3 Benefits Manufacturers Experience from their B2B eCommerce Systems

In early June, I produced a webinar on the latest in digital transformation for manufacturers (and distributors) with special emphasis on the benefits of a business-to-business (B2B) eCommerce system. In attendance were xTuple's existing ERP (enterprise resource planning) customers, people exploring new business management software, and others hoping to learn how all this will/can affect their business. We received great feedback about the content of the webinar, so we posted a recording on xTuple's YouTube Channel (which you can watch below).

Additionally, I've included the transcribed content of my webinar; it's posted below to make it easier for you to follow along, or in case you prefer to read. I added a few screenshots to help you visualize the content, too.

If you enjoy the webinar (or the transcribed content below), please post your thoughts and comments on the YouTube video. I'd also invite you to subscribe to xTuple's YouTube Channel to receive notification when we post future videos such as these.



What's New in ERP? Business Happens on the Web

Transcribed Webinar Content

[This content begins at 1:34 in the video]

Thank you. That was a nice introduction.

Hi everyone, welcome to "What's New in ERP? Business Happens on the Web."

As Wally said, I'm Josh Fischer. I’m the product manager of xTupleCommerce at xTuple. I’ve been working within the Web marketing world for a little over a decade now.

Today we are not talking about products. Instead, we’re talking strategy. Things are changing in the world of manufacturing and distribution, and it’s impacting what is important in regards to an organization's business tools.

[Removed — Information about a past training session]

If you’re here because of our recent emails, then you likely saw the three points that I want to focus on today.

1. Be 10x more productive. (Especially your sales team)

2. Sell more than ever.

3. Expand your market.

These are just a few of the many topics we can cover, but these points are pretty universal across the board — across every industry.

Before we get started, I want to ask you guys to indulge me here and to keep an open mind… I’m sure each of you have thought about how the Web fits into your day-to-day business, but how much time have you put into thinking about that strategy? There’s no better time than NOW to rethink your sales strategy using the Web as a new sales tool. This will make you more competitive, and we all know that being more competitive will win you more deals.

If you’re not here for THAT kind of webinar, one where we dig into the strategy of how to use the Web to grow your business, then we won’t be offended if you log off now.

OK, let’s get started.

FIRST: Be 10x more productive

The root of making your company — and especially your sales team — more productive is by using the Web as a tool for your business. Now, that may sound a bit exaggerated, or you may think that it’s not advantageous for your organization to move in this direction. But, I want you to scratch those thoughts from your mind and think about this with me using a clean slate.

You are already using the Web in many instances. You rely on email. You rely on the Internet for research and education. You are learning today about Web marketing strategy through this exact webinar. It’s natural in today’s business world to use the Web. In each of those instances, you are using technology for information transactions.

The truth is, the way you use the Web is no different than the way your customers use the Web. We have all learned to use the Web for educating ourselves about topics, doing research and learning. It’s now part of our daily lives.

But right now, how much information about your business and products are you providing on the Internet?

  • Do you have a website?
  • Do you offer a catalog of products with extensive details?
  • If you’re a “job shop” or contract manufacturer, do you go into detail about what you're capabilities are?
  • If you sell extremely complicated, expensive products, do you go into detail about those products online?
  • Could someone search Google today using keywords related to your industry or products and find your company within 10 minutes?

If not, you’re missing out.

If I had to imagine how your functioning right now, I’d hazard a guess and say that buyers find you through networking, word of mouth, conferences, etc. Then they reach out to someone at your company, and they end up building a relationship with one of your sales reps. They ask that rep a ton of questions, your rep asks them a bunch of questions, and eventually (and hopefully) they buy from you.

But, let’s dissect what’s really happening there. The sales rep is likely answering the same questions for all potential buyers time and time again. They are likely hearing the same questions. Discussing the same products in the same way. It’s redundant and repetitive. In fact, I’m sure you hold your best sales reps up on a pedestal for talking most eloquently about your products. Those that know the products inside and out and have their “Pitch” tuned in just right. They are the ones that succeed and grow your business.

But, how much of their time gets dumped into that process?

What if you could accomplish the same results with a fraction of that time?

Think about that for a moment.

You see, back in 2015 Forrester Research conducted a study on how B2B buyers want to buy business products. They found that more than 50% of B2B buyers, at that time, preferred to research products online vs. talking with a sales rep. The problem was that not enough information was online, so buyers were forced to make those phone calls.


In 2017, Forrester did that same survey, and the number leaped to 68%!

That’s a 30% increase in just TWO YEARS.

So, 68% of B2B buyers say they want to do their own research on their own time, but you’re not giving them that option. Additionally, 93% said they’d prefer to place their orders online rather than through a sales rep.

93% — That is nearly everyone!


The research report was full of great information. Here are some numbers that stood out to me. Remember, this was a year ago. The problem is, in 10 years from now that will be the main option. And if you aren’t on that train soon, you’ll be left at the station.

Ok, so to understand the future, let’s look backward a bit.


Remember this? This is AOL from 2001. That's 17 years ago. In the history of business, that’s nothing!

Think for a minute about how this changed the industry. In the 1990s, how many people believed that email would have the impact that it did?


Just 10 years ago, did you think that smartphones would change everything? Look at this graphic from Apple. Just 10 years ago GPS was being introduced to the world through a phone. At that time, it was unusual for a person to have a smartphone. Remember?

That’s where we are now with B2B eCommerce.

This is not an extra option or a “cool feature” that your organization could offer. This is how the world will work over the next few years. Big organizations are already adopting this technology and seeing major benefits. Now, the technology adoption is trickling down to medium and small-sized companies.

For instance, Coca Cola was used as a reference point by Forrester Research, and they reported seeing sales increase and customer satisfaction skyrocket — a brand as old as Coke is saying their customers are happier than they’ve ever been. I’m not talking about consumer customers (that is, you and me). I’m talking about the distribution centers that provide Coca Cola to the public. And, it’s all because they are using the Web as a powerful sales tool. This kind of feedback is going to continue to grow.

So imagine you get all your product and company information online. Customers are now researching and educating themselves about your business on their own. Suddenly the hundreds of redundant questions your sales reps would have to answer over the phone are now answered online — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  

How much time do you think that saves your sales reps per day? Two hours? Four? No more answering long phone calls. No more long responses via email. The sales reps can just say, “Go to this resource center online, and you’ll find everything you need. Then reach out to me when you start having questions that the website can’t answer.”

Remember, that’s what buyers want.

You’ve now got SALES information online every minute of every day. You’ve just multiplied a single rep exponentially!


Let’s say your sales reps save three (3) hours a day with this new strategy. That’s 15 hours a week, 60 hours a month. What could they do with 60 hours a month? You can do a lot with that kind of time.

But, that's really hard to imagine, so let’s look at it. That is a lot of time!


What would your sales rep do with all that time?

Probably play more golf, right?

If they are a good sales rep, then they’ll use it to their advantage.

The MOST constructive thing that could be done is sales reps could start to build more strategic and consultative relationships with customers. Let’s just focus on existing customers for a minute. Imagine if your sales reps had time to visit with existing customers, learn about their businesses, take tours of their location, get their head wrapped around those customers businesses.

What would happen?

They’d start to see the challenges that those customers are dealing with. They’d see the gaps in the customers business flows. They’d see the projects they are working on, the problems and the struggles they deal with. Then, hopefully, if you have a good sales rep, they’d find ways that your organization can solve those problems. They’d figure out ways that your organization could extend that relationship even further and more profitably. And the customers would love you for it.

You’d be solving their problems. You’d actually be caring about how to make them grow! That’s the position that you want your sales team in, and that is how you make them more productive.

By the way, if you’ve done your own research about this topic, you may have seen a bunch of talk about how sales reps are going to be replaced by B2B eCommerce sites. I don’t believe it. I don’t think it’s true. Not to say that there won’t be a decrease in B2B sales reps, it’s just that more professional, consultative relationships will be the center of the B2B relationship. “Order taking” and “inventory checking” — those mundane, repetitive tasks — will happen online rather than over the phone. This change will give the great sales reps an opportunity to really flex their muscles, win more contracts, and help your company build better more profitable relationships with customers.

If you take the redundant work away from your sales reps, they will have a lot more time and energy to put into building stronger relationships with existing customers and finding new customers.

NEXT POINT: Sell more than ever

I know that sounds very “salesy” or very “marketing heavy”  it’s kind of like clickbait — but hear me out. There is a lot of truth to that comment. We’ve already talked about it a little bit, but let’s dig deeper.

Imagine that you now have all your organization’s product content online.

(I should mention here that there are myriad of ways to do this. I know manufacturers especially are a bit protective of their inside information, but I’m not suggesting you start plastering your secrets all over the Web. That’s something I’ll cover in the training in July — how to protect your intellectual property ONLINE).

Ok, so you have all your information online in a smart manner. Sales reps are building better, stronger relationships with existing customers. Prospects  people you don’t know and people you have never met — and they may not even be close to your locations — are finding your business online and researching what you do and what you sell. Now your Web presence is functioning as a sales tool.

If you give the customers the ability to place orders online, the customers begin buying more. This is something I’ve heard from our customers, but I didn’t feel like I had enough “proof” — until I saw it in that same Forrester Research paper. What they found was that existing customers — ones that made regular orders on a pretty regular schedule — started placing orders online that were 5% larger than their typical past orders.

Why would that happen?

Well, it kind of makes sense. If your household is anything like mine. It’s not a lot different than coming home from work and finding one Amazon box on your doorstep, once a week. Then a year later, you’re finding TWO Amazon boxes on your doorstep, every other night!


It’s because NOW it’s so much easier for people to research products, learn more details about your offerings, and place orders on their own. It’s easier, so people do it more often.

Buyers are simply people like you and me. Right? They sit at home and watch TV and scan the Internet from their couches. They like finding solutions to their little challenges at home. That’s a pretty universal definition of how Americans live now. It’s extremely common.


Those same people are also professionals that have to keep a business moving forward. And they are going to use those same TACTICS at work. If the information is there, and the purchasing process is easy, people will do it.

People love digging into details on their own. They like researching. They like finding solutions to their challenges. Plus, you have the ability to upsell in an automated fashion with a website.

“Oh, you buy this product every quarter? Well, did you know we also offer this related product?”

Or your team begins seeing trends in buying processes, and you begin to realize where the opportunities are. Even looking at analytics about products that people are looking at online but not buying, if you see that enough, you start to dig into why those potential buyers aren’t converting.

So, if you make buying easier and more accessible to your customers, they will do it more often.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST: Expand your Market

In the previous point, we talked mainly about existing customers. But, what about prospects that you haven’t met yet? Or, what about customers that you’ve had in the past, but your sales reps don’t have strong relationships with them?

Really, there are 2 different ways to expand your market with a B2B eCommerce Platform.

1. With prospects that you have little chance of meeting on your own.

2. With customers that are too expensive to service.

Let’s talk through those.


Ok, first, let’s talk about those...

Prospects you have little chance of meeting.

We’ve already said that B2B buyers love to do their own research. It’s a good bet that many B2B buyers are already out there searching for your products, but they’ll never find you if you’re not where they are looking.

They are online looking for solutions. Are you there?

There is that old saying: ”Go fishing where the fish are.” Same is true here.

Becoming an “easy to find” seller online starts with building a Web presence, that is, a good website. It doesn’t have to be flashy. It doesn’t require a design agency from New York or LA. Frankly, it doesn’t have to be difficult. You just need to get your content and some nice images online. Think about what it takes for you to “Trust” a website. It has to look good, present well, and not feel outdated, right?

The next step is to write quality content about your organization, products and services.

Again, you don’t have to share all your secrets, but you do want to get plenty of useful information out there. It’s okay to repeat yourself a bit from page to page (think about how many times YOU have to see the same message before you take an action?), and you have to be conscious of how Google will index your site. Meaning you need to use keywords that your buyers are using when searching Google. Again, that’s a deeper topic. We will go into that in that July training.

Once you are online, and your content is out there for people to find, there are a series of other steps that need to take place. But, eventually, you’ll start seeing that your site traffic is increasing each month. You’ll start to realize what content people really appreciate and what content they share. Then that tells you where to continue to grow.

Now, if you are thinking, “Well this won’t work for our business — we are too unique.” Or “We can’t explain what we do online” or “Our products are far too complicated.” Or (my favorite) “no one is interested!” If that is what you are thinking, then you are exactly who I’m talking about.

If you have a PRODUCT or INDUSTRY NICHE, then you have gold for Web marketing.


Think I’m exaggerating about this stuff? Check out the book Epic Content Marketing [you can buy it on Amazon!]. It explains it all. It’s written specifically for businesses like yours — B2B businesses that do unique, complicated, big things. I’m so enthralled by this information that I’ll send out a link to the book — from the author’s website, of course, am I right? — to everyone on the webinar today!

Like I said, if this sounds appealing, check out the training. I’ll go into a lot more detail.


Ok, onto the second group of customers.

These are people that want to give you money, but in the past you haven’t had enough time or resources to serve them. You know who I’m talking about. Every business has these kinds of customers. They are the ones that make one (1) order per year, and it’s relatively small or unpredictable. Or they use up 100 hours of your sales teams time nit-picking about every little detail, and then take forever to actually make an order. Or they place small orders sporadically throughout the year.

The solution here is self-service!

Give these buyers the tools to do all the leg work themselves. This is a very, very common reason that our customers want a B2B eCommerce system.

We had a customer last year that went live with an xTupleCommerce site. They had all these big plans and wanted to so many great things, but the reason management was behind the effort was because they recognized the number of “difficult to serve customers that could serve themselves.” Last I heard, that segment of customers was making up nearly 15% of their annual revenue, and their sales team was spending little to no time on them. Imagine that! No one wants to turn away business or miss out on sales of that magnitude.

And, let’s not even get started about the magnifying effect of “sharing.”

Why do you think social media has taken off the way it has? People like to share their “discoveries” and get recommendations from others, too. If your competition is online and you’re not, guess whose information is getting shared. Not yours.

So, expand your market by reaching people you’d never meet otherwise, or service customers who are typically time-consuming and expensive to serve.

OK, so that's all three points I wanted to go over today. There are so many more things I’d love to share with you. I’m even thinking of doing these how-to-grow-your-business webinars on a regular basis to get all these ideas out there.


What did we miss talking about today? Topics for future webinars!

  • Analytics and customer tracking
  • Personalization
  • Giving customers a unique experience based on buying history and customer type
  • Engaging through multiple web-based channels
  • Web-based chat
  • Omnichannel selling (from online to brick-and-mortar to in-the-field)
  • Inbound Marketing
  • The list goes on...

I do plan on covering these topics in the training, so again, check out xtuple.com/sales-growth-training to learn more about that.


Of course, the reason I’m chatting about these topics is because of xTupleCommerce.

Our team has built a B2B eCommerce Web Portal with a real-time integration with the ERP.

What does that mean? It means that you can do everything that you learned about today, plus several dozen other things. And, with the real-time integration with the ERP you can manage everything from xTuple, and customers create sales orders as soon as they make a purchase.

Curious? Sign up for a free demo on xTuple.com or reach out to me, and we’ll arrange a one-on -one demo.

Thank you.

Finally. Thank you for your time today. Really appreciate you joining me.

We do have a little time for QA, so feel free to shoot your questions over to me.


Josh Fischer

Product Manager — xTupleCommerce, December 2013 - October 2018

xTuple’s Josh Fischer is passionate about launching successful Web projects — from online retailers and distributors to manufacturers big and small — to improve customer conversions (and bottom line profits!). As product manager of xTupleCommerce, Josh is developing revolutionary B2B eCommerce Web portals — integrated with open source xTuple Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) — to solve productivity and customer relationship issues for every business type and size. Josh writes and teaches about innovative strategy and technologies to build Web-based brands, launching startups, productivity and leadership, online presence and growth-hacking. Josh is a graduate of the University of Maryland Baltimore County with a B.S. in Visual Arts & New Media.