Justin King Author of “Digital Branch Secrets” B2B eCommerce for distributors and wholesalers (episode 201)

Today we’re diving into the world of B2B eCommerce – so selling to other businesses via eCommerce channels rather than selling to consumers. I know we have a fair few of you B2B bods out there listening – so I hope you find today’s episode useful. There’s also going to be plenty for those of you not currently wholesaling to learn to – always good to hear what’s happening in other parts of the industry.

Justin King is a specialist in B2B eCommerce. He is the President of B2X Partners and has recently distilled his experience of building a digital branch into a B2B business, into a book! Called
Digital Branch Secrets: eCommerce Playbook for Distributors it’s available on Amazon globally in Kindle, and Audio format, and available at Paperback in the USA too.

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Getting Started

Justin has been involved in eCommerce since he graduated from school in 1997, but says he didn’t find his niche for another ten years. It was the intersection of B2B and eCommerce that was always most interesting to Justin and in 2007 he began to reverse engineer his dream job of being a thought leader and speaker.

Justin realized that while he wasn’t an expert in any one area per se, he did have an interesting background in ERP supply chain and eCommerce and he got busy making himself the foremost expert on the subject. Justin began exploring the intersection of eCommerce and B2B—primarily manufacturers and distributors—by blogging about the topic religiously.

Every morning from 5:30 to 7:00 am, Justin wrote on his blog, documenting his thoughts in regards to B2B and eCommerce. He jokes that no-one but his mom visited his blog for 5 years. While he was blogging, he was also working at an agency that had some B2B eCommerce aspects. It was when Justin took part in a large distributor launch for Granger that ‘all the distributors and manufacturers woke up at the same time’ and his site was completely flooded.

 Listen to learn about the major differences between B2B and B2C in the eCommerce space.

The Differences Between B2B and B2C

Justin attributes his diligence on the blog to his deep understanding of B2B eCommerce business and says it allowed him to thoroughly think through the various challenges B2B companies face online. Some of those challenges ring as true now as they did in 2007 and one of the things that has remained very much the same are the differences between eCommerce for B2B and B2C. There are some challenges in B2B that just don’t exist in B2C.

What Differentiates B2B Online

1.) B2B Helps People do Their Job Better.

In essence, B2B eCommerce exists to help people do their job better. Unlike shopping for shoes (or any other consumer good) in an online retail space, building eCommerce sites for B2B clients is all about making companies more organizes and more efficient.  

2.) B2B sites are more utilitarian

Often, B2B sites are more about utility and spend less time and use fewer resources trying to draw people in. What they lack in beauty though is usually made up for in robust systems organization.

3.) The Customer and the Products are Unique

In B2B, the customer is typically a company or organization, which are much more complicated than an individual. Many companies have mandated complexities, with organizational rules built in to how they order, pay and checkout for instance. Some of Justin’s clients have thousands if not millions of products and they can range from the everyday to extremely complicated—and expensive. The product description and presentation is far more complex with many products require in depth descriptions, specification documents and even CAD files.

4.) ERP vs. POS

Finally, in B2B, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, rather than retail point of sale (POS) systems, are what make everything tick for B2B clients. B2B eCommerce sites have to be fully integrated with their customers’ ERP’s because they contain information about supply chain, inventory, specific relationships and terms and conditions.

Unexpected Inspirations

The entire idea for how to approach B2B eCommerce successfully came about when Justin was watching an eating contest of all things. In this particular competition, two contestants were faced with the challenge of eating a very large hamburger in a very short amount of time.

Justin says the opponents were polar opposites—the first was a big, tall guy who looked like he would have no problem destroying a burger and the second contestant was a slight unassuming man. When the contest began, the big tall guy tore into the burger and the little guy studiously cut his into small pieces.

Guess what? The little guy won. by cutting his burger into tiny, bite sized pieces, he was able to achieve success by just focusing on one bite at a time.

Justin says that he became obsessed with ‘cutting up the burger’ for his massive, complicated B2B companies.

Speaking the Language of B2B

Part of why Justin’s methods as well as his book are so popular is that he has translated the language and processes of B2B from a physical space to a digital one. An example of this is his use of the word ‘branch’ rather than online store or retail space.

Justin says most B2B companies think of their physical spaces as ‘branches’ and so having a digital ‘branch’ makes more intuitive sense. This straight forward thinking and teaching is commonplace in his speaking and writing and part of the appeal of his strategies.

Listen to learn how Justin teaches B2B companies to move from 0% online revenue to using eCommerce as a growth accelerant for their business

Stages to Online Maturity for B2B

1.) Foundation – build a foundation so that you CAN mature (0%-10% of revenue coming from online).

2.) Customer Adoption—get current customers to actually use the site.

3.) Re-Positioning—allow eCommerce to become a growth engine and accelerant for business.

4.) Acquisition.

5.) Innovation.

Most companies, Justin says, are still in the first two stages.

eCommerce Book Top Tip

eCommerce Traffic Top Tip

  • Market internally until you have evangelism and adoption from within.

Tool Top Tip

Growth Top Tip

  • You have to break the problem down. To go from 100 to 1,000–you have to know all the ‘levers you need to pull’ Break the pieces down and brainstorm those pieces individually.

Interview Links

Related Episodes

If you liked this show you should check the rest of our B2B eCommerce podcasts