Let’s talk about the link between eCommerce and business operations and why it’s so critical to look beyond your eCommerce goals when you implement your new solutions. Part V of my eCommerce Operations Series.

So, now we’re traipsing slightly outside of traditional Operations, but I think of this part as a “twofer”–kind of where Sales and Operations meet–so you can hit a real sweet spot with two important constituent groups!

Have you talked to your sales force, or are you avoiding them?

I know when I first jumped into the B2B eCommerce landscape and had a sales force to contend with, I was frankly both frustrated and intimidated. They felt I was encroaching on their territory, and since they got commissions on any sales through my channel, I really didn’t understand why they were so resistant to eCommerce. I didn’t feel like I should have to run everything by them (I’m an independent sort of human), and they felt like I was messing with their strategy. And I don’t know if you have ever had an interaction with a sales rep that feels like you have “crossed” them (even inadvertently), but it can be a little scary!

It turns out that avoiding Sales never works. I mean, if you think about it, it’s literally their job to keep pushing and pushing until they meet their goal. The best plan is to meet them head on, and figure out how to join forces to fix administrative issues and make their lives better. This way, they become eCommerce adapters and even supporters rather than detractors. Plus, if you partner with them, you actually bring that whole omni channel concept to real life, and it’s not just a fancy word–it actually works (or add in some other little tag-on at the end of this sentence to balance out the “it’s not just a fancy word” statement–something like “it’s actually great” or whatever reaches that effect).

How do you start?

Make friends and ask questions.

No one knows the customers or where the skeletons are buried better than your sales force. They know the policies, they know the workarounds, and they know how to drive business. Ask them how they do their jobs, shadow them for a day, listen to their calls, learn their pain points, and see where they have to waste their time to bring an order home.

Specifically zero in on their operational pain points.

  • Can you help them get faster order status’ or send them to their customers so they can drop that as a task (unless they want to perform it)?
  • How does the pricing work (or not work) for them?
  • What requires a manual workaround?
  • How can you help them eliminate touchpoint in customer service?
  • Can you help them get the same operational intelligence as they are building quotes that are you feeding your customer base?
  • Do they have real-time inventory?
  • Do they have access to contract information (and other related information) that is custom to that customer?

Ask them what you could do with your eCommerce platform to make it more cooperative and less oppositional.

  • What about eCommerce is making it harder for them to do their jobs?
  • Are there tools they wish they had in the platform?
  • Are there opportunities to give them intelligence from the eCommerce activities of their customers?

An anecdote:

I worked for a distributor at one point that had field sales, telesales, and an eCommerce presence. After doing some analysis, I felt like our abandoned cart rate was way too high, and I decided to do some digging with the sales force. It turned out that the reps and customers had developed this process where the customer would add all of their items to cart, copy the cart and then paste it into an email, and send it to the rep for pricing. The rep would then build an order in their separate tool, price it, and process once they had customer approval.

I was a little perplexed to say the least, but I decided to just lean into it. We developed a tool where the customer could build their cart and then hit a button to email it to their rep. The rep could then import the cart into their tool for custom pricing and process the order. It became a secondary cart conversion and quickly became one of the most adopted tools. Reps were happy, customers were happy, and all we had to do was listen!

Truly, it was my experience with sales that led us to build our POCommerce solution, a combined eCommerce and Sales Ordering tool. Rather than making multiple systems converse, we preferred to customize a robust eCommerce platform to also serve as the sales ordering portal. This means reps can see customer online activity or create and push quotes to the customer site. The platform is integrated with the internal ERP, pulling pricing rules, contracts, licensing and supporting documentation and order detail.

This has allowed us a bird’s eye view into innovative customer/sales communication. It helps drive customers online and helps reps become even more comfortable with the web. We have also incorporated tools around price and margin intelligence, and it has made all the difference for our customers.

The development of ideas like this has come from years of working to bring sales, eCommerce, and operations together in a seamless way. The power of the omni channel can’t be harnessed without everyone aligning and pushing together. Leveraging your sales team to find operational pain points is a no-lose situation. Some can’t be solved with eCommerce, but those relationships and gaining exposure to their experience and their knowledge of the customer will be invaluable.

Using eCommerce to Solve Operational Challenges V: Get Sales on Your Side