December 14th, 2020 | 4 MIN READ

What should B2B manufacturers expect going into 2021?

Written by author_profile_images Anatolii Iakimets

Anatolii is a Product Marketing Manager at Elastic Path, where he is responsible for the telecommunications and media industry.

According to Gartner, by 2024, 15% of B2B organizations will use digital commerce platforms to support both their customers and sales reps in all sales activities. In this article, we will discuss why this transition is happening and what the implications are for B2B branded manufacturers.

The trend is explained by Millennials replacing Baby Boomer as the primary buyers in many B2B businesses. Of course, this will not happen overnight, but the shift is inevitable. The significance of this change comes from the fact that these two generations have very different buying habits regarding software solutions. Millennials tend to rely more on relational channels – using their social networks of friends and business contacts. Baby Boomers are more likely to rely on customer reviews and third-party input.

  • Nearly 60% of Millennials are more likely to engage with sales long after doing preliminary research and defining a set of solutions to evaluate. Meanwhile, Baby Boomers are more likely to engage a salesperson early in the process.

  • 44% of Millennials prefer no sales rep interaction when interacting with the vendor.

  • 80% of Millennial buyers say they expect personalized engagement from the vendors they buy from.

  • Boomers are 17% more likely than Millennials to prefer RFP channels and are less likely to pick digital channels and eProcurement systems.

On top of the changes in buyer personas, the global pandemic has had a significant impact. It has dramatically reduced if not eliminated face-to-face physical interaction from the buying process. B2B buying process is rapidly digitizing and becoming omnichannel:

  • 61% of all B2B transactions start online

  • 73% of buyers generally use digital channels.

  • Multi-channel customers are 25% more profitable than human-only interactions.

What does it mean for B2B manufacturers?

To achieve sustainable business growth in this environment, B2B manufacturers need to transform their business to address the needs of the new audience in the new circumstances:

  • Single commerce engine to support both online channel and field sales
  • Allow buyers to hop between multiple digital and traditional touchpoints during the complicated buying process as a part of a continuous journey.
  • Provide buyers with end-to-end order visibility from purchase to delivery to ensure that they have a transparent view of the purchasing process, especially for mission-critical products and services.
  • Deliver personalized experiences across large complex organizations, including customized products, services, and pricing.
  • Support new digital touchpoints such as chatbots and augmented reality to address digitally savvy Millennial audience needs.

For many B2B manufacturers, these business requirements are out of reach. With most sales historically going through sales representatives, their commerce capabilities are non-existent or rudimentary at best. Even in cases when they exist, often they are entirely disconnected from the tools the field sales use, such as CPQ, making the omnichannel journey impossible.

B2B manufacturers must transform to modernize their digital commerce solution or implement a new one from scratch to overcome these challenges.

Digital commerce requirements

Most traditional B2C commerce solutions are not a good fit to support the complex B2B buying process. The B2B manufacturers should look for a solution that addresses the following requirements:

CPQ Integration or CPQ Capabilities. Sales personnel usually use CPQ to create orders, and the experience is very different from the website experience. As a result, a commerce solution needs to either integrate with a CPQ application and provide all necessary CPQ capabilities that an order capture UI can be built on top of it. For the former, the commerce platform needs to have a comprehensive integration framework, while for the latter, it needs to have APIs using which an order capture UI can be built.

Complex Account Structure. Selling to large organizations often requires selling to buyers in multiple departments across different affiliates. This requires a commerce solution allowing to configure and manage complex enterprise accounts with multiple users.

Personalized pricing. In the B2B world, deals are often unique with customized offerings, pricing, and discounts. To address this need, commerce solution has to support individualized pricing and product assortment on a per-account basis and deal-specific discounts.

API-first approach. With the increased complexity of a B2B buying process, customers are likely to move back and forth between different touchpoints. This requires commerce solution to have well-defined and well-documented APIs. 

Reference Applications. A B2B manufacturer often has no experience with new digital touchpoints such as Augmented Reality and chatbot. A library of ready-to-go applications allows to simplify development and accelerate speed to market for new touchpoints.

To learn more about what awaits B2B manufacturers – get the Gartner prediction report here.

Sources: customerthink.com, Heinz Marketing, b2bmarketing.webresearch.com, Gartner

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