Design better B2B digital experiences
Over the past several years, leading manufacturers have added new digital experiences like ecommerce for their business customers. In 2019, B2B ecommerce sales for manufacturers grew by nearly 21 percent, almost 20 times faster than manufacturing sales through other channels.
And then 2020 happened. Direct sales channels were disrupted as sales teams began working from home and having meetings online rather than in the field. Business buyers also changed their work habits, spending more time at home and online—often during odd hours such as late at night. These changes prompted many more manufacturers to introduce ecommerce and create a range of digital experiences for their business customers.
The most successful experiences provide a range of helpful on-demand capabilities, including easy product research and configuration, self-service purchasing, automated replenishment, and account management. They allow a customer to perform almost any task—ask a product question, submit a warranty claim, check order status, etc.—online, but they complement rather than replace direct sales relationships.
In fact, great, business-facing digital experiences should empower direct sales reps to deliver even better service through seller-assisted shopping, online price quotes, and live chat.
This article will look at how manufacturers are designing digital experiences for business customers in ways that improve agility and accelerate growth.
Provide self-service account management
Leading manufacturers make it easy for business buyers to access their account information, run reports, and manage their purchases. Through ecommerce sites or portals, they allow customers to do all these things online:
- View order status
- Get a full view of all company spending across buyers
- Track their credit balance
- Access and download invoices
- Manage returns
- Pay bills
- Manage warranties
- Update company buyers and what they can do on the site
- Approve purchase orders
Not only do these ecommerce sites improve the customer experience, they also make life easier for direct sales reps. When customers are used to doing many tasks for themselves, direct sales reps can spend more time on account strategy and planning. The net result for manufacturers is greater efficiency—and satisfied customers who are more likely to buy more.
Make it easier to research and configure products
For years, it’s been clear that business buyers often prefer to research product information on their own rather than have a meeting with a salesperson. More than 70 percent of B2B buyers have fully defined their needs before engaging with a sales representative. In fact, almost 50 percent of B2B buyers have already made a decision before reaching out.
To reach this growing pool of customers, successful manufacturers are giving them many different options for researching products through their websites. They are providing a wider range of content and richer experiences that typically include the following:
- Detailed product descriptions
- Multiple product images
- User reviews
- Diagrams and CAD drawings
- Usage instructions
- Information on related certifications
Product recommendations with artificial intelligence (AI)
A growing number of manufacturers are also using AI to provide highly relevant product recommendations, which business buyers find extremely valuable. In fact, 70 percent of business buyers said personalized recommendations helped them to obtain more value from their vendors—and 53 percent said they would pay as much as 5 percent more for them.
Ideally, these product recommendations should come from each customer’s unique product catalog. For customers with very large catalogs, these tailored recommendations can be especially helpful.
Contextualizing products with augmented reality (AR)
Leading manufacturers routinely take advantage of AR when designing products and processes. Now they also use it to contextualize products by showing how they might look in customer environments.
For example, a lighting manufacturer might allow customers to see how a particular desk lamp could look on one of the shared desks in their office. Ideally, they should be able to easily swap in other lamps with varying color, size, and lighting element options.
Easy-to-use product configuration tools
Another way manufacturers are helping customers get information online is by giving them access to online configuration tools. These tools guide customers through step-by-step configurations and automate some tasks normally handled by sales. As noted above, 3D imagery as well as AR can be used to provide additional visual context for different configurations. An industrial equipment manufacturer could, for example, allow customers to see how different configurations of their fabrication technology would fit into an existing factory space.
After customers complete the configuration process (which should go faster online than by meeting), a sales rep can easily confirm the order with a quick email or phone call. As a result, customers save time—and feel good about their experience.
Simplify purchase processes
B2B purchase processes can be complex, requiring multiple approvals and signatures. Some may require the creation of formal purchase orders. Leading manufacturers are using their ecommerce platforms to digitize these processes. For example, they may use automation to route purchase requests for approval according to pre-defined workflows, and send contracts for digital signatures and counter-signatures.
Another way manufacturers are simplifying the buying process is by making it easier for a customer to reorder products online. They can provide pre-approved requisition lists the buyer can pick from, allow past orders to be rerun, or even offer subscription services or automated reorders.
Digitally connect products and services
Manufacturers typically offer warranties and service contracts to pair with their products. Using digital technologies can connect products and services into a single seamless experience. For example, manufacturers may apply QR codes to their products that customers can scan to look up their warranties, or they can provide a marketplace where owners can look up local service providers and book appointments.
Other manufacturers use the Internet of Things (IoT) to make their products smarter and connect them to their digital experience. For example, product health data can be piped to the customer as well as to the manufacturer’s service department. Customers can see problem indicators on their service dashboard and be notified when it’s time to order replacement parts or replenish consumables (printer cartridges, etc.).
Improve customer service
While business buyers would like the option to do almost everything online, they also want the ability to connect with their sales reps. Fortunately, an ecommerce or digital experience platform can complement direct sales relationships rather than replace them. For example, guided selling tools allow manufacturers’ sales reps to help customers through the buyer’s journey online, and even place orders on their behalf.
Likewise, live chat allows customers to instantly ask any questions that come up while viewing the website. For example, a customer may look up their recent purchase history and have a question about a particular transaction. Through live chat, they can connect with a sales rep and get the information they need. Other forms of chat powered by AI may connect with customers based on their behavior. For example, if someone watches a how-to video and then lingers on a support page, they may get a chat notification asking if they need help.
Be available on popular marketplaces
A growing share of B2B ecommerce happens on Amazon and other large marketplaces—and some customers may prefer to buy through these channels rather than through your website or distribution network. To avoid competing with their own ecommerce sites or resellers, many manufacturers choose to offer only older versions of their products through marketplaces.
Some manufacturers are also creating their own marketplaces, offering a wide range of complementary products that customers can buy in one place. Not only does this allow manufacturers to improve the customer experience, it also lets them increase revenue by sharing in other vendors’ sales on their site.
Use data to uncover customer needs
One way manufacturers can deliver a better digital experience is to use their customer data. This data may be stored in many different locations—ERP, CRM, ecommerce, marketing automation, and other systems may each contain valuable information about customer preferences.
By combining all this data into a single unified customer record, you can start looking at broad trends in customer behavior and shape your digital experience accordingly. For example, you might be able to identify your most popular products for customers in different locations or industries. This will help you decide which products to promote to different parts of your customer base.
Take the next step.
Manufacturing firms have the potential to become leaders in digital experience, just as they are in logistics and operations. Digital transformation can help manufacturers deepen relationships with existing customers and attract new ones. It can also help revitalize distribution networks and strategies and even generate new revenue streams.
If you’re interested in assessing your digital experience and identifying opportunities to improve, Adobe’s knowledgeable solution, technology, and comwrap can help point the way.
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