Product Marketing Manager at Nexcess. Former WooCommerce Product Manager. Author, podcaster, board game designer & publisher. Also yoga, hiking, and dogs.
Well you've certainly got your work cut out for you if you've never done something like this before.
First - sales is a very viable option here. Since you're working with businesses who tend to high average order values (AOV) you can justify the cost of spending time hand holding potential clients to make sales.
You'll probably want to build a website and either optimize it for search engine optimization (SEO) or use content marketing to attract traffic. If you can give customers a free catalog or other sort of incentive in exchange for their email addresses you have the start of a lead generation process. You can then take those leads and contact them to get them to commit to buying.
If you have high enough margins on your items you could run pay per click (PPC) advertising for your keywords. Although if you don't know what you're doing you could blow your ad budget pretty quickly.
If you haven't done anything like this before I suggest first seeing if you can even get traction on your website. If you can't get that it's unlikely you'll be able to have enough contacts for the sales process.
I hope that helps! :)
You mentioned you already have a website. What are you using for your existing website?
If you're using WordPress already for your site you could use WooCommerce. It's a plugin for WordPress so it seamlessly integrates into your site. It's bigger than all of the other platforms out there (Shopify, Magento, BigCommerce, etc) and has a ton of integrations.
If you find WordPress confusing or you don't already have it setup then looking into Shopify would be next best course of action.
I hope that helps! :)
The answer to your first question about hiring an employee is one of those annoying "it depends" answers. But having said that I'll try to share some best practices.
If they're going to be helping you fulfill orders they need to be detail oriented. That means that have to be paying attention when they're packing things up to make sure every box is packed correctly. In a warehouse you want to have 0.2% or less error rate with your orders. If you have a bigger error rate than that something is wrong with your system or with your hire and you need to fix that.
If they're helping you with customer service they should be be empathetic. You can teach people technology you can't teach them to be a good person. It really depends on what business you're running but you mentioned Zendesk. I use Zendesk and it's a bit heavy. It does everything you want but might be a bit clunky. If you're just doing email support HelpScout is really simple and usable.
If they're helping you with marketing they should know a little about SEO, content marketing, adwords, newsletter marketing, & social ads. The reason that they should know about all of them is that you don't know which will work for your business until you try it. For one business content marketing will be amazing and for another it won't do anything. I would avoid hiring someone who's amazing at just one of those until you prove that it is a viable channel for your customers.
For an e-commerce platform I tend to recommend either Shopify or WooCommerce. Shopify is hosted which means it's less customizable but you don't ever need to update your software. WooCommerce is open source which means you can literally change every line in it if you want. You can customize everything but the trade off is you should spend at least an hour a week updating the software on your site. I only recommend Magento if you have a huge budget because you need a developer to do most things for you. Both Shopify and WooCommerce are simple enough for someone without a technical background.
If you're integrating with Amazon or other marketplaces like EBay then I recommend you use software that integrates your sites like ShipStation.
For warehouse technology if you're shipping products there's a fantastic app called ShipHero which will track everything for you and give you stats per employee.
I hope that helps! Any more Qs feel free to give me a call. :)