Why Niche Businesses Thrive in e-Commerce

Camera LensPicture a photography enthusiast on a safari. Suddenly their jeep bounces unexpectedly, and they drop their expensive 120mm lens for their Nikon camera. It shatters. But as an enthusiast, this person is an informed customer. When a customer knows what they want and they want it fast, niche e-businesses thrive.

E-commerce is more than just taking an existing business and plopping it on the web. A truly dynamic e-business leverages the advantages of being online. When you’ve identified niche, doing business in the online space is a core strength.

Specialized storefronts may be hard to find locally. Rent can get to be a bit pricey when the business only serves a limited geographic area with a niche product. Niche e-businesses, on the other hand, are able to offer specialized products, like specific lenses, to people all around the world. An e-business may also tailor specific aspects of the shopping process (such as shipping) to the specific products offered.

Specific products also tend to come with all sorts of accessories as well. Cameras have lenses and tripods and filters and all sorts of gizmos. When a niche e-business carries these accessories, cross-selling leads to increased revenues. These peripheral items are often items that consumers need, whether the business serves passionate hobbyists or specialized B2B clients.

Enthusiast customers or people in specialized fields also like dealing with companies that know the product. For the lens example, a customer wants someone that knows the difference between a 120mm lens and a tripod. This knowledge and expertise instills confidence in the customer.

Niche e-businesses hold up well against the big boys. Finding the correct lens at an Amazon or eBay could be a crapshoot, and they’re certainly not going to offer the expertise and specialization that can come with being a master of their domain. If a customer wants a specific lens, they probably want a store that deals confidently with camera equipment all the time. They want a store that knows a scratched lens is a valid reason for return or that has downloadable PDF instruction manuals for each camera.

E-commerce also gives the niche business a perfect opportunity to flaunt their expertise with content marketing. In addition to downloadable PDF instruction manuals, blogs, whitepapers, case studies, videos, and other types of content draw in your target market. These customers are those that use search engines to find, specifically, information that is presented in your content.

Providing a specific, knowledgeable store is where niche businesses thrive in e-commerce. Without having to risk appealing to a limited market in a single shopping center, a niche business online has the reach of a thousand tiny storefronts.

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Selling Many Flavors: Microsoft Dynamics NAV and Product Configuration

ice creamThink about all that data in your Microsoft Dynamics NAV system. An ERP holds a lot of knowledge. Everything from inventory to product info. Baskin Robbins boasts about having 31 flavors, but it’s possible your products come in even more flavors. So how do you deliver all these flavors to your customers with the self-service options that improve the customer experience? Product configuration is your answer.

Some customers want vanilla frozen yogurt in a cone. Other customers want a scoop of pistachio with sprinkles in a cup. Configuration is for more than just Baskin Robbins though. Configuration, by way of an online configurator, empowers the customer to define the features they want to have for the product they want to build. And the best news is that you don’t have to switch ERPs or go through an intermediary to make it all work. Just integrate your Microsoft Dynamics NAV with the configurator, and you reap the benefits.

Inventory Integration and Information

When you integrate a product configurator with your Microsoft Dynamics NAV, your customer is no longer limited to seeing only the stock on the shelves. Instead, you give them the full power of your inventory. Customers who know what they’re looking for get to experience the whole range of options before them. To take it back to ice cream – because who doesn’t love ice cream? – customers like to know if you’re out of gummy bears or if you only have waffle cones available.

For B2B, it gets much more complicated than frozen desserts. B2B customers are on the hunt for complex, specific solutions, so both of you benefit when you give them access to inventory data. The inventory integration also automates updates to your website in real-time. Stock levels, product info, and even specific pricing or discounts are all handled with the immediacy your customer expects.

Configuration Boosts Customer Experience

Customers appreciate a good self-service solution, and that’s what online product configuration provides. The customer experience is greatly enhanced when customers don’t have to go through long waiting periods or phone calls to customize the product order they want. They just build it on your site and hit submit. And because of the ubiquity of the Internet, this is a process that is done at their convenience. The inventory data from your Microsoft Dynamics NAV updates automatically on your site, available for configuration, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Pricing: You Have Options        

Depending on your product, there are different options for pricing. One option is to present the price as the configuration is being done. When the customer adds Component A, then the price automatically adjusts, courtesy of that Microsoft Dynamics NAV integration. This is convenient for you and them.

The other option is for your customer to submit a quote. Sending in for a quote is also convenient for the customer because they got to take all the time in the world tweaking and customizing their chosen product prior to submission. Then, after they know what they want, your sales team contacts the customer via email or phone and works out the pricing.

Dependencies and Constraints

You might be wondering how a product configurator works so well. After all, there are combinations and configurations of parts that just aren’t possible. Anchovies don’t work with chocolate mousse, and some manufacturing parts don’t go with other parts. Fortunately, that’s where a powerful configurator like the Cincom Guru saves the day.

The Cincom Guru integrates with Microsoft Dynamics NAV, allowing you to set dependencies and constraints. Dependencies mean that some parts must be included with other parts, because the product only works when those two are included. Constraints mean that some products are limited in what they include, due to power consumption or size limitations. All of this is automated and seamless for the customer. Your customer never has to worry about creating an impossible product.

Customization for the Customer

Product configuration streamlines the sales process for you and your customer. And the road to a better customer experience begins with the Microsoft Dynamics NAV system you already have. When it comes to your ERP and product configurator, integration hasn’t tasted this good since peanut butter and chocolate.

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Going Digital? From Paperless Manufacturing to Online Selling

Paper FlightThe Industrial Revolution brought us the manufacturing boom, and for that, we are grateful. But we have entered a new era: the Digital Revolution. With the new paradigm, is there a cause for manufacturers to worry? No. Manufacturing is a dynamic business.

The manufacturing industry continues to evolve with new processes such as paperless manufacturing, and it steps even further into the 21st century with paperless selling, where your customers visit your e-commerce webshop, browse products, and place their orders all in the digital realm.

Paperless manufacturing is an innovation for the digital world.

When your company transfers work orders and instructions to a paperless system, you see immediate benefits. Right away, you save money on delivery and printing of these materials. Paperless files are less prone to error as well, since they should be reproduced less, and there is less of a chance to accidentally dispose of physical paper plans.

If you’re already using paperless manufacturing, think of e-commerce as paperless selling!

B2B eCommerce is huge. Bigger than B2C! By going digital with your product listings, your webshop gives you the option to display your products with beautiful high-quality imagery and even videos. A dynamic e-commerce solution with a full product listing, configurations, rich content, and excellent support presents your customers with everything they expect from walking into a store.

The Content Management System

Your Content Management System (CMS) is the backbone of e-commerce. Your CMS keeps all the product descriptions and allows your customers to browse or search for what they are looking for. If you want to offer your customers variation between products and, important to manufacturers, custom orders, then you need a CMS that can handle it.

Integrate, Don’t Separate.

Just as with paperless manufacturing, integration is important to a smooth operation in eCommerce. If you want automated updates and synergy with your ERP and CRM solutions, then your CMS needs to be part of that conversation.

With ERP integration, your CMS displays inventory and product data for each product. These are features your online shopper appreciates and expects. And with CRM integration, your customer can link certain products to their own personal login, so they can save orders and receive personalized recommendations.

Personalize the Experience.

Many B2C shoppers are already accustomed to personalized recommendations as well as package deals with multiple related products. Bringing these offers to manufacturing or B2B keeps you ahead of the curve.

Manufacturers often have to deal with technical products that are similar yet have widely-varying specifications. If you want to make things easy for your potential customers, have your CMS clearly display comparisons between products. By offering an online side-by-side comparison of different specs, your consumer is more likely to be informed and happy and less likely to ask for a return.

And that’s just the jumping off point.

Taking your first steps from the Industrial Revolution into the Digital is both daunting and exciting. So if you want to save time and money and keep up with offerings from your competitors, consider going digital to serve your customers and yourself.  

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Social Proof: Customer Testimonials in eCommerce

speech cloud“People like us.” We trust people like us. And why shouldn’t we? They’re like us! We know that we’re good people, so we trust people that are good like we are. This phenomenon is called “social proof.”

We often ask for proof of something (ex. the correctness of our actions, the quality of a product, etc.) from the community. This is a common human response, and it underlies the importance of customer testimonials.

Why Should I Use Customer Testimonials?

Customer testimonials provide the social proof to your eCommerce shoppers that you and your products are trustworthy. They’re versatile too. Customer testimonials make great material for email marketing, social media, webinar presentations, and even their own page on your website. Case studies make for in-depth content that show the ins and outs of how you work with customers. Including customer testimonials within these case studies raises the credibility because the reader knows that the company you’re talking about also vouches for your claims.

Who should I Reach Out To?

Reach out to your customers! Reach out to people that speak for their business. Reach out to influencers who use your products. And here’s an important tip: Don’t be afraid to ask. If you sit and wait for someone to come to you, you may never get the customer testimonials you want.

Instead, if you get a response from a customer who loves your product, tell them how much you appreciate their business and enthusiasm. Some customers will call or email or even leave you a recommendation on LinkedIn just to say they love you. Why not ask if they’d be willing to write a testimonial for your website? For added incentive, offer a link back to their website for some quid pro quo.

My Customer Agreed! Now What?

First things first. We strongly recommend getting written approval and permission to use their testimonial, name, and likeness in your marketing. Even if you only plan to use them on a single page, you may decide later to include your customer testimonials in other marketing campaigns later. It’s best to get this sorted early on.

How Should I Present This Testimonial?

Whether you include your customer testimonials in your email marketing, your case studies, or compiled on a single page, one golden rule applies: People trust people with names. Anonymous quotes or testimonials attributed to initials do little to add credibility. More people trust “William Mandel, CEO of ManuCorp” over “Bob from New Jersey.”

Present your customer testimonials with this identifying information, such as their company name. Include professional photos and company logos if possible. The key here is to back up your social proof.

Similarly, if your customer testimonials include actual data, that’s even better! If your company saved ManuCorp $500 million dollars, that’s quite a convincing sales pitch. So if you have a pull quote coming directly from the CEO with that kind of information, it’s best to include that in some marketing materials.

What Are Other Ways To Use Customer Testimonials?

The video format solves the problem of immediately putting a name and a face to your clients. Videos make convincing testimonials and pass the social proof test with flying colors. We even have video testimonials on the front page of our website!

Videos are also great for SEO. It’s always nice when a prospective customer searches for your company on Google and the first thing that pops up is a video of a former customer saying how awesome you are!

If you amass more customer testimonials than you know what to do with, think about creating an entire “Testimonials” page on your website. Testimonials also provide great quotes to send out on social media like Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. And as stated before, customer accounts in the form of case studies illuminate how you solve pain points for potential customers.

This is great advice! Thanks!

You’re welcome. Maybe you want to write a testimonial for our blog in the comments section! Customer testimonials are a very convincing form of social proof. First ask if a customer is willing to provide one. Then obtain a written release (permission) to use the testimonial in your marketing material. And finally strategize about how best to use your customer testimonials. Because if there’s anyone we trust, it’s people like us.

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Does Size Matter In B2B Online Marketing?

Small MouseThe eternal question. Asked of everyone from Yoda, the tiny green Jedi from Star Wars, to Manute Bol, the 7’7” basketball star.   Does size matter? Not when it comes to B2B online marketing. At least not the way you might think. According to a study from BtoB Online, marketers from small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) actually outpace their peers from larger enterprises in utilizing new technologies. SMB marketers are more reliant on the benefits of digital marketing than the overall trend of marketers in general.

Homeward Inbound

The BtoB study, entitled Defining the Modern Marketer: SMBs Driving Results, learned that SMBs are more likely to use email, content, and search as part of their online marketing strategies. Content marketing, in particular, is a boon to SMBs. SMBs often create their own content in-house, which makes it easier for multiple departments to cooperate on some content while simultaneously controlling the message.   The same is true when SMBs control their own email campaigns.

One challenge for SMBs is that they either don’t have the time or budget to utilize massive outbound marketing campaigns. SMBs don’t have the means or manpower to litter a town with flyers or broadcast hundreds of advertisements to a TV audience that has learned to skip commercials anyway with their DVR. Instead SMBs leverage content marketing.

The difference is choosing inbound marketing over outbound. Content as a key component of online marketing allows SMBs to save time and money while compelling content draws customers to the website.  

The Size of Your Story

The BtoB report surveyed SMB marketers and found out that several preferred types of content include blogs, customer case studies, digital PR, and webinars. SMBs used these tactics more in their online marketing, while larger enterprises took the lead with other tools such as microsites and banner ads. But again, this makes sense. SMBs don’t have the resources for a bunch of microsites for every part of the business nor for huge banner ad campaigns.

What SMBs do have is the ability to hone their online marketing message and tell the exact story they want to tell. There’s no need for a Homerian epic. Instead, case studies make excellent narrative content. A B2B case study allows you to focus on how your company was able to find the precise pain points of another business and benefit them with your solution. That narrative is informative in telling your own story as a company as well as the story of your products, services, and customers.

Additionally, SMBs enjoy success blogging. Blogs help build a community and give voice to your company. Rather than come across as a faceless entity, a fate that befalls many a large corporation, SMBs blog to interact and show that there is a caring person behind the products.

Lean and Clean: SMBs and Analytics

SMB marketers also rose above the overall marketing median in how they valued technologies that measure analytics, conversion methods, and targeting. By using technology to determine ROI of their online marketing, SMBs are more likely to stay relevant and more able to change course when certain campaigns aren’t working.

This only makes sense though. It’s much harder to change course with a gargantuan ocean liner than a small speedboat. SMBs stay lean and adapt more quickly to the clean, pure data. This, in turn, helps their online marketing become more agile in responding to recent trends or current events.

Use Size To Your Advantage

If you’re an SMB marketer, consider the advantages you have when it comes to creating content in-house, controlling the story, and staying agile. If you come from a larger enterprise, don’t be afraid to learn a little from smaller organizations. Take the tools of online marketing and see how your company stacks up in adaptability and inbound marketing efforts compared to your equally large competition. As a business, leveraging key technology is the way to stay ahead.

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