You Need eCommerce, Now What?
by Kris Harrington
If you are grappling with this question, you are not alone. We’ve met successful manufacturers and dealers over the years who have been exactly where you are. And hey, with the acceleration of eCommerce taking place across industries it can be difficult to understand where to begin. Have confidence, you made the most important first decision, which is recognizing the change in buying behavior and the need for business transformation.
Using the word transformation can be a bit daunting. Afterall, the dictionary defines transformation as a dramatic change in form or appearance. Is that really what we are talking about here? Well, to be frank, yes. If you want to do it right. If you want to satisfy existing customers and draw in new customers. If you want your organization and brand to be relevant in the future. Yes, you need a dramatic change. But here’s the good news, you don’t have to bite off the entire transformation at one time. Digital transformation is a journey, one that you will likely be on continuously.
At the start of your journey it is best to break down the transformation into phases. We often refer to these phases as taking a crawl/walk/run approach. Let’s briefly explore each.
In the crawl phase, your primary goal is to stand up an intuitive eCommerce website that enables customers to seamlessly buy from you online. The entire focus is on the customer. How can you make their job easier? How can you help ease the quote and order process with your company?
In this phase you use the 80/20 rule to focus your efforts on product and customer data related to the 20% that are making up 80% of your business. Why start here? This is likely where you have the most information about your products and customers and presumably where you have the most robust inventory processes in place. Focus your energy on high-quality product data including basic specifications, detailed product descriptions, organized categorization with clean and professional images. This will satisfy the needs of the majority of your customers as you launch your website, and it will free up resources internally to start working on the data and information needed for the next 20%.
In our experience, crawl is the fastest way to get an eStore up and running. Depending on the number of divisions and varying global locations, the average time to launch is 2 to 6 months. By avoiding the backend integrations the team stays focused on key data and the customer experience for a successful initial launch.
Once you’ve completed the crawl phase, your business is already starting to transform. Orders are coming in online, customer adoption is growing and internal users are experiencing the benefits as the website is removing some of the daily routine tasks. Now it is time to boost internal efficiencies by investing in the backend integrations, primarily integration to the ERP.
In the walk phase, we map the ERP and eStore integration points to enable real time calls for price, availability, quote and order creation. No more need for manual data uploads to keep the eStore and the ERP in sync. After completion of this activity, orders coming from the eStore are no longer keyed by customer service reps, but rather flow through the integration endpoints so that everything in the eStore and the ERP match. Your customers can now access quote and order history, line order status, shipment and tracking information for both quotes and orders created online or offline.
With these new features turned on, customers who’ve adopted your website are now seeing valuable enhancements made to the eStore and user satisfaction is increasing. Depending on the number of ERPs requiring integration, the integration phase averages anywhere from 2 to 6 months. During all of this transition, automation has freed up human resources to continue the iterative process of managing and refining product data. With website analytics tools, like those included with EQUIP (GenAlpha’s eCommerce solution), resources can turn to data analysis to support better business decisions around price, availability and product marketing.
After your eStore has completed the walk stage you will find that customers are finding greater value with your tools, leading to more online conversions and efficiencies have been gained throughout the selling process (both internal and external). This creates space to allocate resources to expansion of the online sales channel.
In the run phase, we start exploring all the ways you can maximize your online presence to generate increased interest for your products, drive more traffic and convert more business online. The run phase is iterative and typically is not a single event but rather a number of small enhancements that continue to bring value to both customers and your bottom line. The idea here is continuous product improvement.
Many GenAlpha customers in this phase will convert 2D/3D engineering files along with product bills of material to interactive digital catalogs so that customers can search for the exact products they own. Continually enhancing data and making it easier for customers to identify exactly what they need is a key part of this phase. Turning on live chat and email marketing often happens in this phase as well. Live chat enables you to meet customers where they are rather than having them leave a website when they cannot find the answers they are looking for. Email marketing triggers abandoned cart emails and gives you an opportunity to run promotional campaigns. With these enhancements and all the new data being tracked by analytics, your business now has multiple touchpoints with customers and data to continue to refine your sales approach and increase sales.
After completion of the crawl, walk, run approach, your business has been transformed into a digital sales channel that will generate revenue for years to come. The transition to eCommerce is a journey, and just like any sales channel, it needs to be continually nurtured and analyzed to ensure you are both delighting your customers and getting a positive business return. Many customers we work with today launch their site using the walk approach, as they are looking for both driving revenue and gaining internal efficiencies. The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to do everything at once and most vendors are ready to meet you exactly where you are.