The Highest E-Commerce Hurdle Isn't Technology - Modern Distribution Management

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The Highest E-Commerce Hurdle Isn’t Technology

Internal buy-in is tough; the sales team has to be onboard.

One thing I’ve learned as a team member and leader for three B2B distribution e-commerce build-outs is that building a successful B2B distribution e-commerce experience isn’t like running the 100-meter dash. It’s more like running the 100-meter hurdles. 

When you start, it’s daunting. There are many technical hurdles to jump before you can even see the finish line. But it’s only after clearing all the hurdles that you can start winning big online. 

So your team gets to work. As a leader, you know the digital team has to get the ERP connection working, load the product data, develop an inventory fulfillment plan and set up online pricing, to name a very few. Those hurdles are difficult to clear in themselves and often the e-commerce leader and many of the team members who started the race get frustrated and leave, or are told to leave, because the technical challenges trip them up. It’s frustrating and costly to your business to have to go back to the digital starting block time after time, but most teams trip up somewhere along the way and find themselves starting over. It’s why the hottest seats in B2B distribution are often on the e-business team.

But it’s the final hurdle that is different than the rest and the one most likely to crush e-commerce efforts and careers. It is by far the biggest and most difficult to get over.

That hurdle is internal acceptance. Without the support of your sales leadership, outside team and inside team it’s difficult to win. In many distribution companies, the sales reps tell the e-commerce team that once everything on the website works as promised, they will support the e-commerce program. 

But can that promise of support for your online effort really be counted on? 

One way to find out is to ask your sales team to provide anonymous answers to some survey questions. There are a number of key questions to determine the actual degree of internal resistance you are facing but, although all the questions are important in setting your strategy, the key question you need to find the answer to is whether the sales team will encourage your customers to buy on your company’s website.

Here are some answers from an internal B2B distributor survey where over 50 percent of the sales team said that they don’t encourage customers to buy online and then gave the answers why:

  • “I’m in sales and I sell on relationships, so I would be talking myself out of a job.” (Translation: I think our website destroys my relationships, so I’ll tell my customers it’s awful.)  
  • “The prices on the website are too high. Customers will get better pricing by calling me.” (Translation: Customers call me because I will lower their prices and our profits, but hey — they love me!)
  • “We will most likely lose sales because I know what customers need, and I get no credit for website sales. It’s a lose-lose situation.” (Translation: I’m better than the website, and I don’t think I get paid for online orders, so I’ll sabotage any attempt to help customers conveniently order online.)
  • “All my customers want to talk with someone when placing orders. The website is not how they want to order. I take care of my customers and that is how they like it.” (Translation: The Internet and online ordering are fads, and my customers really like me, they really do, I swear.)

It doesn’t take a palm reader to see that if these issues aren’t addressed by leadership, then this distributor’s online sales effort is on the fast track to failure. The sales team might be pleased if it fails, but every day more and more of your competitors are clearing their final online hurdles and taking more of your business. As millennials make up a growing proportion of the workforce (they’re the largest generation working today), more purchasing is moving online. So a short-term win for the sales force can be a long-term disaster for your company. 

Most of the hurdles in the race to set up an e-commerce site are technical. But you’ll only clear the highest hurdle if you develop and implement a thoughtful and effective change management plan to prepare your company for e-commerce implementation. All of the work, money, time and effort you invest to get close to the finish line won’t let you win the race if you can’t get over that last hurdle. 

As always, we value your feedback. Please leave a comment below or contact me at


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