The shift to self-service B2B buying requires manufacturers and their trading partners to interact on an effective commerce technology platform that can handle complex B2B transactions, writes George Anderson, marketing manager at Corevist.

GeorgeAnderson-Corevist-Sept2021

George Anderson

It’s no secret that B2B buying processes are changing fast. Purchasing agents were demanding Amazon-style experiences before the pandemic, but COVID only accelerated this trend.

Even if your reps beat the industry-standard two minutes of hold time, customers just don’t want to call the customer service department.

We’ve spoken with many manufacturers who weren’t equipped for this shift. Here are four challenges that manufacturers face as expectations keep evolving.

  1. Dealers and distributors want self-service

In a study of 1,000 B2B buyers, McKinsey & Co. asked respondents how they preferred to reorder products. Not surprisingly, 86% chose self-service options over talking to sales. And this was before COVID.

McKinsey conducted a different study at the height of the pandemic. This time around, they found that 99% of B2B buyers were comfortable with end-to-end, online self-service — even for purchases of $50,000 or more.

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This is a huge shift in B2B buying processes. Here’s what it means for manufacturers.

  1. Phone, fax, and email are out

Before the age of B2B self-service portals, there was really no other way to place an order with a manufacturer. Likewise, inquiring about an order, shipment, or invoice required manual communication with a human sales rep.

This is still the case for many manufacturers. Legacy processes are built on these person-to-person technologies.

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Yet the McKinsey studies (and many others) show that deaolers and distributors are getting tired of these processes. Even if your reps beat the industry-standard two minutes of hold time, customers just don’t want to call the customer service department. Fax and email may take up less time (or not), but they leave the communication loop open. The customer still has to wait to find out if product is available, what the price is, when it will arrive, and whether the order has even been placed.

This isn’t only bad for customers.

  1. Reps spend too much time on interactions that customers don’t want to have

Let’s be honest, customer service reps don’t enjoy answering routine inquiries. Order status, shipment status, product availability — all this information lives in your ERP. The rep’s role becomes robotic when they’re simply relaying that information.

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People want meaningful, challenging work. Evolved organizations are giving it to them by taking away the burden of routine inquiries. (A B2B portal is the key. We’ll cover that below).

With that load lifted, reps can focus on value-added activities as they build relationships with customers. This is more fulfilling for them, which helps prevent churn in the customer service department. This is the Holy Grail of customer service for manufacturers. .

However, many organizations can’t envision a brighter future because they don’t have the right technology to provide a good customer experience.

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  1. Complexity makes it hard to imagine a better customer experience

Manufacturers run into difficult questions when they consider digital self-service. Here are some that we hear frequently.

  • Our ERP provides a unique inventory calculation for every product and every customer. How do we show the right inventory quantity to the right customer in a B2B portal experience?
  • Our ERP has unique pricing rules for every product and every customer. How do we ensure each user sees accurate pricing for every SKU?
  • Phone, fax, email, and EDI orders always generate errors. These errors require manual callbacks so reps can fix them. Won’t a B2B portal simply add more broken orders to the queue?

Some questions are even more challenging.

  • Our “real” business rules aren’t actually implemented in the ERP. Our real business rules live in sticky notes and tribal knowledge among reps. How do we get from here to a seamless, self-service B2B portal?
  • How do we empower customers to release their stock from the warehouse? That process is so complex, we can’t transition it to self-service.
  • IT already has their hands full. How can they possibly support a B2B portal?

The solution: A managed, integrated B2B portal

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With the right solution, you can overcome each of these challenges. The key is to find a B2B portal solution that’s deeply integrated to your ERP. This ensures that your ERP remains the system of record, and it allows customers to interact with their personalized data in real time. This means happier customers — and less mundane work for reps.

When you launch a portal like this with a partner managing it, you create minimal work for IT. Bonus points if you find a managed solution that includes ERP integration. Then you can launch your digital journey while retaining the focus on your core business.

George Anderson is a marketing manager at Corevist Inc., which provides manufacturers with software to launch B2B ecommerce portals integrated with SAP ERP software. Connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn. A portion of this article first appeared on the Corevist blog. An earlier version of this article first appeared on the Corevist blog.

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