When ‘Business Unusual’ Is The New Business As Usual
April 22, 2020
When business is going well, most of us don’t like to contemplate negative “what ifs.” Instead, we focus on the good times and how we can become even more profitable, or we try to make our days more efficient. Rarely do we dwell on all of the things that can go wrong, like fires, floods, or a pandemic like the one we are currently facing. But maybe we should — at least a little.
Not having a business continuity plan is one of the biggest risks your business can take. According to research, 20 percent of businesses experience a disaster in any given year, and 80 percent of those businesses will go under in just over a year. These upheavals can keep your call center reps and your salespeople — often your customers’ lifeline — out of the office. And so can less dire circumstances, such as strikes, holidays, and even an emergency in a different business unit.
We believe that an eCommerce website should be part of your business continuity plan. It can help your customers research products, make purchases, get support, and find account information any time of the day or night, even during a crisis. And it might even help you get ahead of competitors that are less prepared.
This blog post looks at four ways digital commerce supports business continuity during uncertain and challenging times.
Offer self-service account management
If you sell mostly to businesses, a few key accounts may represent 30 to 50 percent of your revenue and margin. It’s no surprise, then, that failing to serve those accounts can have serious consequences. That’s why disruptions to account management can be so dangerous to your business — and why self-service account management is an important complement to the strong interpersonal relationships that underpin your customer success.
An eCommerce website that delivers a great self-service experience means your customers can help themselves without having to contact a sales rep or the call center. Ideally, they should be able to visit your commerce website and:
• View order status
• Get a full view of all company spending – across buyers and departments
• Track their credit balance
• Access and download invoices
• Manage returns
• Pay bills
• Manage warranties
• Make updates to company buyers and what they can do on the site
In fact, a great self-service portal will improve your customer experience all the time and not just during a crisis. When customers are used to doing many tasks for themselves, service teams have more time to address serious issues and sales teams have more time for account strategy.
Provide product research and configuration on demand
A growing number of business buyers prefer to research products on their own. Already, 60 percent say they would rather not rely on sales reps as their primary information source, and 83 percent access digital channels even in the late purchasing stages, according to Forrester. Making sure customers can research your products online, then, is important to both business continuity and growth.
An eCommerce website with a wealth of product research options lets your customers get the data they need to make an informed decision, even if your offices are closed. At a minimum, your customers should be able to quickly find and navigate:
• Detailed product descriptions
• Multiple product images
• User reviews
• Diagrams and CAD drawings
• Usage instructions
However, product research is just the beginning. Online product configuration can empower your customers to do even more on their own. With the right tools, you can guide your customers through step-by-step configurations and automate some tasks normally handled by sales. Ideally, this process should be painless and quicker than a meeting.
After customers complete the configuration process online, a sales rep may be able to wrap up final details and confirm the order with a quick email or phone call. Both your customers and your sales teams save time, whether they’re in the midst of a crisis or just really busy.
Make it easy for customers to buy and reorder online
Forrester Research predicts that B2B digital commerce will hit $1.8 trillion by 2023. That figure will represent about 17 percent of all B2B sales, and it’s likely to grow as more digital natives become B2B buyers. Already, 73 percent of 20- to 35-year-olds help decide what to buy at their companies.
Most experts agree that making it easy for customers to buy online is good for future growth and business continuity. At a minimum, your eCommerce website should let customers buy with little to no help from sales. Features to look for include:
• Quick ordering: Customers should be able to reorder from previous orders, upload their desired SKUs, or choose products from prebuilt requisition lists. A growing number of businesses are allowing their customers to set up subscriptions and recurring orders.
• Custom quotes: For more complex products, customers should be able to request custom quotes from inside your commerce system. Once made, these quote requests should be instantly routed to sales staff, no matter where they’re working. Sales reps can then log in, view quote requests, negotiate with customers, and finalize deals — no travel required.
• Flexible fulfillment: Customers should be able to choose from a wide range of fulfillment options so they can get what they need, even during periods of regional or widespread disruption. For example, you could ship products from your fulfillment or distribution center or local retail location or offer “buy online, pick up in store” (BOPIS) service with curbside fulfillment.
• Amazon marketplaces: In challenging times, purchasing through Amazon often surges. We’ve seen this with the current pandemic. Having the ability to easily manage sales through this powerful channel allows you to meet customers where they are and capture incremental revenue.
Use data to manage your customer relationships and supply chain, even during a crisis
Disasters and upheavals can change quickly and have unpredictable effects. One of the best ways to ensure business continuity during fast-moving events is to use data captured from your online store. With commerce data and powerful business intelligence tools, you can gain real-time insights into the health of your customers and your business.
For example, you can look for big drops in spending to identify customers who may be hurting and perhaps needing greater flexibility in their payment or credit terms. Offering help in difficult times can build a foundation for a deeper long-term relationship after the crisis is over. Plus, it’s good for your bottom line because it costs less to retain an existing customer than to sell to a new one.
Business intelligence reporting on your digital commerce data can also help you understand how product demand is changing during unusual times. You may see that some of your top products fall off the radar, while others become hot items. This information can help you act quickly to secure or build the right mix of products for current conditions. It will also help you advise your customers on how to capitalize on market trends.
While nobody likes to dwell on the possibility of disaster, it’s better to be prepared. Making sure you can deliver a high-quality commerce experience online should be part of your business continuity plan, as well as your longer-term growth plan.
If you already have a great B2B eCommerce website in place, congratulations. You’re ahead of the game. But you still may want to look at complementary technologies like marketing and engagement automation that can nurture your customers even when marketing and sales staff are overextended.
We hope you’ll check out these business continuity and digital commerce resources and be ready for whatever’s next.
• Prep Your Business for Anything [ebook]
• A Better Way to Sell on Amazon [ebook]
• One Platform to Rule Them All: 5 Reasons to Go Hybrid with Your eCommerce Strategy [ebook]
• Learn more about Magento Commerce for B2B