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Manufacturers, You Need eCommerce, Now What?

If you are grappling with this question, you are not alone. We’ve met successful manufacturers, distributors, and dealers over the years who have been exactly where you are when making the transition to eCommerce.

With the acceleration of eCommerce taking place across industries, it can be difficult to understand where to begin. Have confidence: you made the most important first decision, which is recognizing the change in buying behavior and the need for business transformation.

Using the word transformation can be a bit daunting. After all, the dictionary defines transformation as a dramatic change in form or appearance. Is that really what we are talking about here? Well, to be frank, yes—if you want to do it right.

But here’s the good news: you don’t have to bite off the entire transformation at one time. Digital transformation is a journey, one that you will likely be on continuously.

It’s easier to think about when you break down the transformation into phases. We often refer to these phases as taking a crawl/walk/run approach. Let’s briefly explore each.

Phase One: Crawl

In the crawl phase, your primary goal is to launch an intuitive eCommerce website that enables customers to seamlessly buy from you online. The entire focus is on the customer. How can you make their job easier? How can you help ease the quote and order process with your company?

In this phase, you can use the 80/20 rule to focus your efforts on product and customer data related to the 20% that are making up 80% of your business. Why start here? This is likely where you have the most information about your products and customers and presumably where you have the most robust inventory processes in place.

Focus your energy on high-quality product data including basic specifications, detailed product descriptions, and organized categorization with clean and professional images. This will satisfy the needs of the majority of your customers as you launch your website, and it will free up resources internally to start working on the data and information needed for the next 20%.

In our experience, the crawl approach is the fastest way to get an eStore up and running. Depending on the number of divisions and varying global locations, the average time to launch is 2 to 6 months. By avoiding the backend integrations the team stays focused on key data and the customer experience for a successful initial launch.

Phase Two: Walk

Once you’ve completed the crawl phase, your business is already starting to transform. Orders are coming in online, customer adoption is growing and internal users are experiencing the benefits as the website is removing some of the daily routine tasks. Now it is time to boost internal efficiencies by investing in the backend integrations, primarily integration to the ERP.

In the walk phase, we map the ERP and eStore integration points to enable real-time calls for price, availability, and quote and order creation. No more need for manual data uploads to keep the eStore and the ERP in sync. After completion of this activity, orders coming from the eStore are no longer keyed by customer service reps, but rather flow through the integration endpoints so that everything in the eStore and the ERP match. Your customers can now access quote and order history, line order status, and shipment and tracking information for both quotes and orders created online or offline.

With these new features turned on, customers who’ve adopted your website are now seeing valuable enhancements made to the eStore and user satisfaction is increasing. Depending on the number of ERPs requiring integration, the integration phase averages anywhere from 2 to 6 months.

During this transition, automation has freed up human resources to continue the iterative process of managing and refining product data. With website analytics tools, like those included with Equip360 (GenAlpha’s eCommerce solution), resources can turn to data analysis to support better business decisions around price, availability, and product marketing.

Phase Three: Run

After your eStore has completed the walk stage you will find that customers are finding greater value in your tools, leading to more online conversions and increased efficiencies throughout the selling process (both internal and external). This creates space to allocate resources to expand the online sales channel.

In the run phase, we start exploring all the ways you can maximize your online presence to generate increased interest for your products, drive more traffic and convert more business online. The run phase is iterative and typically is not a single event but rather a number of small enhancements that continue to bring value to both customers and your bottom line. The idea here is continuous product improvement.

Many GenAlpha customers in this phase will convert 2D/3D engineering files along with product bills of material to interactive digital catalogs so that customers can search for the exact products they own. Continually enhancing data and making it easier for customers to identify exactly what they need is a key part of this phase.

Turning on live chat and email marketing often happens in this phase as well. Live chat enables you to meet customers where they are rather than having them leave a website when they cannot find the answers they are looking for. Email marketing triggers abandoned cart emails and give you an opportunity to run promotional campaigns. With these enhancements and all the new data being tracked by analytics, your business now has multiple touchpoints with customers and data to continue to refine your sales approach and increase sales.

Start Your Transition to eCommerce

After completion of the crawl, walk, run approach, your business has been transformed into a digital sales channel that will generate revenue for years to come. The transition to eCommerce is a journey, and just like any sales channel, it needs to be continually nurtured and analyzed to ensure you are both delighting your customers and getting a positive business return.

Many customers we work with today launch their sites using the walk approach, as they are looking to both drive revenue and gain internal efficiencies. The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to do everything at once and most vendors are ready to meet you exactly where you are.

To learn more about how GenAlpha can your company successfully navigate its transition to eCommerce, contact us today.


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