them of their complex offerings. Adding to that challenge was the lack of any B2B digital channel which completely caught many B2B sellersacross various industry sectors off guard and forced them to consider digital channels.
However, many sales leaders still perceive digital commerce channels as a competitor for the traditional sales channel. Instead sales leaders should understand the importance of a B2B digital channel and learn to leverage it to augment the traditional channel by taking care of the day-to-day operational tasks. Whereas the ground salesforce can focus on the more strategic tasks of maintaining and growing accounts, relationship building, up-selling, and cross-selling offerings. At the same time, the digital channel must empower B2B buyers to perform self-service functions such as product browsing, placing orders, tracking orders, account management, etc.
Resolution: B2B organizations must select a B2B-first commerce platform capable of handling the complex, multi-stakeholder workflow needed in B2B use cases. Also, the platform must offer strong account and user management as well as workflow management capabilities to map and manage complex B2B organizations and their layered buying centers. Native functionalities such as sales representative support always prove to be an added advantage that equips the B2B sellers to manage their workforce effectively. This way, sales agents/representatives can have a quick overview of their customers and their activities via the eCommerce platform so that the sales agents can assist the customers easily. In addition, the sales agents can view relevant information about the products and services so that they can increase sales and support customer needs. The sales agents can review and approve new account registration requests, access the administrative view of orders, etc.
2. Complex and Disconnected Technology Stacks
As business continues to grow, organizations tend to add multiple applications to their technology stack in order to automate various business processes. Also, adding new technologies and innovations is perceived as a way to make themselves future resilient. This results in a very diverse application portfolio and an inconsistent, disconnected customer experience. We have observed that many B2B organizations fall into this category and often suffer from convoluted, disjoined technology stacks as well as complex business processes. According to Forrester, the number one technical challenge facing digital experience leaders is inadequate integration with back-end systems.
Resolution: As the key objective of any digital transformation is to provide an integrated, seamless, and consistent customer experience, B2B organizations must focus on how to select a suitable digital commerce platform that can work with existing disjointed systems. The selected platform must create a solid foundation for digital transformation that enables digital agility for future needs by bringing everything onto one platform. The platform must be technology-agnostic and should not only provide enterprise-grade integration capabilities to connect with a variety of external and backend systems but also varying degrees of integration options to work on top of a disjointed backend stack.
3. Acute Shortage of Right Digital Talents
The sudden spike in the number of transformative projects (of various sizes) across the globe has created a big vacuum for digital talents. Emerging digital technologies across the value chain are evolving and maturing so quickly that it is difficult to hire, train and retain talents. Businesses looking at following a composable architecture feel this pain in particular as they require quite a broad range of skills to handle multiple diverse sets of technologies. All these have resulted in an acute market shortage of talents with the right digital skills. But without the right team, it is impossible to execute a digital commerce transformation initiative successfully.
Resolution: B2B organizations should choose an enterprise-grade commerce platform with a highly flexible technology stack and easy customizability. The platform must provide capabilities to reuse components, easy integration with legacy systems, and easy customization capabilities through extensions as well as minimize the development efforts for implementation. In addition, the platform should provide the necessary tools for business users to make required updates and changes easily, freeing up the bandwidth of the development team. A platform built on open-source technology with a large backing of very active community members and a robust SI network over the geography can provide the right resource from the market without any vendor lock-in, which is an essential component for successful digital transformation.
Digital transformation is a continuous journey. As customer needs and expectations shift, enterprises must be agile and willing to evolve their business accordingly. Yes, technology will play a significant role. B2B organizations must choose the right digital platform, a platform built for their special and complex needs along with a future-proof, well-guided strategy, the necessary tools, and a unified team to navigate through this transformational journey.