Jason Hein

8. Product Taxonomy, Merchandising & Content Strategies, and Marketplaces in B2B Distribution

Episode 8

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Jason Hein is an experienced digital strategist with a background in industrial distribution and digital commerce industries. He is specialized in product knowledge to build digital merchandising strategies for technical products.

There is no better person than him to build a conversation on B2B Distribution. He covered so many topics from product categorization to merchandising strategies and B2B marketplaces. Go check ‘em out.

product taxonomy

Show Notes

  • [5:45] How important is product taxonomy in B2B distribution?
  • [9:30] Are there any industry standards?
  • [12:17] What does Bloomreach AI-driven site search and product merchandising solution offers?
  • [14:35] The journey behind launching categories for Amazon business.
  • [18:42] B2B marketplaces. Is it really a threat?
  • [24:45] Berkshire eSupply is a sourcing marketplace for industrial products. What does it mean to a B2B distributor?
  • [28:30] Content Marketing Strategy
  • [33:32] Due to this pandemic, what are the things that are going to change in B2B?
  • [40:12] What is Experience Manager and why would a B2B business owner need to consider it for their online presence?
  • [47:49] B2B best practices

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Any comments on the show or any questions that you would like to cover us on the upcoming episodes, just email it to me.

Shiva: Hey, what’s up? Everybody? Welcome back to another episode of Driven: Ecommerce at Work digital transformation podcast for your B2B and B2C business presented by DCKAP. Each week we’ll bring you conversations with e-commerce leaders and the latest trends in the industry. I’m your host, Shiva Kumaar

Alright? So our guest today is, an interesting, B2B eCommerce evangelist, who’s currently at Bloomreach. And he’s working as a principle B2B visionary, Jason Haine. His previous experiences include Amazon and the McMaster Carr supply company. It’s like, I’m doing my first episode Jason.

Good morning. How’s it going?

Jason: Ah, good. Shiva, how are you?

Shiva: Yeah, I’m doing good. How’s the weather and how is the COVID situation over there right now?

Jason: You know, we’re, we’re kind of, we’re hunkered down. I’m living in Seattle right now, so we’re, we’re tending to. You know, still kind of stay in as much of what were, some of the businesses are starting to open.

We’re in a very slow reopening, but, I think a lot of people here are still pretty conservative about it, so not everybody’s rushing out yet. You know, some parts of the country, people are rushing out, you know, a little bit more aggressively. I think we’ll, we’ll kind of see what happens, but yeah, we’re doing all right here.

Shiva: Okay. Okay. Good Jason. So, I don’t want to wait too much. Alright. So for all of us, you know, the first company is definitely a special one, especially after, you know, looking at your B2B experience and, other things. So I really wanted to learn more about, the journey. I mean, where you started. So your first company’s McMaster, right?

So you’ve been with them for almost like 11 years. And so you’ve been in many roles as well, right? So can you tell us how that experience defined you as a person and who you are right now?

Jason: Yeah. I think there’s two things about McMaster-Carr that really were foundational in terms of where I’m at right now.

One is, first of all, it introduced me to the B2B industry in general. I was an undergrad and I was just kind of you know, interviewing for jobs and I was trying to get whatever jobs I could find. And I saw this job posting for, you know, McMaster-Carr is going to be on campus. I was like, all right, I need a practice interview.

So I went in, I, I took it and I just kept talking to this really smart, interesting person after really smart and interesting person. And, um, you know, it kind of, the more people I talked to, the more I was interested in actually going to work for them. So I, they gave me an offer and I, I jumped on it.

And it kind of, it opened up this whole new part of the economy and business that I had never thought about when I was just, you know, a consumer, you’re living that sort of B2C life, that there’s this whole underbelly of things that need to get bought to build other things or to fix other things.

And, so if that was the way that those sales worked, the types of products that existed, it was really eye opening. And then the second thing that I think culturally McMaster-Carr when it comes to product merchandising, because they were a catalog distributor originally, they viewed it very differently from most traditional distributors.

So McMaster made a very strong point of, first of all, owning the content. Like everything in their catalog is something that they’ve created. They’ve written. They’ve written to the, to the manufacturer to get, and they built everything that they had in their product database into genuinely an asset for every product that they carry.

That has positioned them very well for e-commerce because you know, now that they have sort of this unique content asset for everything they sell. One of the things that they’ve done is they’ve made it very clear every single thing that they sell, they have a very clear feature benefit. Like, why? Why is this.

On our website, what are you the user going to get from buying this product? Whether it’s suitability for a particular application, compatibility with a certain product or material, like they’ve really kind of simplified it into, a very clear, here’s the benefit, here’s the feature, and here’s the benefit of that feature.

And that, you know, trying to recreate that again when I’ve worked with clients or when I’ve worked with companies has sort of been a defining part of, you know, how I go to work is helping these companies understand that, listen, if you can’t, you know, go to your customers with something that’s a little bit different.

You know, you end up competing on price and inventory, and that’s generally not a very attractive game to play in B2B.

Shiva: Yeah. Yeah. So, uh, so let me just come back to the B2B part then. So product categories are really important to engage the visitors for better user experience, right? So how important is product taxonomy in B2B distribution?

And do you think that the distributors, you know, understand this very well? If, let’s say we have to compare that to a B2C merchant?

Jason: Yeah. Um, no. So yes and no. Uh. Product kit taxonomy. Here’s the analogy that I use when I go, when I was in consulting and I would talk to clients, I would say, listen, you have to think about product taxonomy is the foundation for your house.

If I was a general contractor and you were coming to me saying, Hey, I’ve got this really cool house I want to buy. Yeah. Most of the time my clients I would work with would want to rush quickly into all the cool, fun things about building a house. This is the sink I want. This is the toilet I want. These are the pink colors I want to pick, and I would have to slow them down and say, okay, no.

On day one, the first thing we need to talk about is how are we going to build your foundation, right? How thick are we going to pour the concrete? Are we going to have, is it going to be reinforced? Are we going to put a French drain around it? All of that is not, you know, sexy things to talk about in B2B.

Nobody wants to talk about it because nobody sees it. Customers don’t see that on your, on your website directly, but if you don’t build it right. You end up in a situation where you’ve got, you know, a cheap foundation and then you try and build this really super fancy house on top of it, and then you decide you want to add that second story or, expand or put like a water bed in your bedroom, which weighs five times as much.

And suddenly your foundation can’t support it. It’s not built to hold what you’re trying to build up on top that people can see. And so the foundation cracks. And then what happens? Well then you have to knock everything down. Like, because trying to fix it after the fact is so expensive and complicated, that it’s not worth doing.

So that the same thing happens with taxonomy and attribution schema that is so foundational to not just the display experience, you know, what your customers see, but also internally, it drives, you know, your data governance, your metrics and reporting. The way that you, allocate and prop solve problems, compensation for salespeople.

There is so much that leans on, you know, not just a taxonomy. You might have multiple taxonomies that you might have, one that governs how your categories display on your site. You might have one that governs how you’re doing, governance and auditing and data quality. You know, when you’re, when you get to be.

Sophisticated and strategic about it. That’s where the differentiation starts to happen and now to the second part of your question, most distributors don’t understand taxonomy. To them, taxonomy is just. Oh, it’s, it’s a financial reporting tool, or it’s a list of categories on my website.

And, you know, they don’t think about things like mutual exclusivity. They don’t think about things like, well, Hey, is it collectively exhaustive? Are we, are we being thoughtful in terms of, how we’ve designed this? It’s just, yeah, it’s just a bunch of categories we can, we’ll throw it up there and that always ends up hurting companies when they try to move online.

Shiva: Do you have any sort of, I mean, it’s just like follow up question to what you answered. Do you have any specific percent on this? Let’s say just because that the B2C merchants are following the taxonomy. They’re doing good at the sales. So this is what, as a B2B distributors you need to do, you can do a better sales, right?

Uh, if you do a proper product taxonomy, are there any specific percent in the market right now?

Jason: Uh, and does it, you mean like, you know, best industry standard?

No. And, and that’s what makes it hard because I, I think what you’ll see, what you see is in Europe there are, there’s more of a, of an acceptance of some international standards around taxonomy. You know, ISO has a standard taxonomy, eCl@ss, uh, ETIM on the electric electronics component. And there seems to be a little bit more acceptance of that in Europe because they are, you know, it’s also, it’s about transferring.

Information about products between manufacturers and distributors. So they’ve sort of, there’s a little bit more take up on it there in the States. Uh, we have tend to view taxonomy as a little bit of a, of a competitive advantage. Like, Oh, I think I can build a taxonomy that’s better than my competitors to create an experience that’s better, that’s more custom for my selection.

Um. And so I think because of that, there’s more resistance here in the U S for these sort of international standards. Um, and also because I think that’s, uh, you know, it’s really hard to create a taxonomy that works for everybody. Now, there are certainly best practices in terms of, you know, things to think about.

Um, you know, obviously you need to have, your categories have to be mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive, you know, a place for everything and everything in its place. Uh, that, that kind of applies to taxonomy. Uh, you need to make sure that, you know, you’re not trying to force it to be too few levels.

Right? I like to go, at least if I don’t have a taxonomy, you can go to at least an L5 in B2B. You’re setting yourself up to fail. Um. You need to make sure that your naming conventions are simple and approachable, right? Like, you’re not, leaning too heavily on calling your categories, things that are only regional or maybe only, uh, industry standard, standard jargon.

Um, you know, those are sort of the. And make sure your families aren’t too big, right? If I, if I get to a landing page and there’s like 25 categories for me to choose from, I mean, I’m a human and like any human, I don’t deal well with that much choice. So, um, I mean, those are the things I would say are kind of my rules of thumb.

When I was in consulting. Yeah.

Shiva: Okay. Okay. Perfect. And, uh, BloomReach offers the AI driven site search and product merchandising solution. Right? So is that built in line with, uh, this, uh, product taxonomy problems?

Jason: Hmm. Yeah. It’s interesting. So Bloomreach the reason I came over to Bloomreach from, uh, consulting was really, it’s an opportunity.

Bloomreach is a toolkit that you can use. Like when you’ve got your, uh, it was built. So that like, you can kind of take your content to the next level, right? There’s an AI component around product and merchandising, site merchandising, SEO. So visibility of your products, getting your organic search results to show, to appear, higher in, to be better ranked on like Google or, you know, on, off, outside third parties.

Um, we have a full. A full CMS tool. So you know, not only do we have all these tools, but we can also create the experience that kind of paints the screen. But the most, most important thing about it, honestly, is the fact that it, you don’t have to rip and replace your existing. Um, your existing eCommerce platform, your existing PIM, the whole architecture of it is designed to be art, to be headless.

So you know, it layers on most eCommerce platform software comes with a site search that is okay, but isn’t great. It comes with search and merchandising functions that are okay, but they’re not that great. If you want to really create kind of a best of breed experience, which is what headless is all about, that’s where Bloomreach comes in handy.

You can, it’s a tool kit. You can pick which tools are most relevant to you and, build off of the fact that you know, when you’ve done, whether you’ve done the work to clean up your taxonomy or not, there’s incremental benefits to, using the Bloomreach tools. And then what I talk about with clients is, you know, one of the things that you’ll see is, all right, Hey, let’s go in and make some changes to your taxonomy.

Let’s make some tweaks. You’ll see that that sort of acts like it’s the nitro in the, in the funny car, right? You run on gas and you’re doing okay. And then like, all right, now let’s put a good taxonomy in there and boom, you watch things blow up.

Shiva: And so when you were with Amazon, uh, I believe you launched the categories for Amazon business, is that correct?

Jason: A number of them. Yeah, yeah, yeah,

Shiva: yeah. Can you, can you tell us a little bit about that?

Jason: It was very different. I mean, we were, we were about 12 people in a, in one office, um, trying to launch a full B2B distribution business. So I was, you know, I came in after spending that much time at McMaster-Carr cause I had a, I had a pretty good Rolodex of companies that manufacturers, um, you know, we had, so I built them like the metalworking and fabrication.

It’s a metalworking, cutting tools, abrasives, a workholding tool holding. I built the fasteners, category, industrial hardware, uh, raw materials, adhesives and tapes. Um, I did a little bit of work in power transmission early on, and then unfortunately had somebody smarter than me come and take over that one.

Um, but it was, you know, your, whole day. I mean, just think about this is go out and try to find somebody who has end mills. All right? I need to find somebody who has end mills and then they have 35,000 end mills, and then I have to like, this was actually before. This was early on in Amazon business when we weren’t getting the support from the offshore team in India.

Like Amazon’s support teams were good, but they weren’t, they didn’t know anything about the types of products we were loading. So we couldn’t offshore that work to actually create the SKU’s and load things through vendor central. Um, so we had to do it all internally and I, and Steve Frazier, who was the vice president at the time.

You know, he kept hitting us with a fact that we, you know, 2020 hindsight. We didn’t listen to him as well as we should have because he was saying, listen, you get one chance to get this data right. I know that you might say you’re going to go back and fix it, but you’re never going to go back and fix it.

Because you’re, there’s always more things you have to load in, and that’s always been something that I’ve talked with people about since then. It’s like I know it feels like you can just, you know, throw, take the data you get from your supplier and throw it up there and that’s going to work right, and that you’ll come back and fix it later.

But that’s, it’s actually really, really hard to do that. So if your thought is, I’m just going to load, you know, a manufacturer, part number and a short description, and that’s all I need to get started and I’m going to come back later and fix all of this selection, you’re not going to, so it’s the, the takeaway here is you should have a floor of product, data quality that you hold yourself to.

You can always, you know, later on. Um, come back and work on raising that. So like if you find you, let’s say you load 25,000 SKU’s and you find that, you know, 2,500 SKU’s are the ones really driving your business, you can come back and fix those. Um, but make sure that the things you’re trying to fix are not loading the attributes that are driving faceted search.

It’s, that’s the kind of situation where we want to load additional images or maybe take your own images or write some custom copy or load some video, right? That sort of, you know, that. There’s a difference between the content that’s used to discover products, right? The, it’s the keywords, the short description, the manufacturer part number, the assets, the, the attributes that drive faceted search.

And then you have the conversion content, the content that once the user gets to the detail page, that’s the thing that tells them, Oh yeah, this is the thing that’s going to solve my problem. I’m now convinced I’m going to buy that. I’m going to add it to my cart with confidence. We made a point of adding too much conversion content too quickly to SKU’s that weren’t getting traffic.

And that was, you know, if there’s one thing that I, that I’ve, uh, talked about since then that I’ve taken away from that experience is you want to invest. In proportion to where your traffic is going, and don’t try to get too far ahead of it, or you can end up wasting a lot of money.

Shiva: So, uh, speaking of Amazon, um, I’m also curious to learn, uh, in a more about the B2B marketplaces and where it’s going.

So especially, I was just going through this, uh, webinar I think it was like a couple of weeks ago by the distribution strategy group. And so they talked about the SKU’s that the B2B marketplaces are offering right? Starting from Amazon to Walmart. And if we had to really look at the expertise, uh, starting from Amazon to Zoro.

Uh, so let’s say there are two perspectives, right? Uh, how Amazon is looking at this and how the distributors are looking at this. So is this more like a threat to the distribution? Or what do you think about it.

Jason: the marketplaces?

Shiva: Yeah.

Jason: it’s, it’s a mixed bag. Um, so I have kind of gone back and forth, uh, that the, the webinar that Ian and John did last week was great.

Um, I, you know, it is a, for small distributors. Right. It can be very tempting to load your selection onto Amazon, right? Because it’s so easy. All I have to do is set up a seller account and upload an Excel spreadsheet of my products and my prices and my inventory, and I can be, I can be off and running, and there is, there are some very good lessons to be learned from selling on Amazon.

As a small distributor, you learn a lot about operational efficiency. Amazon. will beat you up if you do not, uh, play by a very high level e-commerce game, right? If they send you an order and you don’t confirm it right away and you don’t ship it right away and the customers aren’t happy about your ability to fulfill the orders, uh, Amazon’s going to.

You know, come down on you pretty hard. And so from a operational perspective, selling either to Amazon as a vendor or through Amazon as a seller can be one way of testing your operative capabilities for eCommerce. But the challenging part is that once you load all your selection into Amazon, that information about all of those SKU’s becomes Amazons.

So if you have like proprietary products and you start selling them and they start doing really well because Amazon’s bestselling product lists their top selling product list by category are public information. So everybody out there, let’s say you launch a product on Amazon, you’re doing it takes off.

It’s like gangbusters. It’s the greatest, you know, maybe you’re, if you’re a distributor, you’ve got a private label brand and it starts doing really well and you’re like, Hey, this is great. What was going to happen is some other company is going to see your products start to do really well and they’re going to create either a duplicate or a knockoff or you know, they’re also ran product.

They’re going to price at 10% lower. And they’re going to come in and try and sweep your business. So, you know, there’s this sort of middle ground on Amazon where you want to do well enough to do well for your business, but you don’t want to do so well that you start to get really visible and, and people come and take the head off of your business.

Um, it is a, uh, now, so, um, but I think they’re there. So there are. There are instances where selling on Amazon business can be a good, it can be the right thing to do. Um, especially if you’re considering getting into the space. I think the tricky part though is if you are selling products that really benefit from any sort of expertise, um, you know, selling and selling a drill bit or an end mill, yeah, I can sell you the thing, but just haven’t, it’s like selling you a pencil.

Just because I sell you a pencil doesn’t mean I can teach you how to write. Well, just because I can sell you an end mill doesn’t mean I can teach you how to machine in canal or titanium. That’s the role of traditional distributors, and that’s historically been the role of salespeople. Now, I think the. Uh, the tricky part going forward is going to be how well can companies digitize that knowledge and the recommendations about what tools to do well in this material versus this material.

Some of the manufacturers are coming out with little widgets that help people do that. Um, but it. The distributors have to acknowledge the fact that just because expertise is best transmitted in the form of salespeople right now doesn’t mean that that’s what customers actually want anymore. Most buyers in B2B firms these days.

Are gen X’ers and millennials, and actually now, uh, you know, it’s the gen Z’s, is starting to enter the workplace. People talk about millennials, like, they’re like, they’re 18 year old kids. No, millennials are all in their, in their twenties and thirties, like they were. They’ve, so they are so not the jaded, you know, disaffected hipsters lurking in coffee shops anymore.

Like the, the economy is based on millennials now. Um. And they don’t want to talk to salespeople because every salesperson they’ve ever talked to their entire life has not known what they’re talking about. They go to best buy and they try to get tips on like which camera or which phone is right. And the person behind the counter is like, uh, I don’t know.

Why don’t you look up the reviews on Amazon? This is just then their, experience. And so they don’t want to talk to salespeople. So you have to have a digital experience. That can serve their needs and at least get them up to a certain level of, understanding and comfort with making the purchase that they feel like they, yeah.

This, company knows what they’re talking about. When it comes to this, maybe if I do have a question, I’m going to call them and not Amazon. Cause certainly if there’s one thing Amazon doesn’t do in their space, it’s demonstrate any sort of expertise or knowledge of the product.

Shiva: So, uh, speaking of the marketplaces you know Berkshire.

eSupply is a sourcing marketplace for, uh, the industrial products, and they’ve got a million SKU’s, right? Compared to Zoro, which is offering close to 4 million SKU’s. I think there’s still less than that. But do you think, uh, the distributors are looking at the Berkshire eSupply in a different way compared to the other marketplaces.

Jason: Um, you know, Berkshire is an interesting story because Berkshire wasn’t always Berkshire. Um, you know, Berkshire used to be a, I think it was a production tool, supply. Um, but production, the production tool supplies goal was really to be kind of like a white label. They were, they were a master distributor.

So their job was to, if I was a small distributor and there were some manufacturers that either I was too small to buy from directly. Uh, or I was too small to get a good price. I would buy from production tool now Berkshire, uh, in order to get access to that. Material. PTS also did a really interesting approach in that they would create private label print catalogs for these distributors using, you know, the, the selection that they carried.

It was a really innovative, uh, interesting business model at the time. And Berkshire looked at that and was like, Hey, we can totally take this functionality around. You know, custom catalogs, and we can adapt that to create private label websites. So they’ve sort of backed into this very interesting, um, position where they can, you know, they can, they are a marketplace, but they can also help people set up their own websites.

There’s a lot of, you know, um, I need to actually look to see, I haven’t, I, I’ve, I’ve talked with the guys at Berkshire a couple of times. I think that they’re a smart group. Um. You know, they’re, trying to, I think, figure out, um. You know, where to really add value. The hard part about creating any new marketplace in B2B right now is a traffic problem.

Um, I have listened to a number of leaders in, in the B2B space talk about the power of marketplaces, and I think that yes. Um, they, they have the ability to be really influential. Um, but I think the challenging part about marketplaces is if I’m going to start a marketplace today, I am. So there’s a huge first mover advantage in marketplaces, just from a traffic perspective.

People go to Amazon business, not because it’s a marketplace, but because it’s Amazon. They’ve got everything. Any other marketplace that I even consider it’s going to, it’s going to take a lot of really good experiences on that site before I default to go there and don’t go there and then check Amazon because Amazon’s already got like a hundred thousand sellers and B2B.

They’ve got something like hello, tens of millions of SKU’s, like I just will always feel, if I’m looking for something. At the best price that’s going to have it in stock. I’m more likely to find it on Amazon business. Maybe Alibaba, now that they’re making a big push into B2B, maybe. Um, but I’m not, but any, anything else that’s gonna launch?

You’ve got to show me either you’ve got to have a discovery experience that’s markedly better than Amazon’s, which is honestly not that difficult for B2B. Or you have to have better pricing and better inventory than Amazon. Yeah. And what are the odds that that’s going to happen?

Shiva: So more distributors use the same content provided by their suppliers and the manufacturers.

Right. So this leads to a duplication of content and brings down the site rankings. Uh, what can distributors do. Um, you know, to come up with the original content, particularly, you know, if there are like tens or thousands of SKU’s. Is there a way to differentiate themselves from other similar distributors?

Jason: Yeah. Um, so the, the secret to this is that you only need to do it for the SKU’s that your customers are looking at. So it’s very tempting. And we, this is what we did at Amazon business when I was there. It’s very tempting to say every SKU that you launch, you’re going to create custom copy. You’re going to take your own images, you’re going to, you’re going to create your own, shoot your own videos on it, right?

And, and to create truly unique content. Um. For what you’re putting out there, but the problem is 90% probably 95% of the SKU’s that you’re going to load and B2B aren’t going to get any traffic. Nobody’s going to see it. So rev. So that’s why I talk about build that solid foundation, right? Get a baseline level of, all right, we need for each of these, each category in our taxonomy, we must have these.

Like, if we’ve got 25 attributes that we think are relevant, these are the seven that we think you really need to drive faceted search to drive, keyword search, to drive, to drive discovery. And we want to basic and we can then, you know, use that. If you look at kind of, um. There’s some companies out there that are starting to just use concatenation to create custom short descriptions based on the attributes that they have.

So if you say, these are the attributes that we need, you can use those attributes to create your concatenated short descriptions that gives you. You know, a unique short description that feeds into the search, but it’s also very consistent and it’s very complete. I like to talk about the four C’s of content, right?

Content has to be Complete. It has to be Consistent. It has to be Correct, and it has to be Clear. So you have, so completeness you have to have, for the attributes you’ve said are these are what matter for this product. You got to have those attributes populated, consistency. You have to make sure you’re using the same values for those, for those attributes.

Between categories. If you call material 316SS in industrial hardware, but stainless steel 316 in fastener that creates an inconsistent experience. You want to try to normalize that if you can. Um, correct. Obviously you gotta make sure your values are right. But then also clear. So if you are using a lot of industry jargon in your values, um, that’s gonna kind of make your content a little bit less friendly than if you were to use terms that, you know, maybe don’t use the abbreviate, the, the acronym maybe, you know, write something out stainless steel as opposed to SS.

So there’s two components then about making that content unique. Once it’s so you have all your attribute data, make sure that’s normalized as much as you can. Normalizing is something you can do in bulk, especially if you’ve taken the time to invest in a good taxonomy and attribution schema to serve as a rule book to tell you this is what the data should look like.

Once that’s done, you can use concatenations to create short descriptions again at scale. To give you some unique content, but then what you do is you start to watch where customers are going. So what are there categories that are getting more traffic? Are there product families that are, we’re starting to see a lot of add to carts with those cart that those abandoned your customers will start to tell you through their traffic patterns, through their e-commerce, the metrics that you track on your site, where you should be.

Then following up. And incrementally targeting small improvements to just that category. Just that product just enough to kind of lift it up a little bit. And then what you ended up doing is it becomes like 3D printing, right? You start with a baseline, and then where your customers go, you kind of boost the level.

Maybe you do a custom copy block, right? Have one of your salespeople write something about, Hey, this is really the story about why these products are unique. Get that posted. If people aren’t coming to the product, if you’re not getting traffic, then that person’s effort to write custom copy is going to be completely wasted.

That per that effort and that cost that you incur to take your own custom image. It’s going to be completely wasted. So your custom content that, that investment that you continue to make in conversion content needs to follow where your business, where your traffic and where your business are going.

Otherwise you end up throwing money down a hole.

Shiva: Okay. So, uh. So this is a pandemic situation, right? There is this paradigm shift happens every once in a while. So due to this COVID you know what are the things that that is gonna change in B2B, especially after the next three months or even six months?

Jason: Yeah. So we’re already see, I mean, I’ve, we’re already seeing, uh, at Bloomreach instances where, you know, customers who had, you know.

Started to experiment with an online experience, right? or where it’s one thing where you’re a distributor and you think, you know, my kids keep telling me to get to go online, so, all right, well, we’ll open a web store and we’ll, we’ll get a small platform and we’ll load some selection. We’ll start selling.

I’ve talked with a couple of companies, former clients of mine that I, you know, talk to and, and they, they’ve told me, uh, you know, Jason, if it wasn’t for that business right now, we would be out of business because that’s the only way our customers, um, can get to us and our salespeople can’t go visit them.

Um, we’re really limited in terms of our go to market now that we don’t have. Uh, so thank goodness we have this site. Um. I think we’re going to see a lot of, I think if anything, the COVID-19, uh, the pandemic is going to basically, you know, throw gas on the fire of e-commerce for a lot of distributors. Um, now throwing gas on a fire, if you’ve ever done it, uh, can be the wrong way to go about doing it, right?

So if there’s a temptation. To say that, you know, technology, I’m just, I’m gonna just throw more software tools at it. And I know this is ironic coz I work for a software company, but, um, the, the really important thing is that you think about what is it that you want this tool to do and that you, as you’re considering those technologies.

Make sure you have some metrics in place to measure how well this tool is performing. I mean, I, I feel very confident that the Bloomreach solution is one that, Hey, we, we show results. We show incremental lift in terms of traffic and add to cart and conversion and AOV and all these really important metrics.

Because, you know, we’re, we’re about controlling the experience. So if so, just I would say be cautious about anybody who says, my software will solve your problem. Software doesn’t solve problems. Software helps solutions for problems scale. But those solutions for problems need to be thought. You need to be thinking about the process too.

Who are the people that are going to run these reports? Who are the people that are going to make the changes? Uh, who are the people that are going to write the, uh, the training data to get the AI to the point where it’s going to be worth, worth its salt? Um, we are absolutely going to see. A lot of B2B distributors go from, you know, e-commerce being one to 2% of their business to being 20 to 30% of their business.

I think here in the next two to three months, it’s only going to continue. I, uh, I would say, I feel sorry for the eCommerce platform people who are going to get all this business, um, you know, for between, you know, whether it’s, you know, BigCommerce or, um. Or, or Hybris or, um, know or, or other, you know, elastic path.

There’s lots of really good, actually, there’s never been a better time, honestly, to get into e-commerce right now. Cause there’s so many great platforms that you can choose from. Um, so I would say if, if you haven’t gotten online yet. You really need to right now. I’m a , you need, because I think, whereas back in the day, you know, even before the pandemic, you probably could still get on board because I think the industry itself was still getting pretty slow.

And yes, we had these leaders that were way, way up here, but it was still possible to catch up. But now that everybody and their brother is trying to get online all at once. Um, you know, it’s a bit of an Oklahoma land rush to use a, uh, US-based, uh, uh, analogy. Like once all of these people run out there and grab their, their spot, it’s going to be pretty hard to crack it in, in, and to crack it in.

If you start in six months, um, I think you’re gonna miss out.

Shiva: Yea, yeah. And I think the platform providers and the agencies are also trying to help out the distributors as well. Right? So when you have a helping hand over there, uh, along with all these like three month, four month, and six month trial. So I think this is the time for you to experiment as well.

Just go ahead and do the experimentation. So you never had this. Couple of months ago. Right.

Jason: Yeah, that’s a great point. I think there’s, you know, there’s never been a better time to try to get into e-commerce because you have all these platform solutions, but you’re right, there’s actually, there are a lot of, there’s a lot of expertise out there that if you, if you go and talk to them.

And you listen to what they say, just make sure that they are talking to you about things that are going to impact your business. You know, how are they going to help you solve problems? You know, hold them. You know, there is a hesitancy within some distributors to, um. To, to ask hard questions because I think a lot of distributors really just don’t know anything about e-commerce.

It’s such a different business model that, especially a lot of, you know, older senior leadership who’s very comfortable with the traditional distribution sales model. It’s can sometimes be really hesitant to get involved. They don’t want, they don’t want to look like they don’t know what they don’t know.

Uh. But that’s okay. Like you’re gonna, you’re gonna succeed. If you just go out and try to find the right people who can give you the right advice, you know, make sure you’re getting references. Make sure you’re, you’re getting references from people in your industry. Um, you know, not competitors, but. Uh, for people in the B2B space, there’s a big difference between launching a shoe store on, on a Shopify platform, and versus launching a power transmission and industrial automation store on Hybris.

Right? You, I mean, Shiva you know, this, this is, there is a huge spectrum here. And so trying to find that person who can be sort of your digital Sherpa. I think it was a really important, uh, thing for folks to consider.

Shiva: Yeah. Yeah. And that, so one last quick question. So from a normal consumer stand point, let’s say if I’m a distributor and I’m thinking of, uh, in going online, uh, based on the number of SKU’s, or the revenue, uh.

I would essentially consider Shopify or BigCommerce when it comes to the SMB, or let’s say SAP or Salesforce commerce cloud in the enterprise category. Uh, so I’m just curious, you know, if I have to consider a solution like experience management, uh, like Adobe experience manager or the Bloomreach. So what does experience manager mean to my business? The distribution business.

Jason: So, the experience management is so, uh. A lot of the first generation of eCommerce sites, right? So e-commerce says, go through these generations, right? Like you get the, there’s the site that you have that when you first launch, and it’s usually a default template from the eCommerce platform provider right there.

There’s almost no customization. The homepage is, here’s the nine by nine grid of all the categories and like, you know, we, we’ve all seen that, right? And that, and that’s where most distributors start. And that’s great. Like I, I think that that is a, it is a far better thing to get something out there and, and to start to get data and evaluate.

Like there’s this trend, there’s this thing that happens in distribution when you go online, before you go online, most of the decisions are made using what I call experience and opinion, right? It’s, the leadership says, well, this is what’s happened in the past that we, we as the leadership.

Represent the sort of, uh, the, the oral history, the tribal knowledge of the way we’ve made decisions in the past and the impact that’s happened. And that’s great. But the power of digital, the power of online, is that what, and what needs to happen at these companies. Is you get something out there, that gen generation one website, as ugly as it might look right, as, as, as imperfect as it may be.

The one thing you can do is you can set up Google analytics. You can set up metrics or different platforms, different, you know, certainly, you know, uh, Bloomreach has an, an insights function to observe. And watch every single shopper, every single purchasing agent, every single maintenance shop foreman who’s coming to your site, logging in, and then you can watch them do everything that they do.

That is incredibly powerful. Like imagine, it’s like me going to a president of a, you know, ABC supply and telling them, wouldn’t you like to have a camera on the shoulder of every single sales person so you can watch. The response and reaction to everything that your sales person says on the customer’s face as it’s happening, this is what digital can do.

And so, and you need to build, because there’s so much data coming in, you have to have systems in place to track it, document it, aggregate it, and turn it into turn all that data into actual information that you can, that can become knowledge for your business. Um. And, and that, I think is the most important thing.

So it does. You can launch something, um, and get it out there. And as you start to see where things are falling down, this is where the digital experience management tools become really valuable. Um, I would say, I think the most of the DXP’s that are out there right now, um, you know, are, are, you know, they, they are enterprise software right there.

They are probably not something, you know, AEM is probably not something that somebody on a Shopify platform is going to put in place. I mean, you’re smiling a little bit, so I, I’m sensing you’re going to agree with me on that. Um. And it’s not because those companies don’t need a DXP. It’s just because it’s, you know, they, they, you know, and, and Bloomreach is not, you know, we’re not a price point solution.

Um, it’s a, I think we’re, we’re certainly, um. You know, the, it’s all, but it’s all about the value, right? It’s, it’s, can we help you take that gen one soft, you know, version of your website to gen two where it’s a hockey stick approach in terms of the impact on the metrics. That’s the role of a DXP. Is we, we kind of layer on all of these default tools and features and functionality that comes from the platform and we just, we kick it up a notch.

It’s, it’s where you buy that Honda civic, you know, from the dealer, and it’s like, yes, it’s a Honda civic. It’s a great, very nice, robust car. But then now, like you start to like take out the exhaust system and the transmission and you turn it into like, you know, a street racing car like Allah, the fast and the furious.

That’s what a DXP is for. It lets you kind of create those to take something that is an off the shelf experience and, and really, uh, use it to drive, uh, and build on the differentiation online.

Shiva: Yeah. Yeah. I think from my understanding, so the number of SKU’s are not going to be the limitations or, uh, let’s say you’re going to be the first time, uh, online business owner.

It’s not the limitations, right? So as long as you want it to get that experience to your customers. So it’s definitely a good way to even, you know, start with experience manager, is that correct?

Jason: Yeah, I mean, I wouldn’t, I don’t know that you can necessarily, I don’t, I would be, if you have the budget. Yeah. I start with AEM I think that would be, I mean, start with AEM start with, start with a DXP in place if you can afford it.

I mean, I would say Bloomreach we’re certainly, uh, I’d say lighter weight and less expensive and more nimble than AEM. Um, uh, but, uh, you know, but, you know, we’re, we are probably not somebody that, uh, we’re not a tool that’s necessarily going to be layered on top of a Shopify. Shopify, I think is a, is a really robust B2C platform.

I, you know, in. In basically seven years of doing kind of e-commerce consulting. At this point, I’ve seen maybe one small B2B distributor site that’s running on Shopify. Um, I think BigCommerce, I’ve seen more, um, you know, uh, Insite, uh, Netsuite. I’ve seen some of some of those, you know, they have a version of a platform.

Um, a lot of the headless platforms are getting pretty popular right now. Um, you know, like Elastic Path, um, is getting more aggressive. Um, but I mean, there’s, there’s a ton of options and, I would say what matters the most is pick something that you can afford and just get started. You know, if, when the business starts to pay for itself.

Then you will be in a position to, to upscale as you need, and you’ll also have a much better understanding about what, what you really need versus what is sort of a nice to have. I mean, you just never will get that until you start your online business.

Shiva: Yeah, yeah, exactly Jason. So, uh, yeah, uh, I would definitely say it was a great conversation. So before we wrap this up, uh, can you give us a brief. Or the outline or summarize, you know, the best practices, uh. Uh, for the distributors in the B2B, like the things that we never covered in this, uh, 30 or 40 minutes. So are there any things that you want the distributors to, you know, like, Hey, go ahead and do this right now.

You don’t have to wait anymore else, like how you waited a couple of years ago. Right? So are there any, anything that you want the distributors to. You know, go, let’s try this. This is the right time for you.

Jason: Yeah. I mean, that’s, that’s the, I mean, what you just said is literally the most important thing. Just get started. Um, you know, even if it’s just, even if it’s, you know, picking Shopify, even if it’s picking a, um, pick one category, right? Your biggest, most popular category of products get started. Um. Every single decision that you are going to make about digital is going to be driven by the data. Um, you need to move as quickly as you can for making decisions based on experience and opinion to making decisions based on data.

And you cannot do that without a website that is up and running and transactional. So I would say, you know, step one, build the foundation. Right, get, get your taxonomy, get your attribution, you know, set up and working. And there’s lots of companies out there that can help you do that. Well, if you’re not sure, you know, I, you know, Shiva, I’m sure you know, a couple that can, I certainly know a couple of, can happy to, you know, give anybody pointers, uh, if, if they want to reach out.

Um, but, and then once you’ve got that baseline done, you know, and the baseline doesn’t have to be. Aspirational. It just has to be good enough to drive the in the first wave of discovery from the first wave of, of your customers, but then you want to flip as quickly as you can to, all right, we’re going to get that, get all our products launched at that baseline level, and now it’s about follow the traffic, right?

Don’t get too speculative. About where you start to spend money. What should be happening is you, once you get the initial floor built, now it’s like, all right, let’s see where the business is going. Let’s follow that with more investment. Only make investments where customers are shopping only make investments where customers are interacting with your site in some way.

If customers aren’t interacting with your site, you shouldn’t be that, that you shouldn’t be making a lot of investments there unless there is something about that site, that you think it should be doing better, right? Like, well, this is a huge category for us offline. Why are we not selling it as well online?

Okay, that’s a problem. Let’s, let’s try to dig into it. But again, that’s data driven. We’re selling that offline. Why aren’t we selling it online? That’s, that’s, that’s driven by data. Um, and yeah, so start with event, start with a foundation, build that foundation to be pretty robust, but then just start iterating and, and let the customer tell you where you need to add more data.

Let your customer tell you where you need to add more functionality. Your customer will tell you when it’s time to upscale, to maybe a new, a new, more robust platform. They will help you when it’s time to, you know, invest in a DXP. Um, uh, they, they are, your customers really want you to be a success. That’s for most distributors.

Your customers really like working with you and they want you to be a success. So talk to them about it. Talk with, you know, bring them into your decision making process when you’re moving to digital, when you’re trying to figure out, Hey, I don’t know what I don’t know. Well your customers might know quite a bit of it.

And if you’ve got good customers who want to talk to you, maybe, maybe some of your customers that said, Hey Shiva, why aren’t you online? I need to buy from you. My boss is breathing down my neck cause he’s trying to get all of our spend to go through digital here soon.

I’ve, when I was in consulting, I had a number of distributor clients who said, my clients are begging me to go online. I just don’t know how well talk to those, find out what they want. Make sure that’s a part of your strategy on day one. If your best customers offline become your best customers online on day one of your launch, you’ve done something really. Right.

Shiva: Cool. Jason, that was a great conversation and I’m sure the listeners are definitely going to enjoy this and yeah, finally, so we got a time to spend a quality 50 minutes, so thank you so much for taking your time on a Tuesday morning on your busy schedule.

Jason: No, no. Hey, thank you for the opportunity. Shiva, if it was a, it was, it was a lot of fun and I’ll look forward to the next time.

Shiva: Cool. Yeah. Great. Uh, nice talking to you, uh, Jason. Thank you so much. Take care. Bye.

Jason: Yep, Bye.

Shiva: cool. That was a nice conversation with Jason. Um, so I don’t want to say this. Every time on all episodes, just because I’m the host of this show, I actually want you guys to decide that. And do you like this episode? If you have any insights from Jason, just go ahead and comment on Apple podcast and leave us a review and say that hey Jason your insights are really good.

And I’ll pass on the information to Jason. So, uh, before, uh, we wrap this up, I actually wanted to summarize what Jason said. A couple of things that he covered on this episode is product taxonomy, um, product categories and merchandising strategies and content marketing strategies and B2B marketplaces. So we don’t want to ignore the marketplaces all of a sudden, especially on a pandemic situation like this.

Uh, definitely, you know, marketplaces are going to bring in more sales to your online store. Uh, it doesn’t matter you’re a SMB or enterprise, right? So as long as you have a second channel or third channel for your online revenue stream? I think we’re good. Right? And just to give you an insight, if a sale happened through the B2B marketplace, then the next step is on you.

So you just have to figure out a way on how you can actually convert these customers. And. Make the sale through your website the next time. So just streamline your email newsletters, the way that, uh, the customers, the prospect that are going to come back to your website next time, and they’ll just make the purchase over there.

So if you want to hear more about an email newsletter and learn some tips and tricks, just go back to my, uh, episode six where I sat down with David Hieatt, uh, Denim manufacturing company based out of Cardigan. And he talked a lot about it, and if you have any comments on the show, just hit that mail me button in the podcast description.

And if you have anything else that you want me to cover on that coming episodes, do let me know. Thanks once again for tuning in and subscribe to be among the first to hear it. Catch you guys very soon in the next episode. Until then, stay safe and stay healthy.

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