Manufacturers aren’t generally known for their digital savvy, but changes in B2B buyer expectations and other factors have led to steady growth and capital investment in e-commerce manufacturing sites. In 1999, manufacturing e-commerce accounted for 18.1% of the total value of manufacturing shipments. By 2018, that number had risen to 67.5%, according to figures from the US Census Bureau.
For manufacturers, the increased efficiency of a self-service portal means saving money while earning more.
The onset of the global health crisis pushed manufacturers to embrace e-commerce as they could no longer sell using traditional face-to-face methods. At the same time, supply chain difficulties and tightening customer belts slowed growth.
Manufacturers who want to grow can and should depend on their e-commerce site. The shift to buying online is permanent, and manufacturers who want to stay competitive need to provide the digital commerce tools their customers expect.
These customers are both distributors/resellers and direct buyers, and they expect the same level of service from your B2B e-commerce site as they get from a consumer e-commerce site. Self-service options are a must. With self-service, manufacturers can simplify their sales process, increase sales and profit margins, build lasting relationships with their customers, and build brand awareness.
Self-service will dominate online sales
Manufacturing executives need to take note, because resistance to self-service e-commerce is futile. A study by management consultancy McKinsey & Co. found that approximately 75% of buyers say they prefer digital self-service and remote human contact over in-person communication; only 20% of all B2B buyers surveyed said they hoped to return to face-to-face sales.
Additionally, 86% say they enjoy using self-service to place new orders. Shoppers find it easier to get information and place their order quickly and easily when manufacturers offer a self-service experience, and 99% say they would buy self-service.
Millennials are also impacting the shift to self-service; 60% of all B2B buyers fell into this age category in 2021, according to a survey by TrustRadius. These buyers have grown up with computers and other technologies and are comfortable using them. Among the most important things for them are time-saving purchasing processes. If you don’t provide the experience they demand, they will go to your competitors who have what they want.
Create a self-service e-commerce platform
that your buyers want to use
No self-service solution will do. Buyers expect an e-commerce portal to provide them with reliable information, attract them directly, offer them what they want to buy, and make them feel like it was created just for them. However, when these platforms fail, it is usually due to inaccurate, outdated, and missing data.
Building a site that your buyers will choose to use self-service, instead of calling your rep back on the phone, requires:
- Product catalogs based on buyer’s specific requirements;
- Account-specific pricing that includes their negotiated offers and other pricing rules you put in place, such as purchase frequency or their total order value;
- Reliable availability and pricing information based on real-time SAP data;
- Promotions and personalized offers.
They are also looking for real-time order, price and inventory status, self-management of accounts, as well as relevant training and support content such as how-to videos, knowledge base, instruction manuals. usage, FAQs and documentation.
Customers also expect a checkout process tailored to the payment options they want to use, whether it’s a purchase order, credit card, or even PayPal and other options. consumer-oriented payment methods. They want all of this to be available 24/7 and on any device.
What buyers and distributors want also benefits manufacturers
For manufacturers, the increased efficiency of a self-service portal means saving money while earning more. A robust and well-built self-service portal brings the following benefits:
- Increased revenue: Satisfied customers spend more money, and self-service offers plenty of cross-selling and up-selling opportunities. Because you provide a personalized experience, you have the ability to grow that business from a data-rich perspective that can often surpass a human sales rep.
- Increased customer retention: Giving your customers what they want keeps them loyal, so you’ll improve retention and reduce churn while satisfying new customers by giving them what they want. Compared to companies that don’t, those with self-service see an 85% increase in retention year-over-year.
- Improved efficiency: Efficiency improves because the ordering process is automatic, with little or no human assistance.
- Reduced costs: Customers get what they want without having to interact with a sales representative, and you save the cost of a live agent call, which can cost between $6 and $12 per call compared to cost of an automated self-help solution 25 cents. .
- Customer Data: A treasure trove of first-party data that a manufacturer often never had before leads to a lot of new customer insights and breaks down silos for synchronization between all customer-facing functions.
- Market Expansion: Selling online means the ability to expand globally and sell in new geographies. It’s important that your self-service portal has language and currency options and can handle international orders.
- Creation of new markets and innovation: Expanding your market can lead to easy expansion of your product lines through small changes that make them more attractive to other geographies and generate ideas for new products.
Building a self-service e-commerce portal means uniting your ERP with your front-end data to get the real-time insights users expect and installing the right e-commerce platform to accelerate ROI.
You need real-time data for self-service adoption
Your front-end user experience can and should be clean, simple, and carefully designed to bring all user experiences together under one digital “roof” for each buyer persona. But content and data have to come from somewhere. ERP often contains all the customer, vendor, and inventory data you need to power the e-commerce site attached to your front-end. Without this data, you can’t deliver an experience your customers will want.
For distributors to adopt and use the e-commerce portal, they need accurate pricing, inventory, and delivery against their contracts, and they need to have this information at their fingertips. If something is wrong or missing, you could lose the sale and possibly even the customer.
Randy Higgins is Chief Strategy Officer of Shift7 Digital, an agency specializing in developing digital experiences for manufacturers and their customers.