Manufacturers have much to gain in branding, customer loyalty and sales by deploying a B2B ecommerce presence and strategy — if they do it the right way, writes Johan Liljeros, general manager and senior commerce advisor, North America, at Avensia, a digital commerce consulting firm.

JohanLiljeros-Avensia

Johan Liljeros

Manufacturers have been relatively slow in adopting B2B ecommerce, especially when compared to direct-to-consumer retailers. For many, the return on investment didn’t seem attractive enough, or it was just too complex of an endeavor.

Combined with A/B and user testing, a manufacturer can design the perfect customer journey from start to checkout.

That all changed in 2020 with the onset of the COVD-19 pandemic. Manufacturers had to pivot to online B2B sales to overcome physical location closures and supply chain challenges. The primary sales channels were faltering, and ecommerce offered an efficient alternative.

Many manufacturers that made the leap saw the benefits of online sales almost immediately, with a major uptick in sales and profitability. Still, there are a lot of manufacturers that haven’t gone digital, which is a missed opportunity.

Below are four key reasons ecommerce for manufacturers makes sense:

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Direct access to customers

Using an ecommerce channel to sell to B2B customers provides manufacturers with valuable customer data, including direct insights into how their customers shop and interact with their site.

Customer data is integral to creating winning marketing strategies. It’s also incredibly useful for new product development. Armed with insight from digital touchpoints, manufacturers have a better understanding of what their customers want and how they want it. This insight fosters more effective marketing campaigns, more relevant products and services, and improved sales and better profit margins moving forward.

Scalability to grow

Ecommerce enables manufacturers to expand their throughput for processing orders without the need for more distributors or extra sales representatives. Since the processes are handled digitally, manufacturers can fulfill many orders via automation and straight-through processing without any in-person contact.

Additionally, the ecommerce channel enables manufacturers to “land and expand” to global markets and sell internationally without physically having to move their operations to another country.

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Increased brand awareness

The majority of today’s shoppers, both B2B and B2C, begin their searches for production solutions online. If a manufacturer’s products or services aren’t available online, they are missing out on visibility to get in front of potential customers.

By having an online storefront, manufacturers will also be able to leverage search engine optimization (SEO) practices to appear higher in internet search results when people make business-related searches. Additionally, manufacturers control the customer’s journey on their digital storefront. Combined with A/B and user testing, a manufacturer can design the perfect customer journey from start to checkout.

How do manufacturers plot their course to take advantage of digital commerce? Here are three key tips:

1. Choose your technology partner wisely

Even though the ecommerce platform is a vital part of a manufacturer’s investment — the partner that helps implement it will be the component that will ensure success. This is not only the technical part with the right software development team, but it also entails having a partner that understands the manufacturer’s business, and adjacent businesses, and has long experience in making online businesses successful. A partner like this will complement a manufacturer’s experience with its market, value proposition, and operations by injecting an outside perspective and new insights. It’s important to find a partner that is ready to challenge a manufacturer in the areas where it needs to be challenged.

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When it comes to the platform, it is important to look also at possible accelerators that offer a short time to market. This approach means checking that all features you consider a common denominator in a B2B platform are implemented to a certain level. That step is necessary because within B2B, there is a level of features that everyone uses.

There is also a level of feature variations that will make a manufacturer unique, or that will better fit into how the company operates. In many cases, it is more efficient for a manufacturer to purchase and complete the work on a partially finished platform rather than buying an already completed platform and rebuilding it to suit its needs. In contrast, the latter approach typically shortens the life expectancy of the platform by many years.

2. Build your online storefront

After you’ve selected a platform, it’s time to build the site. The manufacturer’s online store needs to be engaging, easy to use, and unified with the brand. In essence, it’s vital to give customers the same feeling and service level online to replicate the experience of meeting a sales representative at a physical location.

When building the site, manufacturers need to imagine what the customer will want from a buying journey. Obviously, they’ll want the products easily accessible and searchable. Imagery, schematics, specifications, and certifications are common content elements for B2B manufacturers to incorporate into their site. The navigation should be as intuitive as possible, and the checkout process should be smooth.

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3. Critical tools 

There are many tools to consider when setting up an ecommerce channel for a manufacturing business.

One of the best things about ecommerce, as mentioned above, is all the useful customer and user data that a seller acquires as customers use their site and place orders. It’s crucial to have a customer relationship management (CRM) tool to collect and centralize this information.

Another must-have is a product information management (PIM) tool to manage the product catalog for all channels. This will help with activities such as:

  • Onboarding new data
  • Enriching product information
  • Controlling and automating the release process
  • Serving a manufacturer’s own channels, industry databases, and/or resellers

After implementing a PIM system, companies often see a 50-80% efficiency gain and a welcomed reduction in returns as the quality of product data always increases.

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Spurring growth  

Ecommerce for manufacturers is a growing sales channel; more and more B2B customers are turning to online storefronts to grow their business. If you are looking to expand sales as a manufacturer, a well-conceived ecommerce strategy can provide a business boost and lower the cost of sales. In an era of inflation, that can offset higher costs of raw materials to help support competitiveness. This strategy is not about competing with the existing sales team. Rather, it is to support them to close more deals, increase the throughput, and lift tedious tasks that do not generate new business.

About the author

Johan Liljeros is General Manager and Senior Commerce Advisor, North America, at Avensia, a firm that helps B2B and B2C companies deploy ecommerce technology and strategies.

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