4 Ways to Keep Up (or get ahead) in Industrial B2B eCommerce

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Industrial suppliers of components or engineered products already sell online or know that they need to. Why? Because we all buy online and expect that convenience from our suppliers. According to Forrester, by 2021 U.S. B2B eCommerce will reach $1.18 trillion and be 13.1% of all B2B sales. That's a compound annual growth rate from 2016 to 2021 of 7.4%!

If that's not convincing, consider how easily a B2B supplier without an online sales channel can be missed by not appearing in search results or be passed over in just one frustrated click! But eCommerce isn't a 'one and done' task, it continues to be refined and developed so we all need to keep up. This blog post is to help and advise industrial suppliers how to do that.

Start by auditing your current industrial B2B eCommerce solution, and reviewing what others have learned:

  • Where you are now? With your online capabilities, such as website, catalog, configurators, 3D CAD models and 2D CAD drawings? With your online customer experience and satisfaction? With achievements against your eCommerce goals, such as, % of revenue via eCommerce or engagement of your customers and sales reps with your eCommerce channel?
  • What your customers expectations are now?Grainger Product Page For example do they want personalized pricing or order tracking?
  • Where your competitors are now? Has a competitor leapfrogged ahead of you? Do you know if they soon will?
  • Where are leading industrial suppliers now? For example Grainger and MSC, now exceed 50% of their revenue from eCommerce and see that percentage continuing to increase. There is plenty of helpful guidance online; such as this IBM sponsored Digital Commerce 360 ebook, Driving The Digital Road To B2B Sales (which is an excellent set of manufacturing company eCommerce case studies) or this McKinsey paper, How B2B Digital Leaders Drive Five Times More Revenue Growth Than Their Peers. Below we've extracted 4 recommendations that we think especially apply to industrial suppliers.

Assuming you already have the basics right (product content: taxonomy, descriptions, pictures, 3D CAD models, 2D CAD drawings, etc.; website usability: performance, digital catalog, configurators, eCommerce etc.) then your audit results will likely guide your next steps and TO-DO list. If the following suggestions are not on that list we recommend you consider adding them.

1. PERSONALIZATION

If you have used Amazon you're used to a completely personalized experience with your past orders, personal interests and preferences, current order tracking, search history, etc. Your, and every other person's, experience is uniquely personalized! This is what we mean by PERSONALIZATION but applied with particular relevance to industrial customers. eCommerce analysts (such as Gartner's Gene Alvarez and Forrester Research's Andy Hoar) have noted, manufacturers and distributors who personalize their eCommerce sites to their customers’ interests achieve more sales than companies that don’t. For example MSC's personalization strategy has led to >60% of its sales of metalworking and other industrial supplies via eCommerce. MSC found it was “getting bombarded with shipping questions,” because although MSC hadn’t changed, their customers had! Customers wanted shipping information in real time and were not happy that they had to send an email asking where their order was. Once MSC upgraded its website with shipment-tracking, customer satisfaction scores improved. According to this IBM paper, since introducing personalization MSC eCommerce has achieved 46% more units sold per transaction, a 38% higher conversion rate and a 12% higher average order value!

2. SEARCH ENGINE AND LOCAL WEBSITE SEARCH WITH RECOMMENDATIONS?

Your customers have to be able to easily, quickly and intuitively find and order exactly what they need no matter how many products you have. That means Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for every single part or variant (including for every competitors' equivalent part). It also means providing, once they are on your eCommerce site, quick and intuitive local search and product recommendations. These recommendations need to be intelligently based on what you know about their needs. For example, MSC sells >1 million products and makes it easier for customers to find and buy what they need by recommending products based on everything they know about a customer’s preferences and history.

3. BLEND PERSONAL CUSTOMER SERVICE AND SELF SERVICE

In the early days of eCommerce many companies tried to cut costs by pushing users into self service. Some still do! For example, how often do they make it hard to find a phone number to call or are you forced into searching a FAQ document for your question and its answer? These are HUGE mistakes and your sales reps probably know it.

This blog post, Is It Time To Drop The ‘e’ In B2B eCommerce, suggested that it's time to drop the 'e' and treat eCommerce simply as one part of 'commerce'. We therefore recommend aligning all your commerce channels and, from the above papers, McKinsey and IBM do too! Let the customer choose how they interact with your company and which channel they use for any or each transaction. Instead of forcing self service alone, also offer online chat or a verbal conversation when user's prefer them (and yes, those personal interaction options may only be available during office hours). Involve your reps in the sales process with any account they manage - how can they manage what they don't know about? For smaller accounts, that don't justify a rep, make a general customer service team available.

4. SOONER NOT LATER

Finally, if you are going to extend your industrial B2B eCommerce capabilities to keep up then it is better do it sooner rather than later. That is so you can get ahead with a temporary competitive advantage and boost your brand image rather than simply being seen as a brand catching up later.

As always, please add a comment below. If you'd like our opinion on your audit results, current website, CAD models or other marketing material please call or click either button below:

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