John Bruno, VP of Product Management, Elastic Path, explains how better digital experiences will drive sales growth and long-term customer loyalty in the manufacturing industry. The more tech-savvy manufacturers can be in today’s demanding digital environment, the more scope for success.
The gravity of digital innovation in manufacturing today is genuine; for many brands, it’s a real case of innovate or die. However, plagued with antiquated processes and systems, many manufacturers are struggling to achieve significant digital change.
Many manufacturers have taken the correct first steps towards digital innovation by digitising catalogues, for example. However, our research shows that they still fail to provide many increasingly essential tools such as tailored product information, relevant pricing and payment options, and the right combination of flexible and adaptable buying and selling touchpoints. These tools are necessary to provide professional buyers with the seamless experiences and flexibility characteristics of B2C sales, in the much more complex B2B environment.
Recent changes in the industry are now opening the door even further for digital innovation. Historically, manufacturers have primarily sold to the channel, not the end buyer. This focus on channel sales meant most manufacturers saw little urgency to innovate digitally. But as B2B buyers have become more digitally savvy, many are now increasingly turning to manufacturers’ sites for more information about products and direct purchasing options.
Leadership is slowly waking up to the fact that failing to offer the quality digital experiences buyers expect means losing sales to competitors. Of B2B business leaders, 45% believe they have lost a customer due to the quality of their eCommerce experiences and 82% think they need to improve eCommerce experiences in the next year or face negative customer retention. Similarly, 80% believe they will see a negative impact on customer acquisition if eCommerce experiences aren’t improved.
There’s a growing realisation that manufacturers who can successfully enable seamless research or buying experiences for the end customer – not just channel partners – will have an advantage as this industry trend evolves.
However, while company leaders are starting to understand the urgency for eCommerce innovation, 91% of B2B sellers agree that their companies’ leadership is investing enough money and resources into improving the digital customer experience – few are actually making the right investments.
Taking the wrong turn
Despite their best intentions, many manufacturers head off down the wrong path from the outset, turning to legacy eCommerce systems designed for simple, mainstream, consumer commerce.
The world of B2B buying and selling is almost nothing like its B2C counterpart. In addition to longer sales cycles and multiple channels of interaction, there are often unique needs for product assortment and payment options. Legacy platforms designed for B2C sales will never enable this type of selling.
Enabling the sellers
It’s in a manufacturer’s best interest to support sales teams with eCommerce tools that empower sellers to take a hands-on approach to customer relationships, while still offering a streamlined interface for the buyer.
For instance, if a seller can see anomalies in buying patterns, he or she has the opportunity to add value, make suggestions or preempt a customer need. These additions add value in what is otherwise a low-touch relationship, without added friction for the buyer. With the right tools in place, manufacturing sales professionals can be confident that their time and efforts are focused on opportunities to add value to the buyer and grow that relationship.
Unfortunately, most legacy eCommerce systems fail to give sales teams the tools and data they need to move beyond administrative roles and intervene or support sales cycles.
Enabling the buyers
B2B buyers are buying for their businesses, not their lifestyles – basic digitised catalogues and shopping carts won’t be enough to meet B2B buyers’ needs. For these buyers, it’s all about enabling efficient buying and selling and solving both long- and short-term problems. For example, a buyer might need to create a new order for a quickly-moving project. But in a traditional shopping cart set up, that buyer would need to discard any orders they started for long-term projects. It’s a frustrating and inefficient process. The right B2B platform however, would allow for multiple carts to enable these types of complex buying situations.
Often, nuances like contract-based pricing or project-based ordering – activities traditionally handled over the phone with a rep – are also not accounted for on digital channels, leaving buyers frustrated and confused.
The need for a purpose-built system
The answer to manufacturing’s eCommerce woes is purpose-built systems offering features specifically designed for the complexities of B2B buying and selling.
Purpose-built B2B systems help reps move beyond administrative, order-taking roles. These systems support virtual catalogues, customer segmentation and customer-specific microsites on a single platform to deliver buyer and organisation-specific product assortment. They allow you to define a buyer organisation’s account structure and provide division- and role-specific pricing depending on contract agreements. Purpose-built systems can enable reordering of individual line items or an entire order with guided selling experiences to ensure products and services ordered together are compatible with one another.
Systems designed specifically for B2B will ensure your customers see the correct price every time through flexible account-specific pricing, subscription billing, usage pricing, tiered billing or negotiated and contract billing. They can also enable automated reordering, allowing buyers to spend less time purchasing and more time on their businesses.
The right eCommerce system could also drive opportunities for commerce-enabled IoT. By integrating the warehouse or individual products with an eCommerce system, manufacturers can automate tasks like managing supply levels, tracking customer data and reordering.
Finally, purpose-built systems ensure delivery of unified experiences across channels. The right tools for B2B typically offer an API-first platform to power both online and offline customer experiences, enabling manufacturers to deliver unified experiences that are seamless as buyers traverse channels.
Historically, manufacturers achieved success because of the quality of their products and their ability to form meaningful relationships with channel partners. But, translating that experience directly to end customers and to digital channels is a challenge.
Manufacturing eCommerce is in dire need of a revolution. The industry is bogged down with consumer tools slightly modified to work in a B2B sales environment. But they don’t work and they never will. B2B buyers and sellers need something more – something built just for them.
Manufacturers must focus on digitising the B2B buying experience rather than attempting to mimic B2C eCommerce. Those brands that can meet and exceed the unique needs of their buyers will gain a competitive edge. Simply put, better digital experiences will drive sales growth and long-term customer loyalty.