With online sales to businesses expected to surpass $1 trillion in the United States next year, many of the more than 250,000 U.S. manufacturers are moving quickly into business-to-business e-commerce.
About 40% of manufacturers already have an e-commerce site, according to a recent survey of more than 140 manufacturers by B2BecNews. And of those that don’t, 69% expect to launch one within two years, including 55% that plan to go live within one year and 34% within six months, the survey found.
Increasing sales is the top reason why manufacturers begin to sell online, as cited by 71% of the executives surveyed. But many manufacturers, reacting in many cases to declining sales of their products in retail stores, are also entering e-commerce as a way to sell directly to consumers—a strategic priority named by 54% of the manufacturers surveyed by B2BecNews. The survey results appear in the latest B2BecNews executive report: Best Practices in Manufacturing B2B E-Commerce.
Building, operating and growing a B2B e-commerce business is a complicated and challenging process. A B2B website must be able to handle complex transactions that can include detailed quotes, custom pricing and product specifications.
A robust B2B manufacturing e-commerce site may need to direct visitors to sales channel partners, whether they are wholesalers, distributors, value-added resellers or retailers, and that raises both technical and business issues. A website must be able to exchange data with other systems, such as enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management software, yet still be easy for customers to use and staffers to maintain.
Proto Labs Inc., based in suburban Minneapolis, bills itself as the world’s fastest manufacturer of custom prototypes and on-demand production parts. Proto Labs provides several types of custom manufacturing that customers can order online.
Two years ago Proto Labs developed an e-commerce site where customers could place orders for all of these manufacturing services, replacing a former set-up that operated separate websites for each service. Proto Labs builds, buys and acquires both e-commerce technologies and other manufacturers that further its mission to be a manufacturer that uses e-commerce for faster product design and development, faster product prototyping and on-demand custom manufacturing, CEO Vicki Holt says
As part of its ongoing focus on digital manufacturing and e-commerce, Proto Labs has a new company tagline: “Manufacturing. Accelerated.” The company’s top priority for 2018 is to “continue to evolve our sales approach and engagement with our customers to drive revenue growth,” Holt says.
Proto Labs sees itself as well out front among U.S. manufacturers in the race to become more digital and commerce-enabled. “Manufacturing is just getting started,” Holt says.
B2B e-commerce best practices are still evolving for many manufacturers. But manufacturers that already have a successful e-commerce site say they built their website and designed their e-commerce strategy by following the basic rules of benchmarking the competition, developing clear and concise strategic goals and objectives, thinking through the technology and channel integration details, and tailoring the website to the needs of their customers.
The 48-page Best Practices in Manufacturing B2B E-Commerce research report is filled with best-practice data, analysis and case studies that explain how manufacturers such as Boeing Co., Paper Enterprises, Proto Labs and others are expanding their online sales. It is filled with lessons that can help other manufacturers as they map out their path to e-commerce success.
Sign up for a complimentary subscription to B2BecNews, a twice-weekly newsletter that covers technology and business trends in the growing B2B e-commerce industry. B2BecNews is published by Vertical Web Media LLC, which also publishes DigitalCommerce360.com, Internet Retailer and Internet Health Management. Follow Mark Brohan, senior editor for B2BecNews editor of Internet Health Management, on Twitter @markbrohan.
Follow us on LinkedIn and be the first to know when new B2BecNews content is published.Favorite