Marketplace Trends

"We're in a Critical Time": Interview With Jason Hein

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Interview with Jason Hein

Jason Hein, Principal B2B Visionary at Bloomreach and Founder of Acumental B2B, talks to us for Navigating Commerce Magazine about how distributors can stay competitive and the biggest trends he’s seeing in the industry. 

Jason has over 25 years of experience working in the B2B space. His career spans from working as one of Amazon Business’s earliest employees to consulting with B2B companies on digital transitions. Now, Jason helps smaller B2B companies digitize with Acumental B2B and larger businesses set themselves apart online through Bloomreach. 

We caught up with Jason to get his insights on what he’s talking about with B2B businesses right now. 

Innovations in the world of ecommerce are emerging quickly. What advice would you give to distributors feeling overwhelmed by the task of keeping up with the changing landscape?

First and foremost, you need to have someone you can trust in the space. Most distributors don’t have the people resources to lead digitization efforts. 

The complexity of what goes into a technology stack is significant. And now’s not the time to struggle through it. It’s essential to have a team that knows what they’re doing — either dedicated internal employees or an external consultant. 

Next, evaluate the work that needs to be done, and decide how you’ll manage that work. It’s no longer a question of whether you should do the work or not. With the technology available, the question becomes how do we do it? What should employees manage, what can technology support, and where should we bring in partners? 

Offload the most overwhelming work, while retaining the most interesting work.  

How can distributors begin to differentiate themselves online?

You need to start by asking, why do distributors want to go online? It’s not because distributors are super excited to go digital. It’s about the customer and what they need. 

Younger buyers in particular are looking for ease and convenience. When they search for what they’re looking for, are they finding it easily? 

To achieve this, it’s essential to have a deep understanding of your customer’s industry and needs. For example, if you're listing products with the wrong terminology, not only will they be missing from the customer’s search results, it makes them question whether you're the right company to buy from. The more you can show them you understand their business, the more trust is built.

Distributors are uniquely positioned to offer a personalized experience to buyers. Since most transactions are through authenticated site visits, you have insight into the buyer that most B2C companies could only dream of.

What steps can distributors take to improve their digital strategy?

There are a couple of approaches I recommend, both from a people perspective and from a technology perspective. 

From a people point of view, one person needs to be responsible for digital. You need to bring in at least one employee who’s director-level to own the ecommerce strategy. What’s more, they need budget, decision-making capabilities, and autonomy to try things. Essentially, they need to be the owner.

In terms of the technology needed, AI is an important tool to help personalize the buying experience. It’s nearly impossible to scale the level of personalization expected today manually. 

COVID created a lot of mediocre online experiences. Now, there’s an opportunity to do better. But you can’t focus your efforts on being as good as your competitor. You need to be thinking about how you can be better than everyone else two years from now. 

We’re in a critical time. The companies that start now will be able to keep up.

What are some trends you’re seeing this year in ecommerce?

There are a lot more companies starting to talk more practically about how AI and technology can actually move the needle when it comes to personalization. 

A lot of people are also excited about iterative AI— tools like ChatGPT and Midjourney. While it’s not necessarily actionable for most distributors yet, there’s a lot of experimentation happening and it’s something to keep an eye out for within the next couple of years. 

Thanks so much, Jason. Do you have any concluding thoughts to share? 

Just do something. 

Ecommerce can be really scary if it’s something you’ve never done before. But take your first step this year. If you don’t, you’ll miss the boat.

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