B2B eCommerce for Manufacturers How to Start

B2B Ecommerce

Typically, manufacturing has been slower than other sectors at adopting new technologies.

Nonetheless, when visionary leaders dared to question the existing status quo, they sparked a genuine industry revolution.

For instance, with the conveyor belt, Henry Ford reinvented the automobile industry. Still, within the context of such fast changes in manufacturing, it appears as if manufacturers, particularly those in the B2B sector, have missed another critical development – B2B eCommerce for manufacturers.

Modern B2B customers are no longer confined to a single sales channel, whether online or offline. Confronted with a plethora of choices, an ever-changing set of requirements, and increasing time constraints, B2B manufacturing buyers anticipate a transformation with the online purchasing experience.

If you wish to be a pioneer in your sector, this article will take you on a deep dive into eCommerce for manufacturers, covering everything from new consumer expectations to necessary pre-operations for conducting digital commerce operations.

The Manufacturer-to-Manufacturer Buyer Has Evolved

The worldwide epidemic had a severe toll on industrial firms. As stated by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) in February-March 2020:

  • 5 percent of firms experienced interruptions in their supply chains.
  • 78 percent said that the uncertainties around COVID-19 would affect their companies as well.

The statistics above has led many to investigate more efficient methods of operation, procurement, and buying goods from others. Concentrate your efforts on internet commerce in particular.

By 2020, overall manufacturing and distribution sales are expected to increase by just 1.5 percent to $17.5 trillion. However, B2B digital sales increased by an astounding 10.9 percent, totaling almost $9 trillion.

That stands to reason, given that a sizable portion of today’s B2B customers are tech-savvy Millennials. Because frictionless online transactions already define their personal purchasing experience, they apply the same standard to B2B vendors.

According to a UPS research published in 2019, millennials make the majority (38%) of their industrial purchases straight from producers. By contrast, just 29% of Boomers prefer to purchase from manufacturers rather than wholesalers or online marketplaces.

Millennial or otherwise, Internet ordering alone is insufficient to attract contemporary consumers. According to Accenture, more than 63% of B2B executives seek to include ‘personalization’ into their digital services. Most are seeking dependable partners that can provide a robust combination of offline and online procurement capabilities.

Further, they aim to engage B2B suppliers by providing easy-to-use online ordering capabilities and online quotation requests for customized pricing. Indeed, 64% indicate that they would switch vendors if the business offered real-time, customized pricing.

Besides, this is what many B2B customers want:

  • Straightforward freight estimates
  • Details on bulk discounts
  • Minimum order quantities
  • Customization options at any time of day or night and through various channels

With such a diverse set of needs, manufacturers’ best chance is to implement an integrated eCommerce system that enables them to be accessible whenever consumers want them.

What Is the Manufacturer’s Perspective on eCommerce?

For an extended period, manufacturers avoided the internet selling area. “Too complicated,” “too risky,” and “poor return on investment” were often used justifications.

Nonetheless, by 2020, a significant number of leaders had to reconsider their stances. Due to supply chain disruptions and shop losses, several businesses were priced out of their primary sales channels – distributors and vendors.

On the other hand, businesses having an online presence were pleasantly pleased by the increasing number of purchases:

By March 2020, 30% of manufacturing and 30% of distribution businesses would have earned 60% to 80% of their worldwide sales via B2B eCommerce.

The epidemic exacerbated pre-existing changes in B2B buyer journeys, encouraging even more consumers to do their research entirely online.

Given the data above, many manufacturers’ present state of eCommerce is an odd combination of non-linear, offline, and offline touchpoints across many assets and verticals.

Moreover, a  well-optimized eCommerce website may simplify such dispersed journeys by providing customers with the critical information they need to continue to the next stage.

Those that have decoded the most frequent customer journeys in their niche and built an online experience around them are already seeing significant results.

The Benefits of Having an eCommerce Website for Manufacturers

Let’s take a look at several crucial advantages.

1. Direct Contact with Consumers

B2C brands are fully aware of the benefits of the DTC (direct-to-consumer) business model. However, B2B manufacturers profit as well by selling directly to customers rather than via intermediaries. Specifically, by:

  • Keeping profit margins as high as possible
  • Harnessing a firmer grip on brand image
  • Implementing relevant pricing and discount methods
  • Prioritizing customer data collection
  • Utilizing on-brand retention programs

Simply having access to client data opens up a multitude of possibilities for company expansion. Apart from incorporating such insights into your sales and marketing strategy, direct consumer input may also be used to inform product development.

2. Pioneering Prospects

By understanding how your customers browse and what they look for in a provider, you can create special value offers. For instance, feedback from equipment users may help you prioritize which add-ons or changes to make.

Procurement data may indicate when specific components are due for replacement, allowing you to sell the buyer on early delivery. Customer feedback from sales representatives and support agents may help you enhance after-sales services – by introducing more consistent delivery schedules, enhancing warranty coverage, or broadening the scope of installation/training services.

3. Extensibility

Ecommerce significantly improves your order processing capacity without the need to recruit more distributors or sales representatives. Items that do not need modification may be sold directly to customers without the requirement for in-person interaction.

Additionally, you may quickly expand into other areas or even sell internationally. The latter may be incredibly profitable since foreign-sourced items accounted for 43% of overall industrial goods and supply expenditure in 2019.

4. Continuous Improvement

Online sales quotations and checkout significantly decrease the amount of time spent by your sales staff on invoicing. Additionally, by automating payments and establishing recurring invoicing for frequent reorders, you may save time spent chasing bills. These improvements can be effectively implemented if you choose an appropriate B2B eCommerce platform for manufacturers. Both your employees and your cash flow will appreciate it. 

5. Brand Recognition

Your eCommerce website may be optimized for search engines to generate traffic for both product and brand-name searches. Thus increasing consumer awareness of your brand and whole product line.

6. Incorporating Analytics

With complete access to customer data, you can use various eCommerce analytics tools to improve customer experience and enhance revenue. For instance:

  • Similar product suggestions were made just for you.
  • Pricing that changes dynamically in real-time based on modifications and order volume.
  • Upsell/cross-sell relevant opportunities.
  • Packages that are best suited for warranty, maintenance, or customer service.

How to Optimize B2B eCommerce for Manufacturers

B2B clients may purchase goods and services via various channels – distributors, channel partners, online marketplaces, and resellers. Your primary objective is to make buying more straightforward for them through eCommerce.

Here are five essential activities: 

1. Construct an Enticing eCommerce Site

Invariably, all B2B buyers today primarily depend on digital channels for supplier evaluation:

Your first step should be to verify that your eCommerce website is capable of successfully catering to four distinct needs:

Conducting Research and Evaluating: Create adequate top-of-the-funnel material — buyer’s guides, comparison tools, reviews, and assessment templates — reinforced by more in-depth mid-funnel content — webinars, white papers, and case studies.

Buying: The majority of B2C eCommerce design principles apply to B2B as well. Make simple navigation, easy-to-search product catalogs, comprehensive listings, and secure checkout a priority. Yet, keep in mind the additional stages involved in your consumers’ purchasing journeys and build your online experience accordingly.

After-sales: When choosing supplies, 7 in 10 industrial goods buyers rank ‘returns’ as an essential after-sales service, followed by ‘on-site repairs’ and ‘on-site maintenance.’ Ascertain that your B2B eCommerce platform prominently displays instructions on how to access these.

Reordering: Establish a simple self-service interface for expedited reordering. You may also wish to provide direct interfaces with popular enterprise resource planning (ERP) and electronic procurement (e-procurement) solutions if you have the technical resources. This manner, frequent customers may have necessary items automatically ordered when their supply runs short.

2. Well-Equipped Sales Personnel

While an online shop is critical, many consumers prefer to interact with a sales representative at some point throughout their trip. According to the Pros 2020 study, B2B customers want interaction with a salesperson when they:

  • Conducting research on goods with intricate configurations (61 percent ).
  • Requesting discounted pricing (61 percent ).
  • Questions about particular words (58 percent ).

In such instances, your sales staff should arm customers with helpful information to expedite the purchasing process. When this is the case, consumers who are given information to assist them in advancing their purchase are three times more likely to complete a high-value, low-regret transaction.

As a result, ensure that each sales manager:

  • Possess extensive product and industry expertise. Invest in training and, if required, upskilling.
  • Become well-versed in the usual purchasing cycles applicable to your business.
  • Are provided with sufficient sales support materials and collateral to share with customers.
  • Can help you develop a competitive edge over your competitors.
  • Have real-time insight into the purchasing history of your consumers.
  • Can get real-time inventory information and dynamically quote prices.
  • Are at ease with providing pre-and post-sales assistance across channels (social media, mobile app, online chats, etc.).

3. Create a Catalog That is Uniquely Yours

Personalization is another significant need for B2B buyers. Indeed, 69% report that customized offerings enable them to extract more excellent value from their suppliers. And, as previously said, a positive online experience results in more significant sales, a better average order value, and improved client loyalty.

Given that 76% of B2B clients currently get personalized offers, you should not scrimp on customizing your product catalog as well.

This may be accomplished in a variety of ways:

  • Establish an on-site quiz-style questionnaire to assist customers in narrowing their selection.
  • Design an online product comparison tool in the Amazon manner for more comprehensive comparisons.
  • Utilize email marketing to follow up with customized PDF catalogs and other material after a sales representative interaction.

4. Ensure That Replacement Components Are Visible

MRO is one of the most urgent problems facing manufacturing companies. A replacement component that is not received on time may result in expensive downtime and consequent production delays. You do not want to be the cause of that as an OEM.

The significant advantage of modern eCommerce systems is their capacity to serve as a single source of truth — a gateway, integrating data from many points of sale and directing consumers to the appropriate ordering location and time.

Additionally, recent technological and communication advancements enable businesses to develop inventory management methods based on real-time connections. By combining historical purchase data with condition monitoring data, you can determine when specific components are ready for replacement. On this basis, you may thrill consumers with ‘just in time’ and ‘just in case’ alerts that encourage reordering.

5. Online Product Setup

Custom online settings are another highly-requested feature among B2B businesses in the spirit of customization. Again, the option to generate several product configurations for simple comparison significantly alleviates the overwhelming sensation experienced by most B2B customers.

You may do the following by including a virtual product constructor into your eCommerce website:

  • Current price, process, and product information in real-time via a single interface.
  • Reduce the number of support queries by addressing frequent customer concerns with useful pop-ups and links to manuals.
  • Empower customers to create completely customized specifications that are not accessible from other suppliers.

Consider the Following When Launching Your B2B eCommerce Site

It’s always crucial to understand your target audience and your competitors. How can you do that? Consider the following activities:

  • Take a look at your online competition.
  • Review their online purchasing experience.
  • Figure out your organization’s primary sales/marketing channels.
  • Understand metrics around the typical sales cycles in your sector.
  • Determine the critical stages of the customer lifetime.
  • Pinpoint the critical phases of the sales cycle.
  • Document the primary issues that your target audience faces at each stage.
  • Consider approaches to address your target audience’s concerns via eCommerce.

Examples of Manufacturers Using B2B eCommerce Successfully

1. SaltWorks, a gourmet salt business based in the United States, caters to retail and wholesale clients such as manufacturers, restaurants, gourmet shops, and salt mill makers.

Saltworks needed to ensure that its B2B and B2C clients had a consistent online experience while also receiving customized experiences based on their buying requirements. All consumers see the same items, detailed page descriptions, and product availability when entering their new shop. Yet, when clients attempt to buy a B2B bulk item, they are informed that the item is unavailable until they log in with their B2B credentials.

In fact, Saltworks removed their separate B2B and B2C backends and frontends using this functionality, providing their clients with a unified purchasing experience and an easier-to-use website administration system on the backend.

Along with improving the user experience on the website, OroCommerce developed a very customizable checkout process for B2C and B2B customers depending on the shipping experience required by the user.

B2C clients will experience a standard B2C checkout, while B2B customers will experience an expanded checkout that includes LTL, UPS, freight quotation, and self-arranged shipping options. As a result, Saltworks built a multi-layered pricing structure based on customer groups and product attribute-based volume discounts using OroCommerce’s unique pricing processes to guarantee clients see their contract price.

2. France Air engineers and sells air quality and HVAC systems for office buildings, hospitals, industrial structures, public housing, and commercial kitchens.

Fortunately, France Air was finally able to offer a purchasing experience that matched its customers’ expectations after adopting OroCommerce. OroCommerce facilitated the ability to streamline and accelerate client interactions. To illustrate, when a client makes an order, the sales staff is instantly informed, allowing for improved customer service and quicker support throughout the purchasing process.

In addition, customers now have immediate access to PDF versions of product specifications and installation instructions on product pages, providing the utmost in self-service purchasing.

OroCommerce also accomplished the following:

  • A mobile-friendly, easily customizable website
  • A customized 24-hour delivery service with various delivery choices

France Air is now a digital pioneer in its business since implementing the OroCommerce platform.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.