Posted by Ranga Bodla, Senior Director of Industry Marketing, Manufacturing & Wholesale Distribution

GoPro, the world's leading activity image capture company, knows a thing or two about scaling distribution. Available across the world with wide distribution, GoPro already knows what a lot of manufacturers and wholesale distributors are just discovering – the importance of an easy to use B2B system for specialty retailers to easily place orders online.

“We asked our B2B customers, and they overwhelmingly wanted the same experience they get on B2C sites when placing orders online,” said Stephen Baumer, GoPro’s CTO. “In the past, the order process was phone calls, email, or faxes, so bringing this level of automation took a lot of effort and feedback.”

B2B buyers are increasingly demanding a B2C-like purchasing environment. In our recent webinar – Today’s New Normal: Why Distributors and Manufacturers Need to be Thinking about B2B Ecommerce – guest speaker, Andy Hoar, Forrester Research senior analyst for e-business and channel strategy, noted that B2B customers are also B2C consumers. They buy a lot of consumer items online and, too often, notice that their B2B partners’ sites are nowhere near as nice and easy to use as B2C sites.

Fortunately, most B2B companies are at least somewhat aware of this growing phenomenon and starting to do something about it. A recent survey of B2B professionals conducted by Forrester and Internet Retailer found that 49% will change or upgrade their B2B ecommerce platform within the next 18 months and 67% will increase their budgets for technology in the next 12 months. So any B2B retailer or distributor who isn’t in that category is likely to be losing out not only to B2C sites, but also to B2B competitors by the end of 2014.

So what’s a B2B company to do? Certainly, investing in better ecommerce technology is a good idea, Hoar said. Ditto for adding mobile access, which is fast becoming a necessity as rising numbers of business people rely on smartphones and tablets to do work, including procurement. But while that may happen over the next few years, B2B companies today must support both mobile and desktop versions.

“You need to be managing a website and building out mobile technology, which is a challenge,” Hoar said.

Besides the investment in technology, Hoar recommended hiring people who are truly interested in your business and have B2C experience that they can draw on to help share your ecommerce strategy.

Also, adopt an iterative process that your ecommerce design can work with. When a new feature is added, test it on employees and beta customers, then fix or tweak it and re-test, and move on to the next feature. That is what GoPro did: started small and slowly added functionality, testing each new step.

“We started off with core functionality – simple order taking, then iterated regularly with feedback from customers,” said Baumer, noting that their specialty retailers can now go online to view available credit, check real-time inventory levels, and settle their balances, among other things.

It’s a strategy that has paid off well for GoPro, which has seen triple digit growth and widespread adoption of the portal by its partners. It’s not surprising that a company that pioneered extreme sports photography is ahead of many of its peers in the B2B marketplace.