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How B2B eCommerce Became The Top Priority for Manufacturers

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How B2B eCommerce Became THE Top Priority for Manufacturers

When the COVID-19 crisis became an inflection point in the shift to digital, many companies moved quickly to enhance and expand their digital channels (McKinsey, 2020). It’s important to note that this trend towards B2B eCommerce and digital transformation has been accelerating for years. The course and destination were set with the rise of smartphones and high-speed internet access.

Pre-pandemic, United States B2B eCommerce sales were predicted to reach $1.8 trillion by 2023, accounting for 17% of B2B revenue. Human tasks were being automated at an incredible rate before social distancing measures were enforced. Coronavirus pushed individuals and businesses alike towards an inevitable shared digital future.

The world of sales changed (and is never going back).

McKinsey’s August 2020 Global B2B Decision-Maker Pulse surveyed the views of numerous B2B decision-makers to assess how their preferences and behaviors shifted since the onset of COVID-19. Even now, the answers paint a bleak picture for manufacturers stuck in the past of legacy, on-prem solutions, and outdated sales channels.

  • Digital self-service and remote rep interactions are likely to be the dominant elements of the B2B go-to-market model in the future.
  • Only 20-30% of B2B buyers want to interact with reps in person, even in their ideal/post-COVID-19 model.
  • 90% of B2B decision-makers expect the remote and digital model to stick around for the long run. 3 in 4 believe the new model is as effective or more so than before COVID-19 (for both existing customers and prospects).
  • 97% of B2B buyers claim they will purchase an end-to-end, digital self-serve model, with the vast majority very comfortable spending $50K or more online.
  • Videoconference connections are critical and are preferred over audio/phone by almost 4 out of 5 B2B buyers.

Demographics plays a crucial role in the rise of B2B eCommerce.

It’s too easy to attribute the somewhat staggering figures above to COVID-19 alone when other forces are at play. Demographics play a crucial role (Millennial B2B Report by Merit). The B2B buyer has changed, and millennials are becoming the dominant force. 73% of millennials are involved in decision-making for purchasing products or services at their companies. And approximately one-third of millennials report being the sole decision-maker for their department.

Millennials bring new expectations to the workforce because of their significant exposure to technology and B2C eCommerce consumer experiences. And their impact on manufacturers is only going to escalate as they take on more, higher-ranking leadership roles inside more prominent organizations. Millennials demand quick, easy, and streamlined transactions of the kind only B2B eCommerce can provide.

B2B eCommerce caters to the needs of the modern buyer in a post-pandemic world.

B2C and B2B buying behavior has never been more closely aligned. Today’s B2B buyer demands the same seamless, personalized customer experience when buying for work as they do when buying for themselves on Amazon.

B2B buyers want to self-serve and self-educate, regardless of product complexity. They want to carry out in-depth, independent research from many online sources and suppliers, defining their own needs before making a frictionless online purchase, interacting with a sales rep through videoconferencing software only when it’s entirely necessary.

Suppliers ignore these new buying preferences at their peril. Still, manufacturers of the most complex engineer-to-order products believe that offering such a level of personalization and self-service is unattainable. Not so with the implementation of the right technology and a change in perspective on B2B eCommerce, starting right at the top.

New B2B eCommerce technology revolutionized the customer experience. Manufacturers that fail to act now risk obsolescence.

A personalized customer experience, advanced search, video guides and how-tos, user-generated content, high-resolution images, real-time shipping information, 24/7 customer service, and a smooth purchase path are just some of the benefits of B2B eCommerce that have been touted in the past. They all have their place, but things have moved on.

Right now, manufacturers can harness the power of new tools that elevate the customer experience to new heights, way beyond what’s possible with a traditional sales rep relationship or showroom visit. Chief among these tools is a visual product configurator – a powerful piece of software that visitors to your B2B eCommerce site can use to customize the most complex engineer-to-order products independently.

With a visual product configurator, buyers can “play around” with your products and their various possible configurations. Using a highly intuitive visual interface, they can resize sections, add or remove parts, upgrade features, and change colors. Anything’s possible. They can get up close and personal with your products, spinning them around to inspect them from every angle inside a real 3D scene.

The best configurators allow buyers to “use” their configured products before purchase—drive a car, operate a piece of machinery, or step inside a custom workshop. Virtual and augmented reality provide a fully immersive experience that brings products to life better than ever before. This gets buyers excited and connected to your brand on an emotional level that increases conversion rates by an average of 40%.

As buyers explore different options, prices change dynamically in real-time, making it easy for buyers to operate within budget constraints. Product rules built into the configurator’s backend ensure that every configured product is viable from a technical perspective and optimized for each customer’s unique requirements.

Once a buyer has finalized the configuration process, the software automatically generates a range of sales and engineering documents, from proposals and quotes to engineer-standard technical drawings through SolidWorks (Epicor CPQ also works with systems like AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor, and PTC Creo.) The sales process is simplified and cycles cut from days to minutes, satisfying today’s buyer’s demand for instant gratification with minimal human interaction.