Mark Sutherland

The personal site of Mark Sutherland, eCommerce & Digital Leader

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Ricoh eShop

Well, this is the first time that an eCommerce site I’ve worked on has had this sort of exposure. It’s baby steps for the Ricoh eShop, and a very exciting time!


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B2B Online – a conference for manufacturers and distributors

b2bonlineI attended the B2B Online conference in Amsterdam over the past two days, and thought it worthwhile penning some notes for a wider following. B2B Online is specifically aimed at manufacturers and distributors across all industry sectors and aims to highlight and discuss the issues facing these businesses as they confront the challenge of digital commerce. This is the second year that the conference has been held in Europe, and whilst last year I attended and spoke on behalf of a construction company, this year I was here as a Ricoh representative.


What’s striking is that the themes that come out in discussion are not vertical specific; manufacturers of all sizes and in all industries are battling with the same challenges – should our websites mention price and availability? should our sites be mobile and tablet enabled? should the shop be open to google or closed and by invitation only? How do we adapt to the change in B2B sales practices – where 90% of market research is done online and 66% of the sales process is complete before the customer ever contacts a salesperson? How do we all react to the threat that digital disruptors like Amazon business pose to our markets? What’s the role that is played by distribution and dealers?


What’s interesting is that the biggest hurdle faced by all the companies I met and listened to, from SKF to Philips Lighting, Siemens to Eriks, Xerox to RS Components, is not technical or functional but cultural – how willing is the organisation to react to the challenge that digital change poses to the existing business model and ways of working? As someone who started his career in b2b face to face sales, bolstered by telephone cold-calling and faxshots, I’m really conscious that we need to build a model of digital engagement that compliments the relationship that only a skilled sales person can achieve with a client. And that’s a message that came through from the conference – digital isn’t a “bolt-on” or a “threat” or an “option”, it’s the world we now live in.


Most buyers are now millennials – born after 1982. They’ve grown up with technology and the internet. Their first preference is to look online for a product or service and their second is to engage via webchat. Only reluctantly do they pick up the ‘phone and speak to a salesperson. The same is true in customer service and aftercare. My role here at Ricoh is to help our customers engage with Ricoh in the way that they now prefer to do business. There’s a lot of work to do and some exciting and challenging times ahead.

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Data and the Single-Customer View

I was recently asked for my views on the Single-Customer view as part of the eCommerce Insights blog titled, ”

Single Customer View Cynics vs Believers: Is SCV within reach or a mythical beast?”


My contribution is reprinted below and the full article is listed here

“I have some doubts as to the single customer view and how important it is. This is not because I don’t believe that it’s appropriate for some businesses and some industries but I don’t think it’s always applicable in the (B2B) organisation I currently work in. So, where does it work? Definitely in a B2C environment, where it truly is an individual that you are working with; it makes absolute sense for all parts of your organisation from marketing, to sales, service and aftercare to be working with a holistic view of the customer’s account and his or her engagement with your organisation.

However, in many B2B organisations there are often matrix organisations dealing with other matrix organisations. For example, SIG comprises lots of businesses purchased over time, some of which manufacture their own products, and many of which distribute products. An engagement may be with one organisation from a financial point of view – for example if ABC Construction deals with us, all invoices may ultimately be paid through one account – but it’s actually more likely that ABC Construction has several operating arms, each with their own purchasing entities, and dealing with individual parts of SIG.

Buyer behaviour and project management strategies may differ wildly within different functional entities within what is nominally a single organisation; and this tendency grows in my experience the larger the organisation you are working with.

So what do you think? Am I right? Please comment below.

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2015 B2B eCommerce Report – Extract

Last year I contributed to the UBM B2B eCommerce Report. Below I’ve reprinted the questions posed by the UBM team, and my responses to them. The full report is available here



B2B ecommerce is currently dominated by industrysponsored marketplaces relying on low-cost Internet platforms and ‘harnessing the value proposition of collective bargaining/selling’*4. While large and international enterprises have started independent markets to migrate services such as aftermarket, support or lead generation to online platforms most B2B business models vary from single firm-sponsored, e-procurement solutions and consortiums to collaborative marketplaces that aggregate demand and supply services. B2B models are also moving away from legacy systems which used EDI (electronic data interchange), toward online platforms where buyers and sellers can meet from anywhere in the world on the Web to transact goods and services with only a PC and the Internet.

Mark Sutherland

B2B ecommerce is fragmented at the moment, with very different solutions being available across the market, depending on the size of the customer base. For large corporates and the public sector eprocurement on agreed contracts through marketplaces such as Ariba, Procserve and Science Warehouse is commonplace, whilst for the SMB sector it’s much more usual to have a very similar setup to a B2C site. The challenge comes with the mid-sized corporates; those which haven’t invested in linking their ERP to their online purchasing, but who require workflow to be implemented on the supplier’s website.



As consumers become ever-more comfortable researching, making purchasing decisions and ultimately buying online in the B2C environment, it is only natural that the same demand for an easy online buying experience will permeate their professional surroundings. A recent survey*5 conducted by Accenture found that 49% of B2B buyers prefer making work-related purchases on B2C websites, with 52% expecting at least half of their purchases to be made online in three years’ time. An additional 69% of B2B buyers prefer to pay direct using credit cards or payment systems rather than via purchase orders and invoices. In response, 83% of B2B suppliers surveyed are either in the process of implementing or upgrading their ecommerce platform or planning to do so within six months. The survey also found that 66% of B2B suppliers acknowledge shifting customer expectations and these are driving their technology investments. 83% acknowledged that Omni-channel strategy is critical to a company’s long term success and 85% identify Omni-channel as the crux for tech investment decisions

Mark Sutherland

There’s huge demand for ecommerce in B2B – the UK public sector alone has separate systems for the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments, as well as NHS and University focused systems. Personally, I’ve dealt with global corporates like Atkins, Thomson Reuters and Oracle as well as smaller UK based firms of every size. The benefits of reducing administration and human error at both supplier and purchaser side are clear. The EU has set a deadline of 2016 for eprocurement implementation and they believe that they will save €100bn (£82bn) annually from the €2 trillion (£1.6 trillion) procurement spend by government organisations across the EU by mandating eprocurement.


Mark Sutherland

B2C ecommerce provides B2B with a challenge, because it sets the standards for our users. So B2B users are coming to expect Amazon or Tesco style performance when purchasing in their work life, because they are used to that at home. So clear product presentation, quick faceted search, access to supporting media – all are prerequisites for the B2B buyer. B2B clients are typically operating against an agreed, personalised price structure, with a contract in place to refer to. Their need for eprocurement is often to handle the ‘dayto-day’ business, whilst a relationship with the existing sales operation is needed for the more complex projects or to negotiate terms in the first place.

The ongoing relationship, the ease of use of the site and ease of access to business critical information like invoices or Proof of Delivery notes matter a great deal when a B2B client is selecting the supplier they are looking to purchase through. At my last company we had almost 50% of users whose roles were not to place orders, but to process invoices and to ensure that goods had arrived at the correct delivery address.



Most B2B businesses either wishing to launch an ecommerce arm or strengthen their online presence are faced with some multifaceted challenges. These include the complexity of the proposition, especially when compared with B2C, and modernisation of the organisational infrastructure. Other challenges include:

• Buying cycle (lengthy and complex)

• Omni-channel

• Big data

• Implementation costs

• Conflicts of interest between direct and online sales channels

• Online marketplaces – competition and raising customer expectation

Mark Sutherland

When you couple the requirement for a B2C experience with the challenges of a much larger product range (typically 20k products would be a small B2B website), a requirement for much greater product detail in the form of associated PDF or media documents, and the need to implement personalised pricing with a workflow structure, you start to see the complexity of a B2B site is an order above that of a typical B2C operation



Innovation in both people skills and software is needed for B2B ecommerce to be able to really take off and offer the customer a personalised, seamless customer experience online. Developments and enhancements that will help organisations meet the challenges described above will go a long way toward helping to develop B2B ecommerce in the right direction.

Mark Sutherland

The major areas where innovation is needed is not so much in technology but in organisations culturally understanding where eCommerce fits into their sales and marketing operations. Essentially eCommerce shouldn’t be seen as a threat to the relationship building operation that sales teams undertake, it should remove much of the administration that bogs sales teams down – if it’s positioned correctly. I’ve seen sales directors who don’t appreciate what eCommerce can do for them blindly head over a precipice where their teams simply cannot support the work they are trying to commit to – winning contracts that you cannot fulfil is the biggest danger to the organisation’s reputation if the benefits of ecommerce are not realised.

On the marketing side, a greater understanding of when to use a digital message and when a traditional media message is required – so many companies are still not on top of their social media presence, and don’t have a programme to boost their followers and presence online, not appreciating the value that this gives in search terms and therefore new business. One of my old companies still has the same web presence and marketing structure that they had 6 or 7 years ago – although the majority of their lead generation is now via Google


Mark Sutherland

If those of us in the industry work with the traditional elements of sales, marketing and operations within our organisations, then there won’t be any need for a dedicated ecommerce team in the future – we will have embraced a true Omni-channel approach to business structure, such that web sales and sales will just be “sales”. That said, I don’t think we’ll be there in five years, cultural change in British business is much slower than technology change.

What I expect is that the majority of companies will have recognised that there are significant efficiencies in embracing ecommerce and specifically eprocurement, and therefore procurement teams will be leaner and will be responsible for negotiating agreements and contracts rather than processing paperwork, with decentralised buying the norm in organisations. This will mean more web purchasing of product by people operating out in the field, and therefore B2B websites will become just as responsive and dynamic as the giants of retail.

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B2B Online Conference

Looking forward to speaking at B2B online next week, and to meet some really inspiring Digital Leaders