1652805112 Nst221801 Industry Week Article

E-Commerce Capabilities Will Help Reduce Friction in the Buying Process

May 18, 2022

Manufacturing buyers have evolved from legacy sales channels of personal sales networks and trade shows to doing the vast majority of their research online before they even talk to a prospective seller. Millennial or not, manufacturing buyers are looking for reliable partners that offer a hearty mix of offline and online functionality for procurement. In fact, by 2025, 80 percent of B2B sales transactions will occur via digital channels, according to Gartner’s Future of Sales research.

Manufacturing buyers want to engage with suppliers through user-friendly online ordering features, even with custom products. Some 64 percent state that they would switch to another vendor if the company provides real-time, personalized pricing. Some want to receive estimated freight quotes, information on bulk discounts, MOQs and customization opportunities, preferably at any time of day or night, and via multiple channels.

The solution is an e-commerce capable website. But the dilemma for many small manufacturers is how to do it right; how do you satisfy prospects who want to talk with an expert right away before they add a part or product to a shopping cart.

Common Misconceptions That Hold Back E-commerce Initiatives

The most obvious hurdle, when getting started on an e-commerce initiative, is the internal understanding and buy-in — especially the commitment to technology and willingness to change processes. Many manufacturers also are challenged with these two areas:

  • Channel conflict
  • Pricing transparency

Channel conflict is real, especially for manufacturers who rely on distributors and dealers for sales and sales leads. Distributors can be an integral part of the business and add value with specialty expertise, geography, local knowledge and more. So creating an online sales channel, or any new sales channel, can be difficult. Be transparent with your partners and seek their input. Clear pricing parameters are key, as are incentives for your partners to recommend your products and services. They are naturally incented not to open up competition, so it is key to focusing on how e-commerce will help their business versus cannibalizing it. You can't let them hold you back from moving your business forward.

Manufacturers historically have been hesitant to provide transparent pricing as it arms competitors with information. But at some point in the buying process you are divulging a price — likely based on a prospect displaying intent. Objections to pricing transparency may be a window into other issues at your company that could be blockers for growth.

With an e-commerce site, you can still qualify leads before showing a price; perhaps through a simple self-service “quick estimate” tool that is available 24/7 to capture customer information in exchange for a ballpark quote. If your pricing is out of their range, you are weeding out non-committed buyers. If it is in their range, you are opening the door to a highly qualified lead.

Make Buying Easier With Access to Product Information, Experts

One of the primary benefits of having an e-commerce capable website is reducing friction for the customer in the buying process. People are going to have questions before they put a part or product in an e-commerce shopping cart, so making the process easier begins with an expert-based approach to providing information and answering key questions. This is true whether you are selling off-the-shelf products or custom products.

There are numerous ways to help educate prospects and customers to accelerate buying decisions, including:

  • Digital twins: One differentiating trend in buyer-friendly content is replacing conventional 3D CAD models with intelligent 4D data, which includes critical product information and attributes.
  • Key visuals and specs: 3D renderings, a video of a use case, spec sheets and more.
  • Anticipate questions: Leverage your sales and customer service people to gather the most common questions and objections for key products, then put together an FAQ or create a video that addresses those issues.
  • Hand off to an expert: The first line of sales support is to ask more questions to determine the best path to a solution. You can do this via a chatbot or by having a customer service representative available to speak with someone directly, just as you would on the phone.

Think of your website as a virtual trade show. How can you replicate whatever samples you show off or information you hand out to a visitor at a booth?

Marketing Automation and Digital Tools Make Buying More Personal

One of the ironies of marketing technology is that the digital tools actually help you become more personal in your approach, not impersonal. E-commerce sites, for example, track purchases, including part numbers and amounts, and suggest related products for consideration.

A good CRM or marketing automation platform — such as Salesforce and Pardot, SharpSpring, or Hubspot — can help you grow and understand your online prospects and buying behavior. It will help you determine when to engage with a prospect. Your salespeople and sales engineers can support vetted e-commerce queries and manage qualified prospects. The tools allow them to be more productive, such as responding to qualified leads as opposed to crafting more cold-call emails.

At the same time, when you make the buying process easier and more personal, you are creating a better overall experience. While a chatbot may seem impersonal, if it gets you to your answer more quickly, or to the right source, you will be happy with the experience. It’s called conversational marketing for a reason — it often works.

Integrate Sales People Into Your Digital Sales Channel

E- commerce capability is like any other new technology in your company — you must have buy-in for changing processes and behaviors to properly leverage its benefits. Every situation is different, but a checklist to ensure success might look something like this:

  • Make salespeople responsible for their part of the digital channel. They should be using the website as a sales tool, so give them more ownership into the resources that will be available to prospects and include them in determining processes.
  • Make sure leads go to the appropriate salesperson. This seems obvious, but many companies send leads to a large distribution list without clear ownership, or to a marketing person.
  • Use the website to do all order taking. Make this the default intake form. The sales people will want tools to make it easier for them, which ultimately makes it easier for self-service customers to place orders. If this is the most efficient process for taking an order, use it for all orders.
  • Incentivize sales people to encourage online sales. If your sales people don’t get credit for sales through the website, why should they be advocates for the website? They should get credit for the relationships and touchpoints that lead to these more efficient transactions. Invite your salespeople into decisions that impact them.

An indirect benefit of e-commerce capability is that your sales people can devote less time to educating prospects and more time to higher value tasks such as building relationships with qualified leads who have established buying intent.

Invest in Digital Marketing to Drive Prospects to Your E-Commerce Site

Building an e-commerce website or capability is not a singular investment. For many manufacturers, it is similar to operations — you have to master Industry 3.0 before you can leverage Industry 4.0.

To succeed with e-commerce, you will need foundational digital elements in place, such as:

  • Content to educate and inform prospects about your solutions
  • Distribution of your messaging to attract prospects and customers
  • Marketing technology to connect platforms and gather data
  • Analytics in order to gain actionable insights into the touchpoints of the buying journey

E-Commerce Capabilities Will Reduce Friction, Qualify Leads

Customers are demanding less friction in the buying process — 87 percent of B2B buyers say they would pay more for a supplier with a better ecommerce portal and experience. That number has increased from 81 percent in 2020 and 74 percent in 2019. E-commerce capability is quickly becoming a requirement in the manufacturing industry.

Experts at your local MEP Center can help you add e-commerce capability to your website. Let us help you get started.

About the author

Kim Lloyd, Director of Special Projects, FuzeHub

Kim has vast experience helping clients in the IT, healthcare, and manufacturing industries design and build small websites to large-scale portals. At FuzeHub, which is part of the MEP National Network, she is responsible for several programs targeted at helping small to midsize manufacturers including supply chain projects, and overseeing the technology driving the FuzeHub B2B Connection portal.

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