From The Electrical Distributor Magazine, July 12, 2016 (all rights reserved)

By Bridget McCrea

In the first article in this series we looked at the talent gap that exists in the business-to-business (B2B) marketplace, where the top experts in their field gravitate to large agencies and cool brands.

And because it’s no longer enough to just outsource e-commerce efforts to a well-meaning relative—or someone who has a technical bent but knows nothing about B2B online strategies—ignoring this talent gap can significantly impact a distributorship’s bottom line. In fact, studies show that when B2B customers can’t find what they want on a company’s website, they’ll quickly move on to a competitor’s site for better and faster service. This is just one of many reasons why building an e-commerce presence is critical for electrical distributors that want to remain relevant.

“Filling ecommerce roles is challenging, because it’s a growth market and there are only a finite number of resources, so we are all competing for subject matter expertise,” says Jacqueline Smith-Dubendorfer of the Adidas Group, in Why Hiring an Excellent Ecommerce Executive is So Hard. “Then you start to layer on additional requirements, such as relevant background experience, and the pool gets smaller. It’s very competitive.”

Here are five strategies you can start using today to overcome this challenge and find the e-commerce talent that your distributorship needs to survive and thrive in the digital selling world:

  1. Start with your corporate culture. Simply adding e-commerce talent to your team and hoping that online sales skyrocket isn’t enough. For many companies, achieving the latter requires a full commitment to the charge—and even a few cultural shifts along the way. According to global executive search firm Egon Zehnder, while voicing commitment is easy, actually walking the talk requires diplomacy, deft leadership, an empowerment of others, and the adaptability to rethink the business model and customer proposition. “I wouldn’t start a job unless the CEO articulated his commitment to the e-commerce effort,” said one e-commerce professional in an Egon Zehnder white paper. “Without that support, there’s a potential for a lot of politics to occur. People in the traditional retail business will view the efforts with concern and skepticism; and if you’re viewed as a threat, there will be no cooperation.”
  2. Address these important questions. InThe Search is On: Seven Questions to Ask When Recruiting E-commerce Leaders, executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates outlines the top questions that every company should ask when forming their e-commerce teams. You can read the full article here, but the key takeaways are:
      • Should the head of e-commerce report directly to the c-suite?
        There is no one correct answer, but before beginning the search, it is important to consider how reporting lines will impact the qualified candidates’ perception of both the role and the organization’s commitment to the e-commerce initiative.
      • What are my company’s e-commerce goals?
        In order to identify and recruit the right talent, clients should be ready to articulate their key goals around e-commerce and determine how they align with the larger business goals.
      • Does our compensation model support or undermine our e-commerce goals? In an ideal world, a compensation model should be developed before an e-commerce search begins.
      • Will our e-commerce leader command a dedicated team?
        Establishing who is officially on the e-commerce team (with a solid line to the general manager) versus who will be part of a shared-services team supporting e-commerce will impact the type of talent that companies recruit.
      • Where will the e-commerce team work? Most organizations believe it is imperative that the e-commerce organization reside at headquarters in order to build rapport and partnerships with cross-functional colleagues.
      • What are the most essential skills and competencies to look for in candidates? Web experience and a proven track record of scaling an e-commerce business, of course, constitute the foundation of any viable candidate.
      • What are the most common pitfalls when recruiting e-commerce leaders? Remember that one of the most important competencies in an e-commerce leader is the ability to be a change agent while also meshing culturally within the organization.
  3. Find an agency that focuses on B2B. In the first article in this series you learned that most e-commerce professionals gravitate to the business-to-consumer (B2C) side of the digital industry—but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a fair share of B2B experts out there. You just have to look for them. “One of the best things a distributor can do is work with an agency that actually understands and has experience on the B2B side,” says Justin King, senior partner with B2X Partners in Ashburn, Va., and founder of ecommerceandB2B.com. A quick online search for B2B e-commerce agencies, for example, turned up options like The MOD Agency, ATAK Interactive, and Pixafy.
  4. Don’t try to do it with templates. Key “e-commerce templates” into Google and you’ll probably get thousands of results related to retail and B2C e-commerce. Dig down deeper for B2B templates and you may land on a few designed for generic companies, but probably none that can be picked up and used by the typical electrical distributors. “There aren’t just thousands of designers out there creating new templates for B2B, like we see on the retail side, where the processes are pretty much commoditized,” says King. “Even those templates that are for the B2B audience aren’t customized to fit the typical distributor’s needs.”
  5. Find out what your customers want from the online experience. Before you put that ad on LinkedIn or shoot an email to the first few B2B e-commerce agencies that pop up on your Google search, take some time to figure out exactly what your company wants to achieve with its new or revamped e-commerce site. Are your customers asking for 24/7 online ordering? Do they want access to pricing and availability online? Do they want product spec sheets, descriptions, and photos? What else will they be expecting when they pull up your website and/or e-commerce platform? By getting the answers to these questions in advance you can better hone both your talent search and your overall e-commerce approach. “Put the time and effort into figuring out where you want to go,” says King, “and then pull in the human resources that can help you achieve those goals.”