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International b2b e-commerce: mistakes to avoid

Blog
13th June 2018

Increasing numbers of B2B businesses both large and small are setting their sights on trading internationally through an e-commerce platform. To give yourself the best chance of making a decent fist of it, Axel Mouquet, Development Director of Webhelp Payment Services, proffers his advice and explains which mistakes to avoid.

At Webhelp Payment Services, we know all about trading internationally: we collect 80% of our payments (€1 billion a year) outside France on behalf of b2b vendors. And we cover 35 countries via 11 regional subsidiaries.

As a payment institution, at Webhelp Payment Services we help our clients to devise and manage their B2B payment strategy. Our shared objective is to improve the customer experience and develop a secure business.

To this end, we offer risk management, transaction management and non-payment management services, working internationally with brands such as Conrad, Aniel, IPH, Procsea, Conforama, Le Duff and Rungis International Market.

From day-to-day practice and our observation of the market, we have identified 5 avoidable mistakes:

  1. The ‘everywhere-at-once, all-at-once’ strategy. The temptation is to launch in several countries at the same time instead of introducing a gradual rollout (which is more advisable as we shall see later). In this faulty model, the starting point is often the home-country e-commerce website or the reference website, which is then cloned and rolled out simultaneously in the different languages and countries. Typically, this is done by employing translators to translate the existing content. But you can bet your bottom dollar (or euro) that it won’t work!
  2. A succession of ‘cut-and-paste’ openings. In this variation on the faulty model above, the plan is to proceed country by country, simply ‘cutting and pasting’ from one site to the next. But here too you’ll be heading for trouble, as B2B conventions vary hugely from country to country. You have to understand and follow not only the law but also business practice, decision-making cycles and order-validation circuits for example. It’s therefore a no-brainer: you must redesign the site – and the customer experience – for each country or region.
  3. Staking everything on adwords. This is perhaps the costliest strategy: the company invests a fortune on buying adwords in the hope that this will capture demand. Of course, you must not neglect or forget about digital marketing, but human contact is important too! In B2B commerce, building a relationship of trust – between professionals – is crucial, especially when your business is starting out. You have to devise a sales force deployment strategy on the ground or operating in the local language. And later you will have to regularly tweak your mix of digital and on-the-ground presence.
  4. Over-centralising your business. Is your company based in Paris, Lyon or Bordeaux? Then it’s there that all of your international operations will be based. We cannot say it often enough: in B2B you must ensure you have a physical presence local to your customers. And your customers will want to check that this presence is on offer, even if it is just a sales or logistics service. In B2B, digital commerce will never do away with borders completely!
  5. Having the same payment conditions everywhere. To speed things up when rolling out your B2B e-commerce platform internationally, it is tempting to standardise your payment conditions. But experience shows that even within Europe there are major differences here, and some of them may even put you at risk. There are differences between payment conditions, respecting payment deadlines, legal aspects of the market, etc., and you also have to take into account local competition, prices and products and services on offer. And in B2B, assessing customer credit risk is crucial. Webhelp offers a range of specific international commerce solutions.

In summary, our advice is not to spread your resources too thin and to tailor your offer to each locality. To become an international business you will have to identify the key success factors for each country and focus your efforts on them.

And here are 5 examples of approaches that work well, where we have helped our customers grow their B2B business internationally.

  1. Introduce a gradual, tailored rollout. The idea is to be realistic, starting with the country or region that appears to present the fewest operational difficulties and learning all the lessons you can before expanding elsewhere. On each occasion, you must take the time to understand the specific characteristics of the local demand. You should implement a carefully thought-out, localised approach incorporating co-design and co-construction.
  2. Use the marketplace model. The marketplace model has certainly proved its worth in B2C and now represents a tremendous opportunity in B2B since all the tools and methods are already available. This strategy enables you to construct your offer locally, minimising the risks, investment and any logistical problems involved. And you also have the option of signing up dependable salespeople with a good reputation who are already in place. At Webhelp, we think this model is becoming the go-to approach and that you should consider it very carefully. In other words, you’ll have to have very good reasons not to adopt a marketplace-based approach!
  3. Make sure you have localised payment strategies. This is where Webhelp Payment Services comes in: devising, implementing and managing the complete payment circuit, with the option of including credit insurance, constructing a secure business model for the country in question and taking into account specific customer risks. In this respect we are able to provide tailor-made solutions on the basis of conventional or pooled distribution of profits/risks.
  4. Build locally with international partners. Your success is conditional upon knowing the ins and outs of B2B practices in the country or region concerned. Giving yourself the ability to identify and work with international partners gives you a decisive advantage. Especially if your growth objectives – organic or external – are ambitious.
  5. Develop a local sales force. As we have seen, B2B is not all about digital technology. You should consider gradually introducing sales forces on the ground.

References (in French)
B2B marketplace: the experiences of Aniel, Procsea and Metro
The B2B marketplace spring: modelling the impact of B2B marketplace strategies
[ITW] B2B marketplaces: the 4 main models and major trends
[CR 12.10] What strategies for your B2B marketplace?


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