Today’s guest is Chloe Thomas from Ecommerce Masterplan.  She’s going to help us understand why brick and mortar and main street businesses need to have an online presence, even if you don’t sell online products.

Too often in today’s world, main street businesses believe that having a good online presence isn’t all that important.  The truth is that your customers are making over 65% of their buying decision before they ever pick up the phone to call or walk in your business.

In today’s episode, Chloe is going to help us understand strategies you can use to help your business become one where you have a steady stream of new customers coming to your business.

Here are some of the things you’ll learn in today’s episode:

  • How to enable your customers to buy online from you.
  • Why you need to focus on one business model at a time before adding more channels.
  • The importance of building your business that supports who you are.
  • How to not waste money on marketing that doesn’t work.
  • How to handle fear from your team with putting an online presence together.


Narrator:         Welcome to The Sustainable Business Radio Show podcast where you’ll learn not only how to create a sustainable business but you’ll also learn the secrets of creating extraordinary value within your business and your life. In The Sustainable Business, we focus on what it’s going to take for you to take your successful business and make it economically and personally successful.

Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable.

Josh:                Hey, this is Josh Patrick. You’re at The Sustainable Business.

Today, our guest is Chloe Thomas. Chloe is the CEO of eCommerce MasterPlan™. She has been a business owner since 2007. She has written five books. Her specialty is B2B eCommerce or at least that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

This is an interesting thing because, frankly, most people in blue-collar businesses really struggle with marketing and sales and I’m hoping that Chloe can help us straighten all this stuff out. So let’s bring Chloe in and we’ll start talking about how you can market your business, especially if you’re trying to sell to other businesses.

Hey, Chloe, how are you today?

Chloe:              I’m good. Thanks, Josh. Thank you very much for having me on your show. It’s great to be here.

Josh:                It is great to have you here. So let’s talk about B2B eCommerce because it seems to me that, although it appears to be B2B, almost all the eCommerce stuff I see online or people who are trying to market online really is what I would call B2C, meaning there’s one customer, it’s not a business trying to sell to another business. So if you’re doing B2B commerce, what do you tell your clients?

Chloe:              In terms of making that step from selling to them by turning up at their office or phoning them to get them to go online or in terms of you’re already online and you’re just communicating with the customers who are already buying from you online?

Josh:                Let’s say you don’t do anything online or what you have online is at best a website that really is a brochure and not that anything is interactive and you have a sales force out there, and you probably have some advertising and marketing that you’ve done but is not very effective because the world has changed. I have a client that was spending $40,000 a year on the Yellow Pages. It took me three years to get him down to $20,000 and another three years to get him down to $10,000 so.

Chloe:              Yeah.

Josh:                It seems to me there’s an awful lot of people out there wasting an awful lot of money in the B2B space that could be doing it more effectively.

Chloe:              Yeah. I think there is definitely a rising tide in the B2B space of going online which is caused by customer behavior. And the root of everything I’ve done since I started eCommerce MasterPlan™, for over the last five years, it’s always been about, “How can you serve your customer in the best possible way?” because the reason for a business change or a business shift has to be about serving the customer. And it’s the B2B customers who are the ones who are wanting the online solutions at the moment.

I have a couple of stats for you. Currently, 30% of B2B buyers make half of their purchases online. And this is the really scary one, 74% of them research half of their purchases online. So if you’ve not got the right information, if you’ve just got that website which you put live two years ago because your secretary’s nephew knew how to do a website and you’ve ignored it since then.

Let’s face it. We all know businesses who’ve done that.

Josh:                Yup.

Chloe:              Then you’re not enabling the people who want to buy from you to research your products because even if they’re not yet happy as businesses buying online, they are using the internet to do their research. They’ve got to be able to find you. So I think what you will find that a lot of your customers actually wanted. The more difficult thing is often dealing with the salespeople and getting your own team on board with the change is certainly what I found, the customers tend to be a little bit easier but it’s the team internally who could be a challenge.

Josh:                My guess is, the team internally is a challenge because they don’t have a clue on how to set up online products that are useful to their customers. And they go back to the boss and say, “Don’t bother with that. It’s a complete waste of time.” And–

Chloe:              Yeah, it–

Josh:                By the way, I’ve had that happen to me over the years so I know that deal.

What do you tell these business owners that they’re getting push back internally and they don’t even really realize that, you know, you said 70-some %, I’ve read 80% of the buying decision is done before somebody ever picks up the phone.

Chloe:              Yeah.

Josh:                That’s a big deal.

Chloe:              It’s a tricky one if your team aren’t on board but you’ve really got to work to get them all on board, otherwise they’re not going to make it fly. To get B2B eCommerce working, you’ve got to help your customers through it. You’ve got to help your customers through every challenge they have with the website, through the on boarding process of getting onto the website. So if the call center team, if the sales team, are kind of out there going, “Oh, don’t worry. Just send me a fax and I’ll do it for you.” That is just not going to work. And all that effort you’ve put in isn’t going to deliver for you.

So there’s kind of two sides to getting the team on board. One, of course, there’s getting the website built. And you’ve got to get the right site that does the right things for your business whether that’s a closed trade portal or an open site that also sells to B2C communities as well as the B2B community. There are many, many different ways of doing that and you need to find the right one of those for your business. And then find the right people in your business or bring in people to do it.

I think, the side which is the most important in terms of getting the team on board with the idea tends to be that they’re scared. You know, as humans, we’re not great with change. And if you’ve been a salesperson who’s been pounding the streets or you’ve been pounding the airways or whatever you’ve been doing to get those sales, and then all of a sudden someone said you’re going online, you can feel like that’s a threat and that potentially you’re going to lose your job because everyone’s going to buy online. We had it when B2C eCommerce took off with shop staff thinking they were going to lose their jobs and being scared of the web and refusing to pay any attention to it. And that it was going to damage their bonuses.

So I think you’ll see the same things with call center teams and with sales teams. So what you’re going to do is really reassure them that this isn’t a change in order to reduce head count. This is a change to make their jobs easier. So as rather than spending their days phoning people up to remind them to order, they get to spend their days finding new customers and actually growing their bonuses rather than seeing them filtering away.

Interestingly, I’ve been talking to quite a lot of B2B businesses recently about how they found the journey into eCommerce and not one of them has seen the number of their sales team go down as a result. Every single one has either got the same number of sales team and their call center team or they’ve actually seen it go up. So I think it’s a bit of a hearts and minds piece you have to do. You’ve got to really find out what they’re worried about and reassure them.

Josh:                I can see people buying online in the B2B situation for reorders. It doesn’t seem to me that B2B, for initial orders, is the best way to go but setting up a B2B marketing system to create awareness is. Am I correct in that or am I completely out to lunch?

Chloe:              I don’t think you’re either because I think it depends on the product. If you’re selling replacement washing machine doors to the local handyman, there’s every chance he will buy from you for the first time online.

Josh:                But what if I’m an OEM and I manufacture washing machine doors for Maytag.

Chloe:              Yeah. And then you’ve kind of got the other end which is you’re selling into the big manufacturer. Then you are far more less likely to see it as a first order channel. It’s far more likely to be repeat order channel.

Interestingly, a friend of mine who runs a B2B eCommerce website building company in the UK, they’re seeing one of their best sources of new businesses at the moment are people with such contracts as the one you just outlined who are being told, “If you want to supply us, we need to have a website ordering system. We need that online ordering system or we’re not playing with you.” So they’ve got lots of people coming to them, “Please, can you build me a website or I’m going to lose this massive contract?” So it’s becoming part of that system.

And I think for those larger companies it’s not just about the marketing to get the repeat, it’s also about having the system set up so that you are making it as easy as possible for them to do that. So the whole purchase order system, sign off of orders can happen within your own system. So they’re kind of locked into you because you help them out with their accounting.

Josh:                So what you’re really saying is if you don’t make it easy for people to buy, they’re not going to buy. They’re going to use your competitors. So it’s almost table stakes today that if you’re in what I call the real B2B marketplace where you’re selling to other people who use your stuff in building products, you’ve got to make it easy for them to buy.

Chloe:              Yeah. And that could be online. It could be a catalogue coming through the post still. It could be the sales rep turning up every six months. It could still be the phone call every week. But I strongly advice you to get them away from faxes because that’s of no use to man or beast.

But yeah, it’s all about making it easy for the customer in whatever way they want to. And, increasingly, as this millennial generation are coming into the workforce, they want to do able to do these things online. They don’t want to have to get the catalogue down from the shelf, flick through it, and find the part number. So it’s about having the online presence but also making that online presence easy to use. So if their system spits out a spreadsheet order then that you can just upload into the website. So it’s highly about customer service.

Josh:                If I’m in the B2B world, and I’ve been using the using the Yellow Pages primarily as my marketing methodology, and I walk into your office, what are the three, four, five or six things you’re going to tell me I need to be doing?

Chloe:              Well, I suppose, the very first thing I’d tell you would be, “Don’t entirely stop the Yellow Pages but make sure you’re tracking the results” because I think offline has a big part to play in the recruitment of new customers in B2B. But I think there are some online tactics you can also be using. So SEO kind of comes immediately to mind because you want to make sure when your ideal customer is searching for whatever widget you are supplying them with or have the potential to supply them with, they’re finding you. So you need to be visible online.

I think, social media can play a part. But, again, it depends on your industry and whether your customers are active on social media. LinkedIn can be good but it depends on whether your customers are busy using social media or not. So it’s like with any marketing, you need to find where the customers are hanging out.

I think, in B2B as well as in B2C, email marketing is most definitely your friend. Once you’ve got the e-mail address in the first place. So making sure people are aware of the range that you supply, of the benefits of working with your business, of the ease and simplicity of buying from you, and the great service levels that you give, then that’s all going to head in the right direction for you.

Josh:                Okay, so if I’m going to build a website and my website is designed for B2B, what needs to be in that website and what should I be doing to attract the right customers to my company?

Chloe:              Well, I guess, the first thing you’ve got to decide is whether you want your website to be open or closed. I mean, can someone come to your website without any log-in, without knowing your business, and see every single product and product description? Or do you want them to have kind of a closed portal where they have log in before they can see everything?

Josh:                So why would you want to have a closed portal? That would seem to me to keep people away.

Chloe:              It’s only in a very small number of cases that people seem to do it, I must admit. And even in the B2B space, I’m a much bigger fan of the open portal process because you don’t have to show the prices, just show the product information. And as we both said earlier, research is so important online these days, you want people to get the product.

So I know a lot of people who have the open format and they’ve not got prices but they’ve got everything on there, including the pdf specifications you can download or the cat files you can download right there and then on the page. So someone can complete their research and really understand if that product is going to work for them or not.

So closed tends to end up being more protectionist and fear-induced, I think, than any practical reason. I’ve yet to find a very good practical reason for keeping it closed if you’ve got a fairly standard range of products.

Josh:                So besides products on my website, which sort of makes sense, is there anything else I should be doing on my website that would help people figure out I’m the right company for them?

Chloe:              You need to make sure the information they need to know is upfront and that you’re making it easy for them to find that information. So that could be around delivery speed, in stock numbers, that’s quite an important one in the B2B space. You know, if you want it now, you want it now and you need to know if it’s out there in their warehouse, ready for you. So delivery speeds, availability, delivery pricing is obviously part of the mix. And make sure you keep it pretty clear on there that people are able to contact you for customer service’s reasons as well so it doesn’t look like you’re trying to funnel everybody down this web option but they’re able to speak to an agent, speak to a representative, have someone come and call, depending on which one of those fit and how much you’re able to invest in each new customer.

The other key things are making sure that they know you’re a reputable company, so the whole trust and social proof aspect comes down to it. In the types of businesses we’re talking about, in that OEM space, it tends to be a much smaller market so the chances are your perspective customers probably already know of your business and your brand. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be making sure that it’s clear who you are and what you do. So pictures of your team, the story of the founder, how long you’ve been around, any kind of review scores you’ve got, PR write ups, recommendations from other businesses. All of those are going to help you convert the person into a customer for the first time, whether they phone up or whether they choose to order online, and to make sure they keep coming back to you.

Josh:                So what about things like blogging and podcasts, which we’re doing right now, Facebook Live video, where does that fit into the B2B world?

Chloe:              It’s another one where I want to say it depends on what sort of product you’re selling or who your customers are. But if we’re sticking in that OEM, big B2B space, for clarity, it’s s tricky one because I haven’t seen anyone who’s using it incredibly well and getting great dividends from it. Often, it’s a way, it seems to me, to be more a way of keeping that person in the business happy, if you fancy doing a podcast and had enough to say. Or we had someone on board who could write the content.

I think it’s more important to make sure that your product content and your product information – the information that the customer wants from you, is available. And if the best way to do that is a podcast, is a vlog, is a blog post, then that’s great.

One of the things which I think, in the manufacturing space, actually can have quite a difference is video, showing people what happens behind the scenes. This is how we manufacture. This is the size of our operation, the cleanliness of our plant. You know, you can see whites of the eyes of the people who are going to be making your product. That really helps on the trust factor.

Josh:                That makes sense to me. You know, I was just sitting here thinking while you’ve been talking is that, it almost seems to me that if I’m in the B2B space, I really want to have two websites where I want to have a section of the website that’s for people who aren’t doing business with me and then another section of the website for people who are doing business with me. And it would also make sense to either have two websites or clearly delineate what part of the website is for where you are on the buying journey.

Chloe:              Yeah. A lot have, partly is that master of legacy which I think they’ve found useful. But I think it gives a lot of clarity to the person who’s arriving. They have almost, in the UK, we say “brochure ware site”. Like, it’s the site that says about the business but you can’t buy anything from it.

Josh:                Right.

Chloe:              So they have kind of on the main brand URL,, will have their brochure ware site. And then on is where the shop is, so the eCommerce store. And it may be very clearly linked between the two. But the home page, the information someone sees when they come to that main website is all about why you should do business with us. And then there’s the link after the shop site whether you’ve got it open, whether you need trade log-ins et cetera.

Josh:                That makes sense to me.

So I like the idea of doing video showing the factory and showing how you work, and showing the people who you’re doing business with, and maybe even doing some video biography as it might make some sense for people to get a sense of who the head of engineering is and why they’re excited about what they do. Those sort of things make people feel good about doing business with your business.

Chloe:              It does, completely. And if you have the one trade show a year, you want those buyers to be walking on and go, “I think I know that guy” even if they can’t remember the fact they saw him telling about that, it makes them that bit more likely to approach to say hello, to feel more comfortable with your business, if they’ve never approached you before. And, as you said, it gives them that vision behind the scenes of what’s going on that makes them feel that bit closer and remove some of the fear factor about a new company.

Josh:                So you were talking about a brochure site before and it seems to me that most B2B sites or many B2B sites have no place for any of potential customer to interact with the company, can you talk about whether that’s a big mistake or not? And if it is a mistake, what can you do to fix it?

Chloe:              I think it is a mistake because, fundamentally, the people who are buying from the B2B businesses are the same human beings who buy from the B2C businesses. And the functionality they’re used to seeing on the B2C site is what they’re now wanting to see on the B2B. Yes, they go ordering bigger volumes. They want les flowery copy, more precise information. But it’s still the same human being with the same expectations of service and interactivity and so forth.

I think the simplest way of doing this, in the B2B space, is with the addition of live chat. It just fits with that one-on-one mentality that still exists a lot in the B2B space. It means you get to show them how great your customer service is because you’ve got someone from your customer service team, from your sales team answering those live chat messages. So just the popup in the bottom of the screen that says, “Can we help you?” To answer any questions they’ve got as they go through that brochure ware site is hugely valuable.

And, of course, you can put exactly the same software on your eCommerce site. So if you’ve got someone, they order from you all the time, and they’re thinking about this new product but they’re not sure about it, they can ask you those questions right there and then when they’re on the product page. So I think that’s the obvious element to go to because, as I said earlier, customer service is so important in this B2B space whether it’s online or offline, via the phone, via the fax. It’s essential to get the customer service right and to prove that early on, too.

Josh:                That makes perfectly good sense to me.

Hey, Chloe, we are unfortunately out of time home which–

Chloe:              Shocking.

Josh:                –is shocking. It’s amazing how that happens. We’ll continue this a little bit longer after we get done with the podcast but can you tell people how they can find you?

Chloe:              Yeah, of course.

Josh:                And what it is exactly your company does?

Chloe:              Yeah, of course. So eCommerce MasterPlan™, we exist to help eCommerce business owners make better decisions, to find their path to growth because the number one problem everyone seems to see in the B2C and the B2B space, the problem tends to be, “What do I do next? Is what I’m doing the right thing?” So we exist to help answer those questions.

You can find everything about us at And you can find out about my brand new book, The B2B eCommerce MasterPlan It’s available on Amazon. It’s a Kindle audio and paperback. But you can find out about that at, unsurprisingly. And please do get in contact if you’ve got any questions you want to ask as well.

Josh:                Cool.

I also have an offer for you. I have a one-hour free audio CD course. It’s called Success to Sustainability: The Five Things You Need to Do to Create a Personally and Economically Sustainable Business. You’ll learn the five things that every business owner needs to do and how it’ll make your business a whole lot better. It’s really easy to get it. All you have to do is take out your smartphone. And please don’t do this while you’re driving. But take out your smartphone when you stop driving and text the word SUSTAINABLE to 44222. That’s the word SUSTAINABLE to 44222.

This is Josh Patrick. You’re at The Sustainable Business. I hope to see you back here really soon. Thanks for stopping by.

Narrator:         You’ve been listening to The Sustainable Business podcast where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around 100 years from now?” If you like what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802‑846‑1264 ext 2, or visit us on our website at, or you can send Josh an e-mail at

Thanks for listening. We hope to see you at The Sustainable Business in the near future.


Topics: sustainable business podcast, Marketing, Sustainable Business, b2b commerce, brick and mortar business

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