Why B2B Manufacturing Needs a Digital Transformation

Manufacturers quickly adjust to industry change so today’s manufacturers are enhancing their e-commerce tech due to changing buyer behaviors.

By Chris Shutts, co-founder and chief executive officer, Logik.io

Success in manufacturing has always depended on an organization’s willingness to adapt and act agilely in the face of industry change. Today, as buyers overwhelmingly opt for omnichannel transactions, a new imperative to adapt arises: Manufacturers must implement a cohesive B2B e-commerce engine that prioritizes seamless, logic-based user experiences (UE).

Before the pandemic, manufacturers aiming to improve e-commerce UE adopted configure price quote (CPQ) platforms to ease the burden of complex digital processes like inventory tracking. CPQ adoption is a crucial step in the B2B manufacturing journey, as these platforms quantify and qualify vast amounts of user data for both manufacturers and their customers.

However, buyer attitudes have shifted significantly in the wake of COVID-19, leading to increases in digital self-service. That complicates digital sales, and the industry is starting to notice: Forrester reported that only 35% of B2B e-commerce professionals are “very confident” they can convert site visitors to purchases. To address these concerns, manufacturers must upgrade their CPQ platforms to support a unique, logical buying experience.

B2B e-commerce behaviors have shifted

In response to pandemic-driven record-high digital sales and increased website traffic, B2C retailers invested heavily in updating digital sales infrastructures. The goal? To create a simple, easy-to-navigate experience that reliably translates page visits into sales across various platforms, including traditional e-commerce sites and social media.

Pandemic-era enhancements in B2C e-commerce have affected buyers’ perceptions across all mediums. Now, B2B customers expect — and actively seek out — platforms as intuitive as their personal shopping experiences. And although many customers continue to visit in-person sites and place phone calls to determine their manufacturing supplier of choice, an increasing number of B2B buyers are willing to conduct that research remotely. According to McKinsey, 37% of B2B customers placed an initial order through self-servicing mechanisms in November 2021. This signals a significant shift from pre-pandemic B2B trends, wherein most of the sales and vetting process occurred in person.

The shift toward online self-service presents an opportunity to improve status quo CPQ platforms. Most CPQ solutions have customers navigate a maze of options to choose from and distinguish between, instead of presenting a guided, customer-centric journey. Overwhelmingly, this disconnect results in buyer dissatisfaction and, in some cases, lost loyalty. Wunderman Thompson research found that 52% of customers in the U.S., U.K. and China experienced frustrations with digital B2B buying experiences last year. And, according to McKinsey, more than 68% of B2B buyers are willing to identify a new supplier if their manufacturer’s digital buying process is frustrating or doesn’t include information like product demos and pricing.

As modern buyers become spoiled for choice, successful B2B e-commerce solutions must evolve. Instead of treating digital sales as a siloed marketplace for browsing, modern CPQ platforms should provide an intuitive UE through a guided sales funnel that gauges specific consumer needs and presents products of interest. Essentially, modern e-commerce should emulate the benefits of in-person buying: personalization and simplification. This evolution is possible with a Commerce Logic Engine (CLE), the next step in B2B buying.

An effective omnichannel strategy is key

In-person sales have increased in recent months, approaching but not overtaking pre-pandemic levels. Coupled with the steady increase in B2B e-commerce, these data points suggest that customers crave an omnichannel approach to buying. To succeed in the modern marketplace, manufacturers should apply the same logic and effort to in-person, remote and digital buying.

A CLE addresses this need by simplifying the research and sales process for the buyer using the same methodologies employed by interpersonal interactions. First, a CLE gauges the user’s preferences through a series of guided questions or interactive selling paths. Then, using a bank of programmed rules about a manufacturer’s products, the CLE presents customers with a tailored selling experience that simplifies their ultimate purchase.

Grounded in the same principles as CPQ platforms, CLEs streamline complex data and product information for the customer, increasing the chances they’ll identify a relevant solution. In doing so, CLEs enhance UE and generate more finalized sales. Plus, CLEs eliminate the need for uniquely coded inputs by natively handling an enterprise catalog of products. That improves customer satisfaction on the back end by breaking down internal data silos – ensuring that crucial customer information like tracking information and quote identification is quick and seamless.

The customer is always right

B2B customers are searching for painless digital buying journeys, just as they have searched for straightforward in-person sales for decades. The critical difference is that most manufacturers prioritize traditional sales strategies and neglect powerful e-commerce platforms. In doing so, they alienate around one-third of prospective customers. For example, McKinsey reports that 60% of B2B buyers prefer to reorder online, yet only 10% of Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) provide digital self-service tools that support reorders. That missed opportunity translates to lost loyalty and commerce.

Manufacturers looking to boost sales and improve customer satisfaction through an intuitive UE must consider a digital transformation that prioritizes guided, logic-based buying journeys. It’s crucial to establish a robust digital presence now and remain an industry front-runner as B2B buying behaviors indicate that the future of commerce is online.

Chris Shutts

About the Author
Chris Shutts is co-founder and chief executive officer of Logik.io. He also co-founded and sold the CPQ pioneer BigMachines to Oracle. Previously, Shutts was business unit manager for Case New Holland. He has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT and two mechanical design patents.

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