The customer experience in B2B sales is key to standing out in the hypercompetitive and rapidly changing specialty manufacturing marketplace. Yet despite the universally-recognized challenges of distributor mergers and global competition, specialty manufacturers are neglecting a major opportunity to increase mindshare and other competitive advantages.
Surveys show that by the year 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the primary competitive differentiator. When you truly understand your customer — and build a holistic experience to meet their unique needs — you have an edge your competition can’t touch.
That’s where ecommerce comes in. Within modern ecommerce solutions there are opportunities for increasing brand loyalty, improving customer service and building mindshare in ways that specialty manufacturers may not have considered.
Let’s start by looking at the current B2B landscape, in which I believe there are four primary manufacturing buying scenarios. While each scenario has unique challenges, success for all of these scenarios relies on unifying the commerce experience. Within a unified commerce environment, manufacturers look beyond digital components to the full experience of their customers. Unified commerce addresses the needs of the online and offline buying experience together — driving efficiencies and unlocking profit in every customer interaction — whether it’s a mobile request for pricing or a face-to-face meeting. Here’s a quick look at each scenario, its set of specific challenges, and why focusing on unifying your commerce solution can help relieve those pains:
Scenario 1 – Many Buyers, Many Contacts, One Manufacturer
In this scenario, several people from a large channel partner use multiple contacts within a manufacturing organization to place orders for different items. Different levels of buyers across a client organization are all looking for unique information, from custom catalogs to pricing requests. Because of this complexity, miscommunication, multiple requests and sometimes even mass confusion occur for the partner and the manufacturer.
The solution in this case is a single, tailored online portal that provides each requestor with a customized, comprehensive and accurate experience. Pricing is clear and consistent for each buyer within the organization yet information is accessible at a broader level.
The customized portal includes tailored content for each channel partner. If the experience is unified, partners can access relevant, correct information, and deliver specifications and prices quickly. This of course leads to less administrative time, and a faster conversion from product inquiries to completed sales.
Scenario 2 – Buying Through Distributors
In this buying scenario, customers buy your products from trusted distributors who can add value throughout the process. To do this, the distributor needs motivation and the right tools. In this scenario some of the giant mergers between distributors that are so common in our industry really come into play. Field Sales represent more products with more variations than ever before. They need their information fast, accurate and presented in a way that is customized for their business. Specialty manufacturers are now often smaller than the distributor, creating a shift in power.
The challenge here is that mindshare is at even more of a premium. Every interaction and piece of communication needs to earn the distributors’ not only attention, but respect. Studies show that sales teams can spend more than 50 percent of their time on activities like searching for content, creating presentations and custom catalogs based on a client’s specific product needs. Just solving this problem alone can help specialty manufacturers increase loyalty among their distributors.
Your products stay top of mind when you push current information and engaging training to customers via their mobile devices, anywhere in the world. Instead of searching out product specs, the information is served up on the field device at the moment it is needed. When you provide this kind of customized guided selling tools, field sales people are free to focus on their customers. And they have you to thank for it.
Scenario 3 – Buying Direct
In this scenario customers buy direct from the manufacturer through a website or direct sales. For some B2B manufacturers, as much as 15 percent of their sales may be direct today. Many are forecasting more direct business in 2017 and beyond, or at least have an eye on it as a potential new revenue stream.
Large customers make a strong case for going straight to the manufacturer to get better prices and access to customized products. But most specialty manufacturers are not set up to sell directly to customers. They lack systems that provide an easy way for direct customers to request quotes, or manage customized pricing. Additionally, manufacturer’s commerce tools aren’t usually built with an intuitive user interface in mind.
The direct customer experience should be best-in-class. That means a site that is available 24/7 where not only customers but technical experts can find crucial information like data sheets, installation instructions, CAD diagrams and the like. It also means they should be able to complete the experience, like buying through their custom catalog, without leaving a procurement site.
Scenario 4 – The Product Problem
In this scenario, we’re really not addressing a buying problem; it’s actually a selling problem in which a specialty manufacturer produces literally hundreds, or thousands of products. This leads to huge catalogs that are difficult to manage, and even harder to navigate. The customer, whether they’re direct or a channel partner, is confused. The buying journey is filled with unnecessary, wasteful and frustrating hassles. The challenge here is obvious: these massive catalogs make it nearly impossible for sales teams and channel partners to fully understand the products, let alone sell them. It’s simply too much.
A strong ecommerce platform with built-for-B2B functionality can actually manage a complex catalog of specialized products. A tool that is highly configurable can give each customer a direct path to their product mix, and only their product mix. This makes it easy for customers to find what they need and get their job done quickly and efficiently. Unified commerce makes it possible for manufacturers to meet customers whoever they are, wherever they are, in person, online or even on paper.
B2B sales will never be the same. This is clearly a time of change and reinvention within all of the channels. Consider taking a fresh look at your commerce solution to see if you are making the most of every opportunity, and creating customer experiences that translate to mindshare and a competitive edge for years to come.
Karie Daudt is Sr. Director of Customer Experience for Insite Software.