COVID-19 is supercharging B2B eCommerce adoption as manufacturers’ very existence comes under threat.
September 17, 2020
It’s almost become a cliché to say that the (coronavirus) crisis has become an inflection point in the shift to digital, but the best companies are moving quickly to enhance and expand their digital channels (McKinsey, 2020).
COVID-19 is threatening the existence of many manufacturers. Social distancing has all-but ended business travel and in-person meetings in the short-term, leaving companies that rely on high-touch sales methods lamenting their failure to adopt digital transformation sooner.
Many companies are desperate to get back to the office and business-as-usual. But many more are keen to remain remote companies in the long-term. With the spare bedroom the new office, and Zoom the new meeting room, it’s little wonder that investment in B2B eCommerce has skyrocketed in recent months, at the expense of relationship selling and its reliance on face-to-face interactions.
Executives shouldn’t think of eCommerce as "just another sales channel". Learn how this massive shift in B2B buying is shaping how companies win or lose.
While COVID-19 is catalyzing a trend towards B2B eCommerce and digital transformation more generally, it’s important to note that this trend has been accelerating for years. The course and destination were set with the rise of smartphones and high-speed internet access.
Pre-pandemic, US B2B eCommerce sales were predicted to reach $1.8 trillion by 2023, accounting for 17% of all B2B revenue. Human tasks were being automated at an incredible (and alarming for proponents of UBI) rate before social distancing measures were enforced. Coronavirus has just given us all a monumental shove in the back towards an inevitable shared digital future.
McKinsey’s August 2020 Global B2B Decision-Maker Pulse surveyed the views of numerous B2B decision-makers to assess how their preferences and behaviors have shifted since the onset of COVID-19. The answers paint a bleak picture for manufacturers stuck in the past of legacy, on-prem solutions, and outdated sales channels.
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. The B2B buyer has changed, and millennials are becoming the dominant force. 73% of millennials are involved in product or service purchase decision-making 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.
B2C and B2B buying behavior has never been more closely aligned. Today’s B2B buyer demands the same seamless, personalized customer experience when they buy for work as they do when they buy from 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.
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 path to purchase – these 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.
Manufacturers can now harness the power of new tools that elevate the customer experience to new heights, way beyond what has ever been possible with a traditional sales rep relationship or even a 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. They can resize sections, add or remove parts, upgrade features, and change colors using a highly intuitive visual interface. Anything’s possible. They can get up close and personal with your products, spinning them around to inspect them from every angle inside a lifelike 3D scene.
The best configurators even allow buyers to “use” their configured products before purchase – driving a car, operating a piece of machinery, or stepping inside a custom workshop. Add virtual and augmented reality, and provide a fully immersive experience that brings products to life better than ever before, getting buyers excited and connecting them 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 (KBMax 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.
DJ is a long-time marketing consultant and technologist, helping companies with marketing strategy and marketing technology. He loves telling stories about applied technologies and the impacts it has on buyers.