What's Your Game Plan?

This article first appeared in the November/December issue of Industrial Distribution. To view it in the original format, please click here.

Being that it's football season, the phrase "game plan" usually evokes thoughts of my beloved Green Bay Packers — so you can bet I needed a good reason to spend last week in Chicago Bears country.

Luckily, the inaugural Game Plan conference – the brain child of tech leaders like hybris, SAP, Accenture, and others – provided that incentive. The Game Plan educational docket featured acclaimed business visionaries, thought-leaders, industry analysts, and leaders from the most successful B2B companies, discussing how B2B ecommerce is changing — and what to do about it.

Game Plan’s content was progressive in the sense that it focused on one of the key challenges facing B2B organizations. And I have to say, the content of the presentations raised almost as many questions as it did answers.

One of the big ones: as your customer base begins to move online, what is your game plan? If you think you don't need one, the conference provided some compelling reasons for you to reconsider. For example — for many in B2B, their businesses were built on relationship selling. But the time for viewing internet procurement as an 'it can't happen to me' scenario is no longer viable. Here's why: According to key research presented by Acquity Group at the conference –
• 40 percent of corporate buyers spend at least half of their procurement budget online.
• 63 percent of buyers ages 18 to 35 have purchased from AmazonSupply.

Another stat, posited by Andy Hoar of Forrester Research, says that nearly 70 percent of B2B companies say they will cease to print a catalog sometime in the next five years. Add to this that Forrester says twice as many companies believe their B2B online channel will grow faster than their B2B offline channel, and we could be looking at a dramatically different landscape for sellers, and much sooner than we think.

I promise I’m not presenting this data in an effort to scare you, but I do think it’s important to stop looking at our individual businesses as uniquely excluded from the rapid change that’s occurring on the digital side. Granted, maybe your customer base is only lukewarm about the internet right now, but it’s not a good enough reason for inaction — especially when you consider the turnover facing many industrial enterprises. There is risk in waiting for a new generation to take over procurement before you act. Without a game plan, you may leave these potential customers knowing no other, more efficient way of ordering product than through online suppliers who already offer ease-of-use and rapid fulfillment.

If there is one thing the presenters at Game Plan agreed on, it's that the time to invest in a world class customer experience is now — and inaction is tantamount to leaving money on the table. But the good thing is, if your ecommerce strategy needs some fine-tuning, you're not alone. According to a recent hybris-commissioned study of 52 motors & power transmission distributors, "50 had functioning websites. The ease at which users could navigate and utilize these sites was varied, however, and many had no ecommerce functionality."

So instead of looking at this as a business challenge, perhaps you should be looking at it as an opportunity to get a leg up on your competition. It's hard to win without a plan — so I'd suggest you get off the bench and get moving.

Anna Wells can be reached at anna.wells@advantagemedia.com