Sponsored by UPS

The burgeoning business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce market, estimated soon to be twice the size of business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce, promises great opportunity for industrial distributors to reach more buyers. With that potential, however, comes a wider range of competitive threats.

In a recent study, UPS found that the percentage of buyers who have purchased from e-marketplaces has gone from 20% in 2013 to 75% today. Such a large swing puts an exclamation point on traditional distributors’ new reality: The internet has given industrial buyers a direct link to more supplier options. And buyers are increasingly using those options.

If you plan to hold onto your share of industrial buyers’ wallets, or to grab more of them, take these three strategies to heart.

Help buyers find you.

B2B buyers are consumers, too, for their personal purchases, so they naturally bring consumer habits to their business purchases. That includes searching for suppliers and products online. If you don’t appear at or near the top of the first page of search results—either via Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising or “organically” through Search Engine Optimization (SEO)—it’s extremely unlikely a buyer will find you.

Getting seen online requires unique expertise and ongoing optimization, but it is the lifeblood of any business trying to compete today. Though few companies have the luxury of staffing for such activities, there are ready-made and configurable solutions available that can help you and your products become more visible to buyers.

“We have arrangements with technology providers through the UPS Ready® program,” says Simon Bhadra, Senior Manager of UPS Segment Marketing. “The UPS Ready program offers access to technology providers who can help with something as simple as setting up an online storefront, all the way to continuous optimization of product information so it could achieve a higher organic search ranking.” He adds, “There is a joke that all the answers to the world’s greatest mysteries lie on the second page of search results—that no one sees. You need to be at or among the top options when buyers are looking for something.”

Make it easy to buy from you.

Once you’ve made it easier for customers old and new to find you, how will you keep them coming back? Three UPS Industrial Buying Dynamics studies since 2013 surveying 1,500 industrial products buyers consistently show that once fundamental needs for price and quality are met, buyers gravitate toward suppliers who provide an easy and convenient buying experience.

The definition of “ease and convenience” may vary by individual, but the basic tenets are the same. It should be simple for buyers to find product and service information through any channel they want to use, whether a website, a mobile application, or social media. Buyers also want and expect the information across all channels to be consistent and accurate. And they increasingly expect the transaction to be easy, with access to negotiated pricing and purchase history, easy repeat ordering, and multiple options for mode and date of delivery.

The UPS studies also show the perils of not meeting those buyer demands. In 2017, 80% of buyers said they would switch suppliers to get a more user-friendly buying experience—compared to 72% in the 2015 study. And Millennials, the up-and-coming generation of buying leadership, lead the demand for convenient buying via mobile devices.

Give buyers more visibility and control.

A purchase is an act of trust by buyers, but that trust often fades over avoidable things such as lack of visibility into order status and poor communication. Both buyer and seller suffer the productivity drains of WISMO calls (Where is My Order), as well as the stress of uncertainty in the supply chain.

“Five years ago, most industrial distributors didn’t know they’d face the same challenges as brick-and-mortar retailers trying to grow during an e-commerce explosion,” says UPS’s Bhadra. “But distributors today have advantages that retailers didn’t, such as more, and more affordable, technology.” He adds, “There are solutions that can help distributors integrate and streamline their operations, and provide nearly A to Z visibility of inbound and outbound movements from manufacturer to distributor to customer.”

Bhadra provides an example based on UPS technologies. “Say your customer orders OEM parts to fit a tight production schedule. If you, your supplier, and your customer are integrated with UPS’s Quantum View® technology, all parties could see the order’s progress and receive updates along the way. That trust can be maintained.”

In a few years we’ll see how far—and how well—distributors were able to stretch themselves to meet the ever-increasing demands of their buyers. These days, that means once you meet buyers’ needs for quality and price, you need to be easy to find, easy to buy from, and easy to trust. The good news is that it’s no longer necessary to build all those capabilities from scratch. Seek out existing and new business partnerships with the ability to help you capture, keep, and grow your customer base in the midst of a digital revolution.

See how UPS can help improve your customers’ online experience.