It’s no surprise that the B2B market has dramatically shifted thanks to the increasing popularity of eCommerce. The great news is there’s an incredible opportunity for manufacturers to capitalize on customers’ desires for digital solutions.
It’s no surprise that the B2B market has dramatically shifted thanks to the increasing popularity of eCommerce, or that the need for online buying options has only been compounded by the effects of COVID-19.
While these stats may seem overwhelming, the great news is there’s an incredible opportunity for manufacturers to capitalize on customers’ desires for quick and convenient digital solutions.
Manufacturers that are able to do this will see significant ROI. In fact, one McKinsey study determined that manufacturers who provide B2B clients with elegant, easy-to-use interfaces see an average 30% increase in spend.
Why Manufacturers Hesitate to Make the Leap
Before we break down how to embrace B2B eCommerce for manufacturers, and exactly what benefits you can expect to reap, let’s first acknowledge why there is sometimes reluctance to do so.
You Don’t Know Your Audience Like You Think You Do
Often, businesses make false assumptions about their customers. It’s an easy mistake to make, particularly for legacy brands that have long standing, loyal customers. Manufacturers fall into this trap on occasion, believing that their customers don’t shop online and have no desire to.
But what do you really know about your customers? Study after study has demonstrated that not only do current B2B buyers want online options, but the next wave of clients is primarily millennials, who are used to different ways of doing business than the traditional pick-up-the-phone style. A 2019 TrustRadius study found that 59% of all B2B buyers are millennials, and close to 30% of them are lead buyers for their organization.
COVID has certainly demonstrated the customers are willing to go digital - and that they’re staying there.
Even better, once you truly embrace an eCommerce solution for manufacturing, you’ll have unrivaled customer insights to help you make better decisions going forward. An eCommerce platform provides incredibly extensive data about customer behaviors, giving you the chance to make adjustments in real-time.
Pricing Should Be Private
Another major concern for manufacturers is that by sharing your pricing online, it will deter clients and level the playing field for competitors. The opposite is actually true.
With buyers increasingly doing extensive research online before ever reaching out to you, they’re already aware of general costs. Making your pricing accessible simplifies the process for potential buyers and inspires trust.
It also gives you an opportunity to create personalized experiences, offer tiered pricing, loyalty rewards, and other superior customer experiences that will set your brand apart.
B2B executives themselves have indicated this, with 63% expressing a desire for personalized digital offerings, and 64% stating they’d switch to another vendor if it provided real-time, personalized pricing.
Channel Conflict is a Killer
Another understandable concern that manufacturers face is the potential for channel conflict. Manufacturers in particular rely on resellers, distributors, and other partners to sell their products.
Adding a direct-to-consumer channel, like eCommerce, doesn’t have to cannibalize your partnerships. If anything, it gives you a way to empower your partners to better sell your products, and a chance to build loyalty with them, too. Consider specific pricing structures just for partners, sales incentive programs, and other creative strategies that benefit both your bottom line and your partners.
The Benefits of eCommerce Solutions for Manufacturers
Aside from the obvious monetary incentives, there are a myriad of other reasons to embrace eCommerce for manufacturing companies.
We’ve already briefly discussed how an eCommerce channel for manufacturers can provide you with robust customer insights.
These insights allow you to:
Provide personalized product recommendations
Offer customized pricing
Run segmented marketing campaigns, tailored to certain audiences or user behaviors
Upsell or offer warranties or other packing options
Identify needs for new products
But not only does eCommerce provide you with more robust customer data than ever before, it also pulls it all together into one easily accessible place.
One of the biggest deterrents to manufacturers adding an eCommerce arm to their operation is expense. Traditional eCommerce solutions were costly to set up, involved complex customizations that were then difficult to upgrade as technology and customer demands evolved, and weren’t particularly agile or scalable.
Thanks to advances in eCommerce technology, this is no longer the case. Today’s cloud-based solutions are easily scalable, and new approaches, like composable commerce, make it simpler and more affordable than ever to pick-and-choose best-of-breed vendors to create a solution that works best for your business.
Beyond systems scalability, eCommerce also allows for scalability in sales. You don’t have to hire additional sales representatives in order to sell more products, you can simply add them to your online store.
Hand-in-hand with scalability is agility, and the ability to quickly innovate. As COVID-19’s impact so strongly proved, businesses that were able to rapidly adjust to a remote and socially-distanced world were incredibly successful.
With a scalable eCommerce solution for manufacturers, you can make adjustments as needed, whether it’s in response to a global event or trends in customer behavior.
More Efficient Operations
An eCommerce platform allows your sales teams to do what they do best - build relationships with customers and potential customers, and deliver unrivaled customer service.
Rather than spending time on pulling together complicated sales quotes and following up with invoicing, this is automated with digital transformation. Payments can even be automated, making things easier on your customers and their accounting teams. Customers can set up recurring orders, saving them time and ensuring consistent orders for your manufacturing company.
eCommerce can be a huge time saver and an easy way to improve cash flow.
Better Customer Service
In a similar vein, eCommerce allows for better customer service. Not only does it free up your sales team to focus on providing the highest quality support to customers, it also allows your customers to take advantage of self-service.
Today’s customers want to be able to shop wherever, whenever, and not have to wait on the traditional back-and-forth of sales. eCommerce for manufacturers enables customers to do just this, providing personalized recommendations and an easy-to-use platform they can access from anywhere.
Stronger Brand Awareness
What’s the first thing you do when you need an answer to something, are looking for a solution to a problem, or need to know where to go? Likely, you Google it.
Without a digital presence, manufacturers miss out an entire market of people who are Googling their problems, and seeking solutions. More significantly, you’re missing out on the large majority of B2B buyers who first start their purchase journey via online research. Remember - 60% of the B2B sales cycle happens before a customer even connects with a sales rep.
Having a digital branch allows your marketing team to optimize SEO, reach a larger audience, and familiarize existing audiences with your full product range.
The Best of Both Worlds
We’ve talked about channel conflict concerns. Now let’s talk about how you can have the best of both worlds - B2B and direct to consumer (D2C) - thanks to eCommerce.
The perks of D2C are obvious among B2C businesses. Yet B2B manufacturers can also benefit from this channel by selling through their websites in addition to selling via distributors.
The customer insights alone that you can glean from this data are invaluable, but it also gives you a way to grow new relationships without being reliant upon a third party - your distributors - to do so. As noted earlier, you can still provide specific pricing exclusive to distributors, among other distributor-specific benefits, so that both sales channels remain effective.
Ultimately, it comes down to increased revenue. eCommerce is a simple, sustainable, and scalable way to grow your revenue, thanks to the ability to reach a wider audience, eliminate wasted operational time, automate payments and orders to generate reliable revenue, provide a superior customer experience, and grow and adapt as quickly as needed.
At the end of the day, eCommerce will boost your bottom line.
eCommerce for Manufacturing in Action: a Case Study
Greenball Tire, a family-owned company with over 40 years of experience in manufacturing quality tires recognized that they needed to undergo a digital transformation.
They were slowed down by a complex, manual ordering process and knew that in order to stay competitive for top customers like Sam’s Club and Yamaha, they needed to launch an eCommerce platform that made it easy for customers to order online.
Additionally, beyond customer satisfaction and competitive advantage, the addition of eCommerce would mean a reduction of cost of business for Greenball, reducing calls to customer service, and reducing the time to place an order.
Object Edge leveraged Oracle Cloud Commerce, with custom integrations to the Oracle E-Business Suite backend system to create an eCommerce experience for Greenball.
The results? Their new, intuitive website allowed customers to check real-time inventory from three different warehouses, register new customers, show custom pricing, place simple and bulk orders online, and place direct container orders online.
Integration with Greenball’s backend reduced manual processes for Greenball staff by automating inventory and order updates, and accounts receivable invoicing, ensuring both happy customers and increased revenue plus reduced expenses for Greenball.
If you’re a manufacturer considering making the leap to eCommerce, there has never been a better or more critical time to undergo a digital transformation.
While there is an investment of time and resources to launch a successful eCommerce channel, the ROI is significant, and it’s a path to future success.
Just as importantly, it’s something that customers are increasingly expecting brands to provide.
If you have questions or want to learn more about eCommerce solutions specific to manufacturing, reach out to the team of experts at Object Edge for a free consultation.
About the Author
VP, Marketing Global
Sarah is a nimble and creative marketing leader with 15 years of experience in a mix of agencies, B2B, and B2C enterprises. She brings a background in building and driving impactful marketing practices and processes for growing businesses. Sarah has expertise in brand, content marketing, lead generation, and marketing operations. She’s a co-author of the 2019 book on B2B eCommerce Digital Branch Secrets: eCommerce Playbook for Distributors.