In recent years, food manufacturers and other B2B suppliers have faced increasing demands from their customers to provide an online shopping experience as integrated and compelling as their experience when shopping in the B2C market. In fact, a recent study shows that 88 percent of B2B purchasers agree or strongly agree that if given the option to buy a product online, e-commerce would be their preferred shopping channel.
As more food manufacturers adopt e-commerce to meet customer expectations, some fear it will diminish the role of B2B sales reps and the personalized service they offer. However, a recent study found that 87 percent of B2B purchasers would still work with a sales rep for high level or complex orders, and this increases to 96 percent for B2B buyers with budgets above $1 million.
An effective B2B e-commerce strategy can preserve customer service — a key differentiator for food manufacturers — by transforming the role of the sales rep. An e-commerce platform automates time consuming, administrative sales processing tasks, enabling food manufacturing sales reps to spend more time offering a more personalized customer experience than ever before. For example, B2B companies that have not yet converted to e-commerce often still receive orders via fax, phone and mail-in forms. All the time sales reps spend manually processing orders can be eliminated with an e-commerce platform, greatly increasing efficiency.
Sales Reps Increase Efficiency and Conversions through B2B E-Commerce
Overall, B2B e-commerce enables companies to increase the productivity and success of sales reps, while lowering operating costs and increasing customer satisfaction. Benefits B2B e-commerce offers for food manufacturing sales reps include:
- Mobile and social enhancements – Integrated online, mobile and social channels enable customers to interact with B2B sales reps virtually anytime and anywhere. They also assure customer purchasing preferences transfer across channels — if a customer changes a product specification, this automatically will be reflected online, on the company’s mobile website and on the sales reps’ mobile tablet.
- Consultative selling – Sales reps can spend more time understanding individual customer preferences and serve as more of a consultant to customers. This enables reps to offer customized pricing and upsell by suggesting new products to customers that are similar to items they have previously purchases.
- Engage with and convert new customers – Spending less time on administrative tasks enables B2B sales reps to spend more time in the field identifying and engaging with new customers to increase sales.
B2B E-Commerce Falls Short of Customer Expectations
While the benefits of e-commerce for B2B sales reps are evident and consumers continuously demand an integrated online shopping experience, many B2B companies have yet to adopt e-commerce sites with high functionality. In fact, 94 percent of B2B buyers believe suppliers need to invest more in making the online purchasing experience as easy as consumer websites, according to the 2012 State of B2B E-Commerce study. Food manufacturers and other B2B companies who still rely heavily on catalog, phone and fax ordering must realize the cost savings and efficiencies associated with B2B e-commerce, or risk falling behind the competition.
To drive sales and maximize customer satisfaction, food manufacturers must embrace the capabilities e-commerce has to offer and create an online experience that rivals those offered by B2C businesses. Specifically, food manufacturers must realize the opportunity e-commerce offers for B2B sales reps to have more direct and personalized interaction with new and existing customers.
Rick Chavie is Vice President, OmniCommerce for hybris. He is responsible for creating the OmniCommerce vision and technology platform that enables seamless customer experiences across digital and physical touchpoints for global and mid-market companies in all major industry verticals.