Why manufacturers need a purpose-built B2B commerce system

4 min read

By John Bruno, VP of Product Management, Elastic Path

When you want to cut wood you don’t use a butter knife, and when you want to butter bread you don’t use a bandsaw. Sure, you may get the job done either way, but it would be much less efficient and potentially much more costly than if you simply used tools that were designed for the job. The same premise applies to commerce solutions. If you operate as a B2B business, then it can be very costly and inefficient to invest in a B2C-first commerce solution that isn’t designed for the complexities of B2B buying and selling.

A solid first step

Manufacturers are taking the first steps towards digital transformation, so it’s now commonplace to see things like digitised catalogues. But manufacturing brands are still failing B2B buyers by not investing in the right tools to bring B2C-level flexibility to the more complex B2B buying process. Buyers expect seamless online buying processes characteristic of B2C purchases, like buying groceries from Ocado or a book from Amazon.

The mistake manufacturers tend to make is assuming that adopting a B2C methodology will enable B2B sellers to improve the customer experience. The trouble is B2C platforms work well in consumer settings because they are designed for B2C buying processes. B2B buying needs a dedicated B2B platform.

Why this change is needed

As the manufacturing industry evolves and manufacturers’ relationships with the channel change – digitally savvy B2B buyers are turning to manufacturers’ sites directly for product information and to purchase. Manufacturers that can enable seamless research and buying experiences for the end customer will gain a leg up. As factors like Brexit push us towards uncertain economic times where supply chains cannot be assumed to remain stable, this leg up will be especially important.

However, our research has shown that even simple experiences such as automated reordering are not yet commonly adopted in manufacturing, with only 30% of manufacturers offering this. Further services such as account specific pricing (50%), self-service checkouts (46%) and flexible pricing models (34%) are not widely implemented either.

Bolstering decision-making processes

B2C systems offer purchasing options that are convenient in the FMCG and fashion domains where, for example, someone is looking to buy a new outfit to wear to a party at the weekend. The customer really values the site’s ability to serve up complementary outfit suggestions and a frictionless navigation through to completing the purchase.

But these systems falter when it comes to supporting the needs of a business procurement professional. B2C-first systems struggle to support the B2B buyer’s desire to quickly order a specific product on account or set up a repeating order with flexible pricing depending on the volume purchased.

The B2B purchase process is complicated further because these buying cycles typically involve more than one decision maker. If decision makers access the commerce system separately, but there is no functionality to identify that they are from the same company, or working on the same project, then they will have a disjointed experience. This inconsistency can slow down the decision-making process and can stand in the way of developing strong relationships that are the backbone of B2B sales.

Potential revenue opportunities are at risk if a manufacturer’s commerce platform can’t offer the following:

Flexible pricing, enabling sellers to adjust pricing reactive to the competition, changing industry trends or contractual agreements at pace.

Frictionless reordering, allowing customers to spend less time purchasing and more time on their businesses and sales representatives to spend more time on consultative selling and relationship building and less time placing orders.

Commerce-enabled IoT, integrating the warehouse or individual products with the manufacturer’s commerce system and automating tasks like managing supply levels, tracking customer data and reordering.

Adopting a B2B commerce strategy

If you’re lacking in the above functionality then you need a purpose-built B2B commerce solution that manages both the complexities of B2B buying and selling, and positions manufacturers to evolve alongside customer expectations. Systems designed specifically for B2B will personalise the experience for each customer and unify this online and offline.

This process doesn’t have to be hasty and it’s important to avoid taking on too much too quickly. The first step is to make sure customers can find what you sell when conducting research online, and keep product information up to date, accessible and accurate. This is supported by features like virtual catalogues, customer segmentation and customer-specific microsites to deliver buyer and organisation-specific product choices.

You can then encourage customers to conduct transactions online via self-service. Reorders are a great place to start. Building options for customers to purchase individual line items or an entire order, with guided selling experiences and advice on compatible products. Or account-based experiences that allow manufacturers to create a tailored experience for every customer, so each sees the correct price dependent on their contract agreement, whether it be subscription billing, usage pricing, tiered billing, or negotiated contract billing.

Increasing customer loyalty

Navigating the puzzling process of B2B purchasing can be difficult, but with supply chains facing the threat of uncertain economic times, and the expectations of purchasers more demanding than ever, a purpose-built B2B commerce platform is a crucial missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

Of the B2B eCommerce decision-makers we surveyed, 53% of those who have achieved profit margin growth in the last few years strongly agree that this is due to investments in digital buying and selling tools to better service customers. They advocate that better digital experiences lead to sales growth and long-term customer loyalty.

The truth is, if your B2B customers don’t get the right experience from you, they will go to a competitor that can give them what they need. There really is no time like the present to start giving manufacturing B2B buyers seamless and flexible purchasing experiences, tailored product information, relevant pricing and payment options with a purpose-built B2B commerce platform.