The UK is currently the world’s eighth-largest industrial nation, with the ONS predicting it may rise to fifth by 2021 – but businesses are struggling to increase market share in line with this growth. Being able to articulate and communicate differentiation in the context of rising competition is cited as one of the main barriers to growth. In fact, high-growth firms are almost three times more likely to have a strong differentiator.

Businesses in the manufacturing industry are struggling to keep up with buyer expectations, especially when it comes to simplifying the search experience. The latest research highlights that 70% of manufacturing buyers admit to having high expectations, a further 62% demand more convenience, and 58% expect a digital experience. And, crucially, 81% of business-to-business (B2B) buyers said they would choose a supplier that offers a consumer-like search experience over an equally priced alternative that does not. This reflects similar ‘pain points’ across B2B and business-to-consumer (B2C), like navigating through the amount of choice on offer to find the right product. It also suggests that experiences are converging across both spaces. B2B buyers now expect more than just supplier value. It’s no longer enough to help them understand features, functions, and complex product sets. Even offering buyers a new way to think about or improve their business won’t set suppliers apart.

With this demanding buyer profile, can marketers leverage emerging technology from the B2C space to deliver a better digital experience?

B2B buyers are also B2C buyers

Creating a search experience that delivers the hallowed elements of B2C ‘human’ engagement may sound daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Most people are willing to pay more for a better, more personalised experience – in their business lives as in their daily lives. Investment in emerging technology that allows buyers to feel like they are understood and being guided as part of a conversation, will help businesses win the race to revenue. While, historically, the manufacturing industry may not have led the way in consumer-centricity, this is quickly changing, with digital transformation cited as one of the top priorities for manufacturing executives in the next decade.

The Demand for Better Search Experiences

In an era gone by, B2C shoppers in bricks and mortar stores would engage with friendly, trained sales reps to receive personalized assistance to help find the right product for their specific needs. Likewise, B2B buyers would call up a dedicated account manager, but this personal, assistive experience is largely missing across digital channels - and buyers are beginning to take notice and move their spend accordingly. The reality is that most businesses expect buyers to self-navigate through thousands of products to find the one for them, but buyers expect a seamless and engaging search experience that speaks to them as human beings - move over keywords, it’s time to engage buyers in a conversation.

Simplifying complex purchase decisions

Overcoming complexity to sell more is no-brainer. But how do you go about turning confused shoppers into confident buyers? Manufacturing businesses need to educate and assist customers to guide them to the perfect products for their unique needs. It's difficult for buyers to know which products best fit their requirements, especially if they're not experts. Translate technical product specifications into a language that all buyers understand. Whether you sell machinery, power tools or industrial equipment, it’s time to focus on consumer needs, not product features.

Take air compressors for example – rather than expecting your buyers to make sense of features like capacity, PSI, CFM and Phase and work through a large selection of products within the category– brands should engage customers in a conversation, asking questions like: ‘What do you need air for?, ‘What industry are you in?’ and ‘What voltage do you have access to?’ to guide customers to a curated list of products that fit their needs - and encourages purchase confidence by up to 71%.

Uncovering data blind spots

Gathering critical insights into consumer preferences and product performance is cited as one of the top pain points for most manufacturing brands, since the majority of revenue is generated through channel and distribution partners. But there is another way… By extending an assistive experience across your partner sites, you can recover data blind spots to find out what consumers are looking for across which channel partners.

The symbiotic relationship between the consumer as a person and the consumer as a decision-maker in business calls for better focus on customer experience and engagement levels in the B2B space. Suppliers will need to focus on how to change their selling strategy to cater to the growing demands of the industry. Leveraging new tech will be essential, although this will be a significant battle for an industry that has not been very advanced in the way it engages with audiences, both in B2B and B2C. Transforming the digital experience holds tremendous potential and is likely to be decisive in determining the fate of industrial manufacturing companies in the months and years to come - it’s a race to get ahead of the curve.