This ASUG Member Blog was written by Waynette Tubbs, director of marketing at Corevist
Did you know that your most important product doesn’t have an SAP SKU (stock keeping unit)? That’s right. It’s your B2B e-commerce experience. For better or worse, your customer’s impression when searching for products, placing orders, tracking shipments, and paying invoices can set you apart from your competition. That’s why your top launch priority should be to assign a product owner who can take the e-commerce experience from concept to profitable execution.
Let’s talk about this concept and the role the product owner (we call them the e-commerce lead) will play.
Where the E-Commerce Lead Sits
You might be scratching your head at this point, thinking, “This sounds like a great idea, but who is this e-commerce lead? Do they sit in marketing? Are they in sales?”
To begin to answer that, let’s look at the two biggest challenges businesses face with the launch of an e-commerce program:
- Who owns the launch and execution? Who builds the team and manages the details?
- What are the drivers, goals, and performance metrics of this digital transformation?
Like any other product you launch, B2B e-commerce transcends departmental silos such as IT, sales, marketing, and customer service. For most products, there’s a clear owner. But this effort is digital transformation—it’s an organization-wide endeavor with various sub-organizations responsible for individual pieces.
So, for manufacturers, the e-commerce lead doesn’t really fit into an existing department. It’s not strictly an IT function, but it’s not strictly marketing or operations, either. Companies often assign this role under one of those umbrellas, but that’s a risky move.
Why? Because those silos are, well, silos that don’t have all of the functions needed to make this a success. IT isn’t the owner, even though this is a huge technology undertaking. Customer service isn’t the owner, even though this focuses so purposefully on the customer. Sales doesn’t own it, even though the focus is on sales. And marketing isn’t the owner, even though this will have a huge effect on brand perception. They’re all collaborating on a larger goal, ensuring that each new product is a success in the market.
Customer experience as a product is different. Up until now, it hasn’t really required a leader. But the digital landscape pushes all customer interaction into a technology platform. It’s this shift that necessitates the role of the e-commerce lead.
In an ideal scenario, the e-commerce lead will report to a C-level sponsor so that they have the authority to knit together the disparate parts of the business needed to make this a success.
The Role E-Commerce Plays
The e-commerce lead has a long list of responsibilities because e-commerce has the power to impact every part of the business. We won’t look at every responsibility in detail, but let’s look at the three biggest buckets.
1. Customer Advocacy
It’s easy to look to internal perspectives and processes for guidance in e-commerce, especially if you don’t see it as a product. But think how disastrous that would be in a traditional product launch. Teams such as operations and IT aren’t equipped to understand the market needs that your product will (or won’t) fill. They’re strictly focused on administration.
And while customer service reps (CSRs), sales reps, marketing, and IT all have important viewpoints that you can’t ignore, none of them act as a direct proxy for the customer, and these groups most likely aren’t thinking of e-commerce as a product. That makes it risky to rely on their perspectives alone.
The e-commerce lead must be the top customer advocate, scouting market needs in customer experience and designing a product (your e-commerce presence) to meet those needs. They must bring a holistic view of customers’ needs, industry best practices, and the company’s goals to the table.
When you focus on your customer experience, a funny thing happens. Most companies see gains in customer loyalty, NPS, and lifetime value. Your e-commerce lead allows you to reorient around that goal from the perspective of e-commerce.
2. The E-commerce Road Map
E-commerce is not a point-in-time solution: It’s a product on a journey. That perspective, along with your drive to consistently apply the customer-first philosophy, necessitates a road map and road map owner. Another key here is flexibility. The product owner must always be studying the landscape and customer satisfaction. What are best practices? What is the customer journey like? Where are the roadblocks?
It’s important to know when to revise the road map as the market’s preferences for e-commerce evolve. That way, you keep e-commerce aligned to new corporate strategies, identify risks and opportunities, and maximize ROI.
Only a dedicated leader can provide that—the e-commerce lead.
3. Change Management
E-commerce will change your company forever. Change without leadership is chaos. Without an e-commerce lead, there may not be anyone to focus on the impact of organizational change and cultural upheaval.
The e-commerce lead must develop a thoughtful plan to manage these changes. That means engaging evangelists within the organization, developing communication plans, and training internal and external users. These things simply won’t happen on their own. They need a leader to own them.
What does that look like in day-to-day operations? Here are a few examples of the steps to facilitating a smooth transition to e-commerce:
- Ensure e-commerce really does eliminate manual work, rather than just shifting it to another department.
- Ensure the sales team is on board from the beginning so their commissions (and their opinions of e-commerce) aren’t negatively impacted.
- Ensure the warehouse understands its new fulfillment requirements.
- Transition finance to accepting credit cards.
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