Manufacturers are catching on that eCommerce is a necessity. Product-focused distributors and retailers are becoming more customer-centric, and manufacturers are beginning to realize that they, too, must change the way they approach selling.
While some manufacturers already have an online presence, they depend on rigid legacy systems that cannot accommodate modern customer expectations or effectively manage back-office functions. With an industrial eCommerce platform, manufacturers can streamline complex processes and offer an experience satisfying B2B buyer needs.
Why are manufacturers slow to embrace eCommerce?
Digital eCommerce offers numerous benefits to manufacturers, yet many have reservations about moving online or re-platforming from their existing systems. These concerns are not without merit. Understanding where they come from can help manufacturers identify how to address them properly.
- Manufacturers run on tight schedules, so any disruption is likely to be met with resistance from upper management, the IT department, and other stakeholders. Leaders must create a robust strategy, sell the idea to their peers while working within their budget and resources.
- Manufacturing tends to be a complicated and resource-heavy process, so cost remains another obstacle to digitalization. Few believe they can implement their eCommerce project in-house, and many have doubts about the investment and experience required to implement modern digital experiences.
- Another barrier to eCommerce is effectively maintaining relationships and communicating with existing partners. Manufacturers within different industries see change differently and must ensure all elements work within partner and customer expectations.
What advantages does eCommerce offer to manufacturers?
The demographic shift is impacting the way we interact with one another: While baby boomers and Generation Xers felt comfortable with the fax, phone, or in-person interactions, the younger demographic is not. Most of us are accustomed to online experiences, and this trend will only grow. To grow sales and increase loyalty, manufacturers must offer B2B buyers, who are already making the majority of purchase decisions, highly customized and personalized online experiences.
Advantage 1: Efficient operations. A B2B eCommerce platform enables efficiency, cost savings, and streamlines processes for manufacturers in all industries. An online eCommerce catalog eliminates the need to print costly product catalogs. It reduces time-consuming tasks such as maintaining catalog relevancy, cross-checking data, and manual data entry. It opens the door for integrations with the ERP, CRM, PIM, and other systems, optimizing countless back-end processes.
Advantage 2: Order accuracy. Manufacturers must deal with large, complex orders and all kinds of buyers. Fortunately, many purpose-built B2B eCommerce solutions support customer-specific price lists and RFQ processes. When combined with customizable back-office workflows, it leads to personalized and seamless ordering. Aside from making the purchase experience easier for the customer, it reduces errors and saves time processing orders.
Advantage 3: Better analytics. Online customer data offers manufacturers valuable insights into growing their business. For example, an eCommerce platform can collect purchase and sales data, returns, and shipping data, and more. This data is crucial to better project trends and optimize inventory and fulfillment. This data can guide the product development team to improve the product, better direct sales efforts, and help marketing teams target customers.
Advantage 4: Unlock revenue sources. The pandemic has clearly demonstrated that moving online is the only way to offset falling sales at physical locations. An online store opens up new traffic sources to traditional manufacturers. When coupled with a strong SEO strategy and a mobile-friendly storefront, an online store can help them build a sizable customer base and sell more to them.
Advantage 5: Lower costs. A digital presence requires much fewer resources in terms of staff, upkeep, and rent associated with physical locations. For example, a flexible, B2B-focused eCommerce platform makes it easy to add additional components, features or launch new digital storefronts. Physical stores, by contrast, demand much more upfront and ongoing investment.
Advantage 6: Passive earnings. A well-executed eCommerce presence will handle complex back-office processes with automated workflows and empower customers to manage their orders with self-service. Automation takes the pressure off salespeople and expands operating hours. In turn, manufacturers can sell 24/7, and staff can pursue other opportunities that help boost revenue.
Advantage 7: Gain brand awareness. ECommerce is an excellent source of marketing for manufacturers. They can increase discoverability through search engines, especially since B2B buyers are increasingly relying on Google to research companies. This added visibility is not only excellent for promoting products and growing sales; it can also drive additional business to a distributor or retail partners.
Advantage 8: Customer-centric focus. Unlike traditional channels, digital commerce enables more effective customer data use, which opens up opportunities for personalization. Sales staff can use this data to personalize the website or recommend products to customers. For example, manufacturers can build a self-service portal with product descriptions, shipping information.
Advantage 9: Omnichannel. By moving online, manufacturers can accommodate customers that move between communication channels and devices. Today’s customers expect to place the order online, visit the mobile app, and call a sales rep the same day. At the same time, they expect brands to offer a consistent experience every step of the way. When manufacturers provide unified experiences, they grow conversions and their customer base.
Advantage 10: Opportunity to innovate. Digital commence empowers manufacturers to innovate in areas like customer service, sales optimization, and strengthening the supply chain. Manufacturers can streamline the quoting process, accommodate multiple decision-makers over numerous roles, enable easy re-ordering, and support unique payment terms and shipping options.
Advantage 11: Expand to new markets. The right eCommerce solution makes it easy to scale to new verticals, markets, and geographic territories. Flexible solutions help brands expand to new markets and react to opportunities before their competitors. Besides B2B selling, many manufacturers choose to retain some control of the selling aspect (B2B2C) or sell direct-to-customer (D2C). These trends are growing in popularity as manufacturers diversify their businesses.
Advantage 12: Future-proof their business. A flexible eCommerce platform is the best insurance policy for the future. With the right features and extendability potential, there’s no need to worry about replatforming or growing out of the platform. It becomes easy to scale, roll out new products, storefronts, and reach new business verticals when the opportunity calls for it – all while maintaining experiences customers will remember and come back to.
When manufacturers start their search for an eCommerce system, many face the decision to adopt a B2C platform for their B2B needs. Manufacturers have varied customers, complex approvals, product configurations, and ordering requirements. They need customizable workflows, seamless ERP, CRM, and PIM integrations, and other B2B-specific features.
Unfortunately, many B2C solutions fall short of these needs. That’s why it’s imperative for manufacturers to never lose track of their requirements during vendor selection. When selecting an eCommerce solution, pay attention to the platform’s features, flexibility, and robustness. Remember: your eCommerce strategy is not just an “online shop” for your manufacturing business: it’s a technology central to your sales and operations, must with current processes, and must be able to accommodate all your future needs.