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Digitizing the business: 5 key questions every B2B manufacturer should be thinking about

  • 12 November 2021 / By Kami Kris
  • Digital Transformation eCommerce Cloud Modernization

B2B buyers today expect, perhaps even demand, the same kind of digital commerce they experience as individual consumers. Digital purchasing is fast becoming the norm for many B2B buyers, and manufacturers that want to provide this purchasing journey must be careful to ensure the kind of experience that will keep customers coming back. These five questions and their answers— are a good place for a B2B manufacturer to start their move to digital.

1. How do we move to digital and protect the sales agent-customer relationship at the same time?

That sales agent-customer relationship is the cornerstone of any B2B business. Prior to the arrival of Covid, many companies attempted to leverage the business value of digitization with unsatisfactory results, particularly in their ability to protect that important relationship. The pandemic, however, changed the game in a big way. Businesses had to ensure their customers could confidently place orders anytime, anyplace, anywhere--without losing the value of that agent-customer connection.

The key to accomplishing this is making your sales agents part of the new digitized processes. One way is including agents in the client checkout experience as enhancements. For example:

  • Assisted Checkout. Agents often understand customer needs and products that will work for them better than the customers themselves. Assisted checkout allows agents to join a customer’s browsing session and recommend or add items to the shopping cart while they interact in real time. An agent can even check out on behalf of a customer.
  • Quotes. Though pre-negotiated price lists are standard for every B2B business, it is not uncommon for customers to buy larger quantities or products that aren’t on those lists. Supporting a “request for quote” function in the digital buying experience can connect sales agents to their customer offer and approve discounts for purchases that are not part of pre-negotiated pricing.
  • Chat. Chatbots are common on most B2C sites today. B2B companies can also use chatbots that alert sales agents when their customers are on the company site. They can talk in real time for assisted check-out, price quotes, or any other topic or issue that needs agent attention.

These are just a few examples of the ways that the sales agent-customer relationship can be protected and even strengthened through digital strategies.

2. How does my business consider or even adopt a “marketplace” play that doesn’t include an Amazon strategy?

A marketplace is a great way to try out product differentiation for any business. Marketplace applications allow you to add products to your site that complement your core business. As an example, a company selling lawn care products might want to explore selling related products like lawn mowers and leaf blowers. However, management doesn’t want to make the investment needed to add them to the product list. They find a partner that sells the products, which they add to their online product catalog. They “drop-ship” any orders directly to customers, earn margin on the product, and can test to determine what new products work for customers before making a permanent commitment.

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3. Research is key to helping my buyer make a final sales decision. How can I facilitate this in a digital environment?

Generally, there are two different buyer journeys in a B2B environment. One type of buyer knows exactly what they need. They will search by description or SKU number and head straight to checkout. There are opportunities to bring new products to their attention along the way, so these buyers can be upsold even if they are not spending time on research. The second type of buyer is the focus of this question. To provide an excellent buying experience, include functionality on your site that allows for self-directed product research. Take the customer through a guided sales process that allows this kind of search and helps them understand use cases with supported data and case studies. Allow engagement with a sales agent who can help them move smoothly through ordering and checkout.

The most frequent error we’ve seen B2B businesses make is trying to use existing business processes in a digital space. Even if you have excellent tools and processes that are working for the business, it is highly likely that they won’t translate to modern commerce technology.

Kami Kris - VP, Commerce, Kin + Carta

4. What are the key data readiness activities that unlock commerce innovation?

There are often many sources of truth and inconsistent processes for accessing data. Both of these issues present multiple challenges to digital commerce. When defining the online buying experience, it’s important to define the systems of truth for Master Customer Management and Product Information Management. When you get these right you will have a better experience internally and externally, and ensure that you are showing the right information at the right time to the right customer. Once this is in place, you can create Commerce KPIs to let you effectively measure the performance of your site and products. KPIs are different for every business, and you need to determine which are best for you. Here are some examples of focus areas to consider for your own KPIs:

External:

  • Improvement in placing and managing orders
  • Improved product information and comparison
  • Clearer paths to purchase
  • Enhanced Personalization to improve content relevancy
  • Suggestive sell and cross sell

Internal:

  • Automate processes where bottle-necks occur
  • Grow and adapt with / all global retailers changing needs
  • Easy integration with other third party internal systems
  • Improved insights
  • Improve publishing efficiency
  • Ability to optimise through A/B testing
  • Improve reporting

5. What's the biggest mistake I can make when taking on digital commerce transformation?

The most frequent error we’ve seen B2B businesses make is trying to use existing business processes in a digital space. Even if you have excellent tools and processes that are working for the business, it is highly likely that they won’t translate to modern commerce technology. Rather than using a lot of time and money attempting to replicate your current processes, step back, assess your business, and create new processes that align with digital commerce. Then plan out how those processes will be embedded in operations, and be sure to include change management in the plan to make sure your people understand and are comfortable with some new ways of doing things.

Digitized commerce is rapidly becoming the norm for most B2B buyers. The sooner you include online purchasing in your business operations, the better positioned you will be with your customers.

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