In the consumer marketplace, the emergence of digital commerce has fueled a near-frantic race to cash in on customer demand for exceptional shopping experiences across a growing range of channels. Although first-movers have achieved significant returns from their digital commerce investments, the pace of adoption has been slower in the B2B sector.
The same market forces that propelled commerce into the spotlight in the consumer sector have driven a digital commerce revolution in B2B — and are creating important new opportunities for manufacturers.
Digital commerce is driving growth for B2B businesses
Digital commerce isn’t just another channel. It represents a fundamental shift in the way businesses and buyers approach the marketplace. Today’s buyers don’t want to use phone or fax machines (if they still own them) or wait for their sales person’s next visit to place routine orders. Instead, they expect the same convenient and seamless online buying opportunities they enjoy when they shop and purchase products in their personal lives.
Based on changing buyer expectations, businesses in manufacturing and other B2B sectors are investing in digital commerce and banking on significant growth. A recent CloudCraze survey of B2B decision makers in manufacturing, CPG and software showed that 89 percent of B2B decision makers tie expected business growth to the success of their digital commerce programs. Additionally, within the next five years 88 percent of B2B decision makers expect to offer products that will be sold primarily online
There are several reasons why B2B businesses are forecasting digital to drive growth. But the most important factor is that they recognize the connection between digital commerce and customer acquisition and engagement. B2B decision makers cite the ability to acquire new customers as the top reason why they expect digital to drive growth (59 percent). Upsell/cross-sell opportunities (51 percent) and self-serve opportunities (51 percent) are also factors for most B2B leaders.
It’s worth noting that digital commerce is not a bolt-on strategy for manufacturers and other B2B brands. In fact, many companies are going all in when it comes to creating digital opportunities for buyers with approximately half of all B2B businesses (48 percent) selling their full line of products online.
How Digital is Reshaping the B2B Landscape for Manufacturers
Digital commerce is changing the B2B landscape in significant ways. Many of these changes are in response to buyer preferences, while others signify a new direction in the way manufacturers and other B2B businesses approach the marketplace.
No. 1 - Self-service is the name of the game.
In response to buyers’ expectations for more convenient shopping and buying experiences, manufacturers must enable self service capabilities.
More than half of all B2B businesses (56 percent) currently offer self-serve capabilities. But not all B2B industries have responded to business buyers’ desire for self-serve capabilities at the same rate. While 76 percent of software companies allow customers to self-serve, manufacturing and CPG businesses have been slower to enable these capabilities.
However, on the whole, businesses seem to understand the value of personalized self-service experience. When asked, B2B decision makers ranked tailored product offerings (52 percent), order automation (48 percent) and contract pricing (47 percent) as the leading value drivers for their customers.
To keep pace with the marketplace, manufacturers must implement cost-effective digital commerce strategies that reduce friction and improve engagement through self-serve capabilities, personalized product information and other digital enhancements.
No. 2 - Digital enhances the relationship between business buyers and sales teams.
Buyer demand for self-serve capabilities has produced several misconceptions about the role of sales teams. Rather than replacing or downsizing sales teams, digital commerce changes the relationship between sales teams and customers — for the better.
Digital commerce does not replace talented sales professionals. A majority of B2B leaders (66 percent) report that their sales teams have actually grown alongside the growth of digital commerce.
Instead, digital commerce facilitates the natural evolution of sales teams. A third of B2B business leaders (31 percent) say that digital commerce has already changed the role of sales teams in their companies. In organizations that have experienced changes in the sales team’s role, 42 percent say that digital commerce has transformed sales professionals from order takers to trusted advisors.
By recasting sales professionals’ roles in their organizations, B2B businesses generate additional value for both customers and their companies. As consultants, salespeople now have the time and resources to guide business buyers through the buying journey, creating additional opportunities for upselling/cross-selling and improved engagement.
No. 3 - The right digital commerce platforms create new opportunities for manufacturers.
Despite the widespread belief that digital commerce is the key to growth, some B2B decision makers remain skeptical because they doubt the capabilities of their current systems.
Of the B2B decision makers who don’t attribute growth to their digital commerce programs, 53 percent say that their current systems provide little insight into customer data and 51 percent say their current systems are too rigid to adapt to changing trends and lack the ability to scale or add new products.
Given the customer-driven nature of today’s B2B marketplace, there is an urgency for manufacturers to implement CRM-based digital commerce platforms that not only provide a 360-degree view of customers, but leverage customer data to inform interactions and create a consistent customer experience across all channels.
Preparing for What’s Next
First-movers in B2B commerce are reaping the benefits of their digital commerce investments. But we’re rapidly approaching a tipping point — manufacturers and other B2B companies that don’t act now will soon find themselves struggling to keep up with the marketplace.
As businesses choose a commerce platform, cloud-based architecture is equally as important as a customer-centric, CRM-based commerce platform. The cloud provides the scalability and flexibility B2B organizations need to adapt to changing market conditions and take advantage of new business opportunities.
Although the manufacturing industry as a whole still has a long way to go, the writing is on the wall. Going forward, digital commerce capabilities will separate winners and losers in the manufacturing sector — and the sooner decision makers get on board with digital, the greater the odds of success.
Ray Grady is president and CCO at CloudCraze.