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Feb 11, 2019 11:33:16 AM

Three takeaways for growing a global B2B ecommerce business: an interview with Unilever’s Marta Dalton

Eero Martela

Managing Consultant

marta-dalton-ecommerceWhile ecommerce in the consumer business is old news most of the time, we’ve come to notice how many companies in the B2B field are currently formulating their playbooks for global digital sales. Digital commerce in B2B is complex by nature, and many of our clients have recognised that there aren’t many easy answers nor publicly available insights for launching and scaling global ecommerce.

To address this, we had a chat with Marta Dalton (Global eCommerce Director at Unilever, former Director of eCommerce (B2B) at CocaCola) who can be considered as one of the leading thought leaders in the topic of global B2B ecommerce (see some of her presentations at IRCE conference on SlideShare). We had the pleasure to discuss with Ms Dalton about various topics around operating and scaling global B2B ecommerce.

Here we want to share Ms Dalton’s three takeaways for growing a global B2B ecommerce business.

1. Start by getting the internal sales team on board

The make-or-break for B2B ecommerce is getting your own sales team behind the project. Or as Ms Dalton puts it: “When rolling out B2B ecommerce your own sales team is your best asset”. The sales team are the ones who typically have ownership of the customer interface and are the ones who push the new system into customers’ daily routines.

“When rolling out B2B ecommerce your own sales team is your best asset”

Therefore, when deploying or growing your global ecommerce business, get the salespeople involved already in the early phases. Show that ecommerce is an asset for them instead of being a threat. Together formulate an approach to ecommerce that ensures a win-win situation between sales representatives and ecommerce owners.

And the most important rule for getting the sales teams’ buy-in? Do not mess with commissions. You have to make sure that the purchases made through the ecommerce platform get directed to the person or team owning the account.


2. Use these three levers for getting end-customer buy-in

Typically, the B2B end-customer has the company’s sales representative’s numbers stored on their phone. Whenever they need something, they contact their trusted representative. Switching the clients’ buying behaviour from calls to ecommerce is the key challenge. However, making that change benefits both the end-customers and your organization. It will, and this is for sure, require some internal sales in addition to getting the clients on board.

Here are, in Marta’s experience, the top three levers for convincing the client:

  1. Marketing – email marketing is key
  2. Telesales – convincing the clients requires active discussion*
  3. Face-to-face – your sales force is your most important asset, make them part of the change

*Marta stated that Unilever has also used Robocalls very successfully in the US market for getting B2B buyers online. As this technology is not available in Europe, we have no experience with it and cannot say that it is something that we would recommend for every B2B digital sales venture.

3. Ramp up your local ecommerce teams

“Technology is only 15% of ecommerce” was the first thing Ms Dalton put on the table at the interview. Getting the ecommerce platform up and running is merely an enabler.

Merchandising is the primary topic you should focus on when launching, for example, a new digital sales channel or a new market. eCommerce has to be operated as a sales unit – merchandising is all about making your offering and channel fit the market demand and to generate traction. “Merchandising manager is the first local role you should assign when you get started in a new market”, Dalton highlights.

“Technology is only 15% of ecommerce”

In addition to merchandising, setting up email marketing and care models should be among the early activities. When rolling out global ecommerce, the fastest approach is to generate global templates and care models for automated emails and just translate them into local languages. Optimising the flows can follow afterwards when time, focus, and resources permit.

The same goes for local sales team pitches: Create generic ecommerce pitches for sales representatives, translate them into local languages, and make local sales teams to apply them in their daily sales meetings.

eCommerce is not an IT-project

As a summary, it was immediately clear that we shared the same mindset about ecommerce: IT and platforms are just sideshows. Instead, succeeding in ecommerce requires getting the business processes right and, most importantly, treating ecommerce as a sales unit.

Therefore, publishing a digital sales channel and setting up the business processes around it is just the beginning of the story. After the initial launch, allocate significant resourcing and investments to merchandising and continuous sales optimisation. Only then the digital sales channel can meet its potential of increasing revenue per client and seizing a bigger market share as well as creating significant efficiency in sales operations.


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