6 best practices for a B2B digital transformation

Table of Contents

The first steps of B2B digital transformation: 6 best practices to get started

Julia Rabkin
Julia Rabkin
Senior B2B Product Expert, commercetools
Published 28 February 2024
Estimated reading time minutes

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,” is a human truth that rings true for digital transformation. Keeping this wisdom in mind, we’ve curated the best practices that successful B2B businesses have followed on their digital commerce journeys to help you kickstart your own strategy.

6 best practices for a B2B digital transformation

Starting your digital transformation journey

B2B leaders recognize the urgency of investing in eCommerce. However, as with many new ventures, the prospect of starting entirely new can be daunting. For many B2B practitioners, the frustration with eCommerce is real: A staggering 65% of B2B practitioners cited that eCommerce is broken within their organizations. The same study, conducted by Forrester Research, unveiled that 81% of respondents are utilizing eCommerce platforms that lack tools, can’t handle the complexity of products, collect customer data or scale effectively. 

So, B2B leaders find themselves often trapped in a vicious cycle: While they’re aware that it’s critical to boost their eCommerce experiences to meet customer expectations, they frequently feel overwhelmed or uncertain about where to begin. This sentiment is compounded by the fact that digital transformation means upcoming organizational changes spanning technology, data, people and more. 

At commercetools, we’ve partnered with numerous B2B businesses that have grappled with these very questions, challenges and concerns during their digital transformation journeys. Many of these businesses embarked on a digitization program for the first time, facing a multitude of uncertainties along the way. 

Now, the good news: We've gathered all of these experiences and turned them into a collection of tried-and-tested best practices to help you take the initial steps of your journey ahead. Let’s get started!

1. Benchmark your current digital maturity

In collaboration with Master B2B, we've created a digital maturity model designed to assist companies in assessing their current digital standing and the dimensions to follow in this process, such as: 

  • Digital Tools: How much is the organization taking advantage of the technology available to streamline operations and improve the customer experience?

  • Team Culture: How much is the organization embracing digital from an organizational perspective? How many have they hired for digital roles? How much has the sales team embraced the shift to digital?

  • Customer Experience: How much is the organization focusing on creating functionality and experiences that meet the demands of their customers?

  • Data and Insights: How much is the organization investing in putting data into the hands of business users so they can make data-driven decisions about investments?

Understanding the current status of your business is of utmost importance: Not only does it allow you to identify areas where your company lacks across these four dimensions, but it also enables you to discern the next steps required to progress through the four stages of digital maturity. This approach empowers you to craft a roadmap aligned with your business vision, step by step. By improving digital maturity, your business will achieve the following traits: 

  • Comfortable putting more data and tooling into the hands of business users (and moving it out of the IT department).

  • Focused on creating a customer-centric organization, where customer needs and desires — not internal priorities — drive decisions.

  • Driven to eliminate friction throughout the purchase journey by giving customers critical information at key points.

  • Dedicated to fostering a culture where digital is (at least) an equal partner to the traditional business.

  • Committed to building a flexible, powerful technology stack that will enable and grow with the organization, ensuring ongoing digital success.

For MMG [Midmarket Growth] B2B digital commerce operations, a high level of digital maturity is a growth multiplier. The ability to experiment, iterate, and adapt to market fluctuations gives these firms a competitive edge. They can fine-tune customer experiences down to the minutiae, optimizing for subscriptions, repurchases, add-ons, and bundles. [...] Indeed, the confluence of proactive agility, personalization, perpetual convenience, and digital maturity in MMG B2B operations forms a potent formula for success.

2. Tackle data hygiene

Experts agree that any eCommerce experience with dirty data is a bad experience. When your data isn’t clean, customers get inaccurate product information, recommendations aren’t personalized and automated customer service doesn’t deliver the answers buyers need. Data is at the heart of every single customer interaction, and it should be a priority for your business to tackle it head-on. 

Consider the following best practices for your data hygiene process:

  • Establish a robust data management strategy from the beginning, ensuring secure storage and utilizing data lakes or warehouses for in-depth analytics and reporting. Centralizing data as much as possible in one place also helps to provide a 360-view of the customer, as well as master product data that can be used across multiple channels and team members. Such a centralized data pool also helps maintain data cleanliness and accessibility, enabling the retrieval and analysis of data whenever required. 

  • Tap into flexible data modeling. Delivering a flexible data model is vital to modern commerce, so you can easily handle, edit and orchestrate multiple data scenarios, attributes, locations and relationships without affecting performance. Because of the diverse datasets ingested from payment systems, IoT devices, apps, etc., the ability to consume and store relevant data together is essential to achieve real-time reactions, as well as avoiding data duplication and silos, and stale data.

  • Leverage an API-first infrastructure to access and manage structured and unstructured data from disparate sources, functions and touchpoints. That way, you can perform virtually any database operation leveraging APIs while benefiting from low-latency data processing even during volume spikes. 

  • Using AI can be immensely beneficial to performing data hygiene, helping companies restructure product data for personalized recommendations and more. 

  • Keeping data clean is not a project with a start and end date: It’s a continuous program that must be at the forefront of your digitization strategy. 

3. Spearheading digitization is a team effort

Bringing experienced professionals in the realm of digital is crucial for success but it’s only part of the story. When it comes to digital transformation projects, the whole organization should be involved, starting from the commitment and sponsorship from C-level executives down to the people who will face the impact of eCommerce initiatives, such as sales representatives.

C-suite, and particularly the CEO, has to be committed to it. They have to be involved and they have to be pushing for it. They have to be there to break those political log jams that we’ve all seen happen, with sales usually being the most resistant. This is an evolution where they’re combining the knowledge of the longtime executives with people within the organization who are showing interest in digital.
Tom Jones

Senior Director of Customer Value Advisory, commercetools

Throughout this process, it’s crucial to understand that a digital transformation is actually a business transformation. While there may be a department in charge of coordinating the program, the effort is a collective one.  

Here are a few best practices to consider when it comes to people and change management:

  • Foster a culture of digitization by involving business and technology leaders in discussions about the why and how of digital transformation. Share and evangelize even the smallest successes to garner support from the top. Get buy-in from the top management and ensure that your C-level executives are committed to a digital transformation process.

  • 62% of B2B sellers agree that the lack of qualified eCommerce team members is a significant barrier to their growth. Establish a dedicated digital team, even if it’s modest in size, to spearhead your digital exploration and strategy.

  • Work in tandem with sales teams and create hybrid sales. Sales reps fear being sidelined with eCommerce or even replaced, so take the time to show them how digital commerce can help close deals faster and more efficiently. Digital capabilities can help the salesforce streamline buyer journeys big time, especially when sales reps are compensated for deals completed online. After all, 85% of B2B practitioners expect hybrid sellers will be the predominant sales role within the next three years.

  • To win hearts and minds during their quest for digital maturity, B2B organizations will increasingly recognize that team collaboration, especially between IT and business peers, must take center stage. Low- and no-code tools enable business practitioners, such as marketers, as well as content and product managers, to have a more active role in digital commerce initiatives through easy-to-use business user tooling.

  • The rise of a composable organization as an entire business philosophy also accelerates how teams are organized: Many businesses have started to create small and cross-functional teams around a specific function, such as a shopping cart, which increases collaboration and results.

4. Prioritize what your customers need and use it for your eCommerce starting point

Engaging with your customers to identify pain points and gather insights on what adds value for them is how you can prioritize your first digital initiatives. Say that your customers want a variety of payment methods that you don’t yet offer; if they’re telling you it’s important for them, consider that a priority. After all, what B2B buyers really want is to get their job done without friction. That being said, here are a few other aspects you should consider:

  • Build a customer journey map and highlight moments of engagement, prioritizing key engagement moments based on the benefit to customers and the value for your business. Start by investing in opportunities that will have the most significant impact on your customers and bottom line, as well as a clear path to implementation. Taking an incremental approach will help you accelerate the time-to-value of these opportunities. 

  • Leverage quick wins. From reordering to leveraging generative AI, quick wins help you improve efficiency and automation, plus drive an uplift in orders and customer stickiness. Additionally, you can publicize these first gains to garner more internal support and keep the employee morale high for your project.

  • Customer needs evolve, so engage with your customers constantly to get not only their feedback right now but what they expect from your organization in the future.   

5. Leverage eCommerce technology

Alongside the groundwork surrounding change management, customer strategy and data hygiene, now comes digital commerce technology. Here are three technology choices available in the market today:

Option 1 — All-in-one platforms

Also known as “legacy” or “monolithic” systems, all-in-one platforms offer businesses a comprehensive set of commerce components, such as search, payments and checkout, in one system. At first glance, this may seem advantageous. However, these platforms lack flexibility and are challenging to customize, leaving B2B companies restricted with a fixed feature set and a “boxed-in” data model that cannot be easily tailored to their specific requirements. 

Notoriously difficult to update and customize, these systems also prevent B2B players from adapting to new market dynamics and the evolving demands of their customers. According to Forrester Research, 81% of B2B companies use an eCommerce platform that lacks tools, can’t handle the complexity of products, collect customer data or scale effectively, which translates into monolithic systems. 

In short, all-in-one platforms are suitable solutions for companies with simple product catalogs and customer flows, with customization featuring low in their priority list. 

Option 2 — Homegrown platforms 

B2B business models can be complex, making it difficult to find an all-in-one platform that meets all needs. That’s why some organizations choose to create homegrown commerce engines

While this may seem like a good solution to address unique complexity, building a DIY (do-it-yourself) platform from scratch requires significant investment. Over time, B2B companies often encounter similar issues found in all-in-one platforms: Technical debt, lack of innovation and inefficient use of resources.

Option 3 — Composable commerce platforms

A composable approach liberates B2B companies from the limitations of all-in-one and homegrown platforms: No longer must you deal with over-standardized feature sets or build everything from scratch. Essentially, composable commerce gives companies the flexibility and speed to leverage best-of-breed commerce components like checkout, cart and search, and combine them according to their needs. 

Composability supports a “build-and-buy” approach, which gives B2B firms the ability to integrate commoditized components from best-of-breed solutions that fit their business needs at any given time AND build/customize the bits that reflect the uniqueness of their business. In B2B, a composable system provides out-of-the-box features via APIs and templates for standard use cases like quoting while still allowing for extension-based customization. Such capabilities are crucial to tackle the inherent complexity of B2B. 

For B2B companies that put digital maturity initiatives at the forefront of their plans, a composable approach helps them to become digitally mature faster and more cost-effectively. 

By embracing API-first composable commerce, which offers modular architecture for rapid innovation, MMG [midmarket growth] B2B firms can swiftly adapt to market changes to optimize revenue generation and capitalize on emerging CX opportunities.

6. Implementation process

If composable commerce is what you’re looking for, it’s implementation time! Here’s an overview of best practices to help leverage composable technology to its fullest:  

  • An incremental rollout approach is an invaluable method for companies to develop and integrate each component into the digital platform gradually, which reduces risk and sets up a virtuous cycle of release-win-learn-iterate. For example, B2B companies can start with a smaller scope, such as digitizing a product catalog and checkout. This minimum viable product (MVP) approach enables you to establish a first base for what the rest of your commerce solution will look like — and optimize it over time. 

  • More and more B2B firms are recognizing the benefits of an agile framework for development. This project management methodology uses an iterative and flexible approach that focuses on short, time-boxed sprints. Allied with an incremental approach, your team can achieve big results with small steps. 

  • B2B companies traditionally use ERP systems, which need to be integrated with an eCommerce platform. With a composable, API-first approach, it’s possible to integrate your ERP and other systems of record to a composable commerce platform by extending an API to your backend ERP integration. 

  • Accelerate time-to-market with pre-built integrations. Not only can you plug in your chosen components such as payments using APIs seamlessly, but you can also take advantage of pre-built integrations to expedite your launch. These integrations go beyond generic add-ons, as you can customize them to meet unique requirements. 

  • Tap into the support of implementation partners and B2B-specific accelerators. Navigating the world of digital commerce doesn’t have to be a solo endeavor. Leveraging the expertise of implementation partners and accelerators will help you get to market faster. 

Getting started in 2024

Digital commerce for B2B doesn’t have to be complex or take a long time to implement. The common denominators that set B2B outperformers apart lie in following these best practices as a route to digital maturity, which also include:

  • Treating digital transformation as a journey without an end date.

  • Investing in digital commerce — even in uncertain times.

  • Balancing investments: Strategic, long-term projects in digital maturity and data hygiene are on pace with tactical initiatives that bring short-term ROI, such as implementing an AI-powered search engine.

  • Leveraging customer centricity: Most important of all, centering every initiative, no matter if it’s short- or long-term, around customer needs and expectations.

As your business takes a digital journey, consider that the expectations of your B2B buyers are likely related to more mature trends, which can serve as a starting point for your 2024 digital maturity strategy.

Take the first step in your composable commerce journey! Read our guide on Pivotal Trends and Predictions in B2B Digital Commerce in 2024 to get a complete view of how B2B commerce is evolving and what to prioritize for your business now and in the future. 

Julia Rabkin
Julia Rabkin
Senior B2B Product Expert, commercetools

Julia is a Senior B2B Product Expert at commercetools. With over a decade of experience across product and marketing teams in the tech world, she is an expert at creating innovative, customer-first strategies, and excelling in cross-functional growth & GTM initiatives.

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