Customer Insights for the SAP B2B ecommerce Community

Written September 27th, 2010 by
Categories: CEO's Blog
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A little over two years ago, b2b2dot0’s SAP B2B ecommerce service was christened with a single order for 685 products valued at $9490.85.  Since then we’ve grown to 13 B2B ecommerce websites and 10,000 registered users who have:

  • entered 100,000 orders valued at $185M
  • purchased 5.5 million products
  • executed 167,000 business goals (place order, check status, reprint invoice etc.)

Along the way we’ve learned an awful lot about what it takes to implement and support this level of ecommerce activity.  On the occasion of this second anniversary of that first order, I’d like to share some of our more important, and hopefully useful, insights with the community.

I’ve picked many of these items because at one time or another, people that we’ve spoken to thanked us for pointing them out to them.  I’ll organize them by things we’ve learned about Customers, Project Management & Operations.  Today’s post will focus on the Customer (because they do come first!).

Customers aren’t created equal.

  • They have varying roles and privileges.  For example, some of your customers aren’t allowed to see discounts (pricing conditions), while others should only be able to work with invoices. In fact, some don’t want to place orders at all, they just want to track them.
  • They have different usage patterns. You have power users that visit your website daily and casual users that show up infrequently.  Usability features that you implement for the power user befuddle the casual user and features that you implement for the casual user will probably annoy the power user.
  • They have different comfort levels with the web. Some of your customers love exploring new features on your website and others get stuck doing things the first (inefficient) way they learned to get the job done.
  • They speak different languages.  While English is universal, it isn’t the only language in the world that people enjoy doing business in.

The challenge is to be very explicit about what your customers look like and to cater to them as required.

Customers can handle the truth.

  • Real data in real time builds trust.  What do you have in stock?  What is my price?  When will I receive it?  What happened to the order I placed last week?
    While you may not be able to answer these questions perfectly when you
    launch your B2B ecommerce initiative, your goal needs to be to converge
    on providing this level of information as quickly as possible.
  • Trust leads to repeat usage.  If website users have to make additional calls to Customer Services to get the information they need to manage their business, they won’t be coming back to your website any time soon.
  • If you’re not able to provide this level of information, let them know why and what to expect in the interim.

Make it easy to communicate with you.

  • Surveys.  We’ve collected over 200 survey responses.  Some of them provided positive reinforcement for our efforts.  Other surveys pointed us in the direction of improving our training and education.  We’ve also received great ideas and reinforcement for our product road-map.
  • Issue tracking.  Real time integration with an issue tracking system is a very cost efficient way to manage the more time sensitive interaction with customers.   Besides, if you’re training your customer to go to the web to transact business with you, you should make every effort to have your website become a “one stop shop” for all interactions.  Some customers would prefer not to talk to you at all.

Form a Customer Advisory Group

  • This is probably the single most important thing you can do. I’ll discuss it more when I write about our Project Management lessons.
  • They will help you plan, test and refine your B2B ecommerce website.

B2B users by day are B2C users by night.

  • “B2C-like” usability is infiltrating the B2B experience.  Customers expect a simple and information rich experience when they come to your website.
  • There is a growing reliance on product information during the purchasing experience. Descriptions inform product selection while images can confirm them.  It won’t be long before reviews and ratings will also infiltrate the B2B purchasing process.

Change is difficult.

  • Your customers are used to doing business with you in a certain way.  Letting go of emails and phone calls might be hard for some and impossible for others.  Think about incentives, marketing, training and positive reinforcements to make the transition easier.  Of course the most effective approach we’ve seen has been the “mandate”.  But not all of our clients have been able to pull that one off in the competitive marketplaces that they operate in.
  • Almost 30% of our registered users require significant prodding to adopt the B2B internet channel.  Just because you built it, there is no guarantee that they will come to it.

My next installment in this series will focus on the Project Management lessons we’ve learned along the way to implementing our 13 SAP B2B ecommerce websites in 10 different countries around the world.

Sam

(from Prague, Czech Republic)