Design a B2X Digital Experience
Manufacturing companies are well known for their engineering and logistical prowess, but not necessarily for delivering a great digital experience. That is starting to change. Many manufacturers pivoted to ecommerce in 2020 when their direct sales teams could no longer make on-site calls.
In fact, a KPMG survey of manufacturing-industry CIOs suggests that using technology to improve the customer experience is now a board-level priority.
Meanwhile, long-term trends that promote digital transformation are accelerating: millennials and younger generations are moving into senior management roles, and customers are researching and buying more online. For example, building and construction buyers use digital channels 80 to 90 percent of the time to gather product information, read reviews, compare prices, and check product quality and availability.
Business customers and even consumers also tend to trust manufacturers—for example, more than half of shoppers visit brand websites for product information rather than retailer websites—and opt to buy from them, too. While direct selling can sometimes cause channel conflicts, a growing number of distributors are interested in fulfilling orders placed on manufacturers’ sites and participating in manufacturer-run marketplaces.
This article will look at how manufacturers are designing digital experiences for everyone (B2X), including customers, distributors, resellers, and consumers, in ways that improve agility and accelerate growth.
The digital opportunity
Manufacturers today understand that delivering a great digital experience can help their business succeed across multiple dimensions, including new customer acquisition, customer loyalty, and sales volume through distributors and resellers.
In a survey by Fictive, 97 percent of manufacturing leaders said COVID-19 has created business opportunities, and 87 percent highlighted digital transformation as a critical area of focus. However, just 14 percent believed their digital transformation activities were adequately funded.
This suggests manufacturers who choose to invest in the digital experience—and enable their customers to do more online—could be at a major competitive advantage.
Better experiences for distributors and resellers
Distributors and resellers occupy a broad spectrum of digital maturity. Some have their own ecommerce storefronts and may need to pull product imagery and manufacturer messaging into their experience. Or they may want manufacturers to act as drop shippers, fulfilling orders placed on their website. These more digitally mature partners may also prefer to order from you online.
However, many distributors are less digitally mature. For example, industrial distribution is known for being fragmented, and 56 percent of these firms are family owned. Many of those distributors may want a way to benefit from ecommerce without having to build and maintain their own site.
Manufacturers can help them get online or benefit from digital selling in a number of ways:
- Allow local distributors to fulfill orders placed online
- Set up marketplaces—similar in concept to Amazon—where multiple distributors can sell online without having to build their own website
- Build ecommerce websites for their distributors
Excellent direct buying experiences
A growing number of manufacturers are augmenting their existing distribution networks with direct sales channels. These can be direct selling websites aimed at business or consumers. Both strategies can succeed, as both business buyers and consumers tend to trust manufacturers and like to buy from them.
Offer direct sales to business customers
The typical business buyer’s journey is longer and more complex than ever. Nearly three-quarters of today’s B2B buyers say they rely on more sources to research and evaluate purchases. As business buyers get more overwhelmed, they seek out ways to simplify the buying process.
Many business buyers believe that purchasing directly from a manufacturer’s website is less cumbersome and time-consuming than going through a distributor or reseller. Not surprisingly, leading manufacturers are setting up ecommerce stores where select customers can buy direct. The key to success is to avoid conflicts between new digital channels and existing distribution relationships.
Create a direct-to-consumer website
Over the past few years, a growing number of manufacturers have made the leap into direct-toconsumer sales. Consumers generally trust manufacturing brands, and research conducted last year suggests more than 80 percent of consumers are likely to buy from a direct-to-consumer business within five years. Direct-to-consumer businesses like Warby Parker and Dollar Shave Club (recently bought by Unilever for $1 billion), among others, have enjoyed outsized growth. And Tesla’s success shows the direct-to-consumer model can also work outside the realms of apparel and beauty.
For manufacturers, getting started with direct-to-consumer selling typically requires the following:
- A thorough understanding of the kind of experience consumers interested in their product want, including shipping, delivery, and payment preferences
- A strategy for pricing and packaging products to attract consumers
- Defined processes for fulfilling direct-to-consumer sales and keeping inventory data up to date
- An ecommerce platform that can deliver a high-end consumer experience and integrate with their ERP and other back-end systems
Manufacturers with existing distribution partnerships will also have to figure out how their directto-consumer website will affect those relationships. In some cases, the best option may be to sell one set of products direct to consumers and another through existing distributors.
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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