Manufacturers need to learn how to better connect with their customers, and here are three ways to do that, Michael Gerard, chief marketing officer of e-Spirit, writes.

Michael Gerard

Amazon and other ecommerce companies have changed the way people make purchases. In the B2C space, that’s been going on for many years. But what about in the B2B world, specifically in the manufacturing sector? What’s at stake for manufacturers is the opportunity to tap into the B2B ecommerce space in the United States, which exceeded $1 trillion in B2B ecommerce sales last year, according to estimates from Forrester Research. For manufacturers to secure a substantial piece of that very large pie, you need to learn from business practices that mirror B2C ecommerce experiences in order to improve customer loyalty and increase revenue.

It shouldn’t be so hard for manufacturers to get a 360-view of their customers. Manufacturers that adapt will thrive, while those who don’t will go the way of the dinosaurs.

Here are three recommendations for how manufacturers can create more appealing
purchasing experiences with their customers and partners:

1—Learn from B2C best practices

Historically, the world of B2B has been more traditional, conservative, and buttoned-down compared with the B2C world. B2B has been more fixated on price and delivery, and B2C has been focused on engaging with customers on a more personal level. However, the growth of new customer touchpoints has changed how B2B companies interact with their customers and partners. Manufacturers that adapt will thrive, while those who don’t will go the way of the dinosaurs.

This fundamental shift in purchasing can be directly attributed to how the internet has altered the way customers make purchases. In the past, B2B appreciated knowledge, competence and the ability to deliver on time and on budget. Conversely, the world of B2C is more focused on providing an excellent customer experience based on accessibility and ease of use.

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Manufacturers can learn a lot from how B2C companies operate, and the most important attribute centers on AI-driven personalization. B2B companies need to develop strategies and deploy technologies that quickly and easily gather customer information and incorporate that information into the sales and negotiating process. Savvy manufacturers are the ones who know how to use that data to create a better customer experience based on each customer’s unique needs and interests.

2—Take a content-based approach

Most manufacturers have taken advantage of technology. Whether supply chain or production applications, these manufacturers’ enterprise applications gather large amounts of customer data, but the data is often stored in silos and not always easy to access or leverage. With all of this information available, it shouldn’t be so hard for manufacturers to get a 360-view of their customers.

One company that changed its approach is GROHE, which manufactures sanitary fittings for water products. The company wanted to find a way to make its product content more engaging and targeted to each customer’s unique interests. The company has over 60 websites across 80 countries and needed to find a way to unify customer data across multiple systems, including their own internal systems and those of their suppliers and retailers.

Taking a content-based marketing approach led GROHE to combine the 60+ websites into one global website with a single customer interface. Doing so allowed the marketing teams in each country to share promotions, images and correspondence based on customer preferences. This helped GROHE engage with customers along multiple channels, including mobile, and provided them with content that was uniquely interesting to them.

3—Create AI-driven personalized experiences

Similar to taking a content-driven approach, incorporating personalization technology provides tremendous value for B2B manufacturers.

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Boston Consulting Group (BCG) asserts that “brands that create personalized experiences by integrating advanced digital technologies and proprietary data for customers are seeing revenues increase by 6% to 10%—two to three times faster than those that don’t. As a result, personalization leaders stand to capture a disproportionate share of category profits in the new age of individualized brands, while slow movers will lose customers, share and profits.” This trend is especially evident in digital commerce, where personalization is a powerful strategy for differentiating online buying experiences for retailers and B2B companies.

Providing customers with the information they need at the right time on the right device can go a long way to increasing revenue. Leveraging AI-powered recommendations—based on such attributes as similar purchases made by other customers or suggestions based on terms like “high performance” or “best quality” —allows customers to make smarter purchasing decisions. These types of personalized recommendations can be created based on prior purchases, cost, and market specifications.

For instance, The North Face created a chatbot system called XPS, an acronym for Expert Personal Shopper. The chatbot walks customers through a series of questions and, based on the answers, provides recommendations for purchasing products. While this chatbot is for a B2C environment, the idea of helping customers make more informed decisions based on their individual needs helps build a profile of the customer, which can be stored and leveraged over time. The AI tool for The North Face is still in its testing stage, but early results point to success.

The customer is always right

For manufacturers to stay ahead of the competition, you need to create strategies that put the customer at the center of the sales process and incorporate technologies that support the strategy. There are many lessons to be learned from B2C companies as to how to engage with customers, deliver recommendations based on their needs and provide systems that are more user-friendly. Tapping into the network with suppliers and wholesalers can also help you secure customer loyalty.

Michael Gerard is the chief marketing officer of e-Spirit, a provider of content management software and related technology and services. He can be reached at [email protected]

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