I sat down with Isaiah Bollinger, CEO and co-founder of Trellis, a leading ecommerce agency, to talk about the future of B2B ecommerce. We talk about why it’s imperative for suppliers to move their customers to ecommerce, the implications of moving from more traditional forms of B2B ordering, and how to successfully make the move.
Visit Trellis.co to learn more about their work.
Chris Grouchy: Thanks for taking the time Isaiah. To kick things off, tell me how you came to start Trellis and what your vision is for the company.
I decided to start Trellis when I was working for a large media company that I felt wasn’t truly helping small businesses with their digital strategy. The small businesses needed help. My vision for Trellis is to be a one-stop-shop for established small and medium sized companies to completely revamp their digital strategy and implement cutting-edge ecommerce programs through our services and products. We are already doing this today, but want to increase the scope and scale of our effectiveness to help more companies and handle more needs within the realm of digital.
Many of our readers are CEOs and founders. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?
Hiring good people and building a great team is incredibly hard. I was very naive and thought other people would want to work for less than market value to build something but that is very rare to find. It took me about 5 or 6 years to build the foundation of that team, and we are now learning how hard it is to scale the quality of our core team to a much bigger team as well.
Shifting gears. In preparation for this interview, I came across a post that you published on LinkedIn where you said, “I sincerely believe B2B ecommerce is the most underrated opportunity in the economy… It’s an insanely large market yet not many companies are doing it well.” What’s the backstory behind this statement and can you unpack it?
I would guess that the average person doesn’t realize that B2B ecommerce is actually double the size of B2C ecommerce and thus they are not aware of the size or magnitude of the industry. I have been in B2B ecommerce since I started Trellis, and I have seen the industry evolve over the last 7 years and I still feel that we are just at the beginning stages of what it can be. I am finally seeing companies take it more seriously, so I feel that B2B ecommerce is a larger market that is much earlier stages than B2C and thus a huge opportunity for anyone looking to get into that market. I also feel that strategically it makes more sense for B2B buyers to want to buy online in that they typically know exactly what they want and need versus consumer buyers who may be shopping around and need to physically see or touch the product to know they want it.
Why do you feel that most suppliers aren’t doing B2B commerce well today?
There are a few core reasons. The number one reason is that most B2B companies are tied to their ERP systems and have complex pricing and logistical operations as well as massive catalogs. These ERP systems were not designed for ecommerce. Ultimately, they need to have robust ecommerce integration with their ERP system and this is very hard to do, and most integration products on the market only do a portion of what they need to be effective operationally.
The other core reasons are a lack of expertise internally to execute. You can only outsource so much to a third party and really need some internal expertise to execute on things like implementing a large catalog and effective website. Other aspects like special customer pricing and other B2B needs are also organizational challenges that need to be implemented on both a technical and company wide level because many B2B companies did not design their pricing or systems for real time purchases and are built for back and forth negotiating via sales reps.
What shifts are you noticing in the B2B ecommerce landscape from the work you are doing with your clients at Trellis?
We are noticing that companies are getting more and more sophisticated internally every year and are coming to us with more robust RFPs and expectations, which is a positive sign. We are also noticing that companies are finally accepting that their ERP systems are not well equipped for ecommerce and they need to focus on strong integrations with their ERP and B2B platforms. We are also noticing that B2B companies are finally embracing more B2C like features and are even considering more investment in a hybrid B2B and B2C ecommerce model.
Talk to me about distributors in the context of B2B ecommerce. Why should a VP of Sales of a major distributor care about ecommerce?
Customers want to be able to buy online. If you are selling them on an experience that requires them to call in, you will not be competitive. As a VP of Sales, you should be using ecommerce as a value added sales tool to sell clients on a platform that will allow them to easily buy whatever they want efficiently and at great prices so they don’t have to waste time calling in for orders.
In addition to phone orders, we often see buyers using email and fax to wholesale simply because there isn’t an online purchasing option. The sales rep’s time is then allocated to manual order entry and not getting more orders or customers.
Where is the low hanging fruit for suppliers when it comes to ecommerce? Is there anything that suppliers can learn about ecommerce learn from their B2C counterparts?
Absolutely. I think B2B companies need to think of themselves as simply complex B2C ecommerce. Ultimately, they are really just personalizing a B2C ecommerce experience for their customers such as unique pricing, payment terms, and maybe catalogs or logistics. Ultimately the same wants and needs apply such as a good user experience, great product data, fast site speed, good search, and other ecommerce best practices that apply to B2C.
We will end with one quick-fire question. What is the best book you have read in the past year or two?
I will have to cheat and say it was both “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” and “Lost and Founder” by Rand Fishkin. Both these books taught me a lot about management and the difficulty of growing a startup. It’s been very challenging to grow and scale and we are still dealing with growing pains but we are definitely maturing the organization thanks to advice like these books have.
Thanks for taking the time, Isaiah.
Isaiah Bollinger focuses on creating scalable digital growth strategies and implementing such strategies for businesses of all sizes.
As co-founder and CEO of Trellis, Isaiah helps businesses grow by enhancing the information technology and online marketing components of their business. Isaiah has built a company that can handle smaller micro-sites to large and complex ecommerce sites spanning multiple brands and countries.
Isaiah Bollinger has been working in digital marketing since 2012. He is highly experienced in digital strategy, ecommerce, project management, SEO, software implementation, and many other realms of digital marketing and operations.
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