Adopting e-Commerce • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

Adopting e-Commerce

Building a company website involves a lot of hands.

When I was a young boy, my father would remind me, “John, you have only one chance to make a lasting, first impression upon someone about yourself.” Although I am sure that I have squandered many first-impression opportunities throughout my life, my father's sage advice has remained with me in both my personal and professional endeavors.

The most recent application of my father's lesson involves a technological twist, as the first impression relates to the e-commerce (website) efforts of my employer, PHP.

PHP is a two-step, wholesale distribution company of construction equipment, tools/supplies and party/event products. Based in Valparaiso, its customers are comprised of national and international companies.

PHP has operated for 30 years and its customer support and marketing efforts have focused on the conventional aspects of marketing and customer support utilized by most every small, medium and large company – print, fax, telephone, point of sale and field support (sales representatives).

However, as technology moves at lightning speed and the demand for e-commerce calls the attention of most every business, PHP has recognized the need to adapt to ever-changing industry and customer demands.

The effort involved in establishing and maintaining a new website is no small task. It involves a consolidated effort of internal and external resources and could require a significant change in a company's business model and how B2B relationships are maintained. The primary elements of PHP's four-legged stool, which have enabled the success of its website, are as follows:

Ownership Buy-in–The development of a quality, functional and usable (friendly and communicative) website is expensive. Unless ownership is committed to the necessary capital investment of developing and maintaining a website, chances are the longevity and success of the site will fall short of expectations.

Working-Group Expertise–Take the time to coordinate the appropriate internal/external resources which will be required to achieve the company's ultimate goal. What you accomplish during the early stages of website development can have future consequences, as it relates to troubleshooting issues or addressing the delivery or functionality of your site.

Staff Support–The day-to-day maintenance and improvement of the site is never-ending; and your staff will play a major role in supporting this effort. It could very well be the case where a majority of your staff will directly/indirectly “touch” the maintenance/improvement of your site. Listen to your staff – customer service, accounting, information technology, legal, management and technical support – and involve them in the appropriate areas of the decision-making processes that improve the site.

Customer and Competitor Awareness–Listen to your customers and their e-commerce shopping needs. Although you might not be knocking door-to-door as you once did to communicate with your customers, you have a chance to capture their interests 24/7/365 via the Web. Ensure that your website's delivery, appearance and functionality appeal to your customers so that the shopping experience provides a long-lasting, mutually beneficial partnership. Lastly, know what your competition is doing, as the chances are that you can differentiate your website's online shopping experience from your competition to your advantage.

In the end, as long as you are truly aware of the goals and objectives related to your e-commerce efforts, you'll realize it's the first impression that you make with your B2B customers that will likely keep them coming back, again and again. Not bad advice to heed, even for the next 30 years of business.

John G. Leurck is vice president at PHP, with daily oversight of all aspects of the company's operations. He is a licensed Indiana attorney.


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