Question: when is a website not a website? Answer: when it becomes the company’s operations hub. In this 5th segment of the Myth Busters series, we explain the continuum of websites – from informational sites to higher-value portals. And we explain why your website can become your company’s most valued asset alongside your employees.
Are You Asking the Right Question?
However digitally mature you are, you’ve had this discussion at your company: what value does our website provide? Sometimes the answer is supported by hard financial metrics like ecommerce sales and cost-to-serve expense reductions. Other times the answer lies in softer metrics like customer preferences or brand-building content. But a better question to ask is this: how can the website digitally power your organization? It’s a subtle shift but gets to the true value of your website for your company and customers.
Three Stages of Website Maturity and Value
In the first stage of website maturity, a B2B company has a “digital face” that is primarily used for external (and/or internal) communications. This beginner stage allows B2B companies to participate in digital experiences, but only minimally. The company website may be simple, containing details about the company, contact information, and product categories. This type of website might even include product information (such as part numbers and product descriptions) as well as downloadable content (like MSDS - materials safety data sheets) and FAQs. The website provides the basics and offers access to the company. But this limited stage might be holding companies back from net-positive situations - like digital commerce with buyers and collaboration with internal team members.
So, companies start talks about the value of website upgrades. In stage two, the website becomes a “commerce hub.” It not only drives revenue (e.g., ecommerce,) but it also connects internal teams (e.g. product/marketing/sales) who need to solve problems in real time for digitally-savvy customers. In this stage, digital commerce eases ordering burdens such as purchase order approvals and making e-payments. The detailed product catalog includes more product information (like detailed specifications, connected assortments, and 360˚ panoramic views.) The account management function becomes more integrated digitally: customers can save Bills of Lading (BOLs), check invoices, and track shipments in addition to ordering. At this stage the value of the website is more clearly seen, and customer satisfaction rates typically improve dramatically.
Some B2B companies never migrate to the third stage due to investment hurdles or an unclear business imperative for making the digital transformation. Sometimes the competitive advantage isn’t apparent. Other times a preference for time-honored traditions (i.e. change management fears) can inhibit progress. But companies that graduate to stage three often realize more dramatic success in sales and cost-savings.
The third stage can be referred to as “connected commerce”, since the website becomes a hub of activity that is then connected to other outside systems. With adequate cybersecurity, the website elevates to a tool that can handle transactions as well as connected smart systems to improve experiences. Examples include product recommenders, smart search (using AI), and configure-price-quote (CPQ) automation that enhance product information catalogs. Other connected systems include marketplaces or punchout that expand the reach of your website into higher traffic digital sales arenas than your commerce website alone. Connected commerce may also offer advanced process management like vendor managed inventory or customer service management systems uniting products and services into one-stop-shop bundles, too.
Why B2B Companies are Migrating to Connected Commerce OpEx Portals
What are the driving forces behind the move? Put simply, revenue and cost savings. Smart websites help buyers get high quality information and make decisions faster. The companies who can do both will win the loyalty of B2B customers and achieve better lifetime value. Sometimes buyers just want less human interaction with companies too. And a self-service approach, automated for ease, can be a valuable investment that saves your business substantial money over time.
Perhaps most importantly, though, companies are migrating to these “OpEx portals” because we have arrived at the machine-learning, Artificial Intelligence age. In the near future, smart systems (e.g., machine customers) will be placing orders with smart systems in connected companies. The manufacturers and distributors who prepare for this world will be competitively advantaged as B2B buyer behaviors transform.
Acting Now Preserves Long-Term Value
Companies in the B2B industrial trades can spend years creating value and naturally want to preserve it. The good news is that cloud technology has made the transition from stage two to stage three more economical and feasible. Preserving equity has become easier, faster, and more reliable than ever, but it requires a digital-first mindset and bringing along your teams sooner than later. Smart companies are beginning to transition their collective mindset from aproject approach to a product > process approach and enabling smart systems to help them gain advantage.