Getting Your Customers To Go Online

If there’s such obvious value in getting customers to interact with your business online, why are so many companies, B2B in particular, still operating in person and over the phone? Frankly, betting on past analog strategies to support a company in the current and future digital market virtually guarantees failure along the lines of Blockbuster, Borders, Circuit City, CompUSA, and others.

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If there’s such obvious value in getting customers to interact with your business online, why are so many companies, B2B in particular, still operating in person and over the phone? Maybe they’ve cornered a market. Maybe they deal in highly-specialized products. Or maybe they have long-standing client relationships with customers uninterested in digital engagement. But frankly, betting on past analog strategies to support a company in the current and future digital market virtually guarantees failure along the lines of Blockbuster, Borders, Circuit City, CompUSA and others.

Fortunately, B2B C-Suite thinking is evolving. Acquity Group’s 2013 study on the purchasing habits of over 200 corporate buyers revealed 40 percent of current buyers spend at least half of their procurement budget online. And even if making an online purchase isn’t viable (at least not today), customers can still be very well served by an online experience. 3D rotation models, blueprints, configurations, warranty tracking, asset and depreciation tracking, order status checking, spend reports, material standard data sheets and how-to videos are just a few of the capabilities that can be rendered digitally to deepen the customer relationship.

So, whatever your business case to advance your online presence — whether to merchandise and market, cross-sell and upsell, lower costs of everyday non-selling transactions, extend brand value and recognition or simply to heighten switching costs and create stickiness — what do you do now?

Sell the case for your online experience internally

Almost immediately, you need to appreciate internal change management. While technology is hard and getting the right customer experience is harder, organizational change management is the hardest and most often overlooked aspect of digital transformation.

First, it’s imperative that you communicate this transformation is not a downsizing initiative. In fact it’s just the opposite. Giving your customers the 24/7 ability to check order status, update shipping addresses and access old invoices is a means to significantly reduce call volume, serve more customers, generate more revenue and elevate existing employees to positions as true advisors, service reps and sales prospectors instead of simply taking and checking orders.

With a new structure in place, you can target smaller clients through email and search engine marketing. Your call center workforce can target mid-size clients with service and support. And your field sales force is freed up to land and service big accounts.

But how do I build out my web experience?

The benchmark for your company is what your customers want and expect of you. Understand that copying a competitor’s model is a surefire way to unearth a never-ending list of ways you’re deficient. Start your web presence with a very good look at the where you’re going, not where your competition has been.

What do customers want the most from you? What are the top five reasons people call? Invoices? Data sheets? Product information? Order status? Your current call center rep might be able to handle these requests in a flash, but if you make them available online, customers will soon click instead of call and your call center reps will have time to serve and sell.

You can take these insights to your IT organization to drive a next-generation experience online whether you choose to develop it internally or license a state-of-the-art software package and implement it with our without external consulting support.

This is not Field of Dreams

Once you’ve built your online experience, how do you get your customers to use it? Buyers new and old won’t come to your site just because it’s there. Even though you may have transitioned everything they used to call in for online, you need to think of your online experience as a product itself that you need to sell.

Of course, selling your site is easier if it’s engaging, assuring and comfortable. In addition, there are a number of incentives you can employ as well, like making sure your best prices are available online (not necessarily better prices, but your best), incentivizing through daily special, and perhaps establishing features (like those cited earlier) that you make only available online or are available much faster online and available 24/7.

Get the word out through hold messaging emails, and instructing your current call center representatives to direct callers online first for future transactions. You should also make sure your sales representatives can demonstrate how to use your site (via desktop or tablet) when they meet with clients.

But before your current staff is trained to drive customers online, you need to make sure they’re recognized for their part in laying the groundwork for the company’s future success. Include recognition programs that identify reps and leadership based on online customer activity. Give awards to regions with the most increased percentage of online use. And never underestimate the power of a plaque.

If you don’t enhance your web experience, you’re falling behind

More than 25 percent of corporate buyers expect to increase online purchasing next year. If you don’t focus on your online experience for your company in your market to generate better customer service for your customers,  it’s only a matter of time before current and would-be customers begin to associate with a competitor (one you may not even see coming) that provides them more or faster features than they can get from you over the phone or face to face.


As Senior Vice President at Acquity Group, Bob leads Acquity Group's national Technology Services Practice. The practice provides strategy, planning, leadership and consulting in multi-channel multi-touchpoint eBusiness re-platforming, re-engineering and re-structuring. Learn more about the company at www.acquitygroup.com.

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