January 9, 2017, 2:53 PM

How B2B e-commerce changes what employees do

They’ll transition from a technology emphasis to also focus on marketing, customer service and product development, Forrester Research says.

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The technology geek is becoming far less dominant in business-to-business e-commerce, and businesses need to adjust their staffs to meet the new demands of digital operations, Forrester Research Inc. says in a report released last month.

Digital B2B operations are transitioning from being focused primarily on core e-commerce technology to also encompass multiple other departments, including marketing, customer service, product development and connections with suppliers, Forrester says in the report, “Organize and Staff for B2B Digital Transformation,” by Andy Hoar, vice president and principal analyst for B2B e-commerce, and other Forrester analysts.

The transition stems from the need to compete in a world where more companies are using digital systems and strategies to improve customer experience while also improving their overall operations, the study says.

Forrester notes that when British Airways equipped its cabin crews with iPads, it quickly improved customer experience by enabling flight attendants, for example, to re-book in-flight passengers if necessary on new connecting flights. And when the airline’s maintenance staff began using iPads to track maintenance issues and order replacement parts, the airline also expedited its supply chain to further improve operations, keep its planes operating on time, and build customer loyalty.

To get maximum value out of a company-wide digital strategy, Forrester adds, a company’s leadership should address several key roles and coordinate how they can work together to improve the customer experience and overall operations. These roles include personnel in:

● Customer Intelligence to gather analytics data on how customers are interacting with a company, and sharing that information with marketing, customer service and product development teams;

● Marketing and Sales, helping to drive customers to the right channel, such as buyers of basic goods to self-service e-commerce and buyers of more complicated products and systems to sales reps and distributors;

● Customer Experience, ensuring that customers can access the products and services they need across multiple channels, including websites, mobile devices and contact centers, to keep them from clicking to a competitor’s website;

● Customer Service, using digital information gathered from multiple sales channels and inventory records to more quickly answer customers’ questions and resolve problems;

● Technology Management, to deploy and maintain the right mix of e-commerce technology to effectively engage customers with online product presentations, fulfill orders and connect with suppliers;

● Human Resources and Financial Management, using digital technology to not only find and recruit talent for multiple digital operations, but also to calculate the ROI of B2B e-commerce operations and retain personnel through incentives that reward employees involved in digital operations.

It’s crucial to get these teams working in concert, Forrester adds. “Key roles can make or break the B2B e-commerce initiative, and digital pros must get those key roles on board early,” the report says. “For example, without the support of sales and customer service, a B2B e-commerce initiative will struggle to gain traction with customers. And without the commitment of resources from the Technology Management group, the actual delivery and execution of a B2B  e-commerce plan will be in severe jeopardy.”

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