Why B2B Manufacturing Has to Adopt a B2C Mindset in 2021

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B2C consumers have so far reaped all the rewards from online shopping: beautifully designed and intuitive websites, rapid page loads, frictionless paths to purchase (search, add to cart, pay), high-quality product images and descriptions, mobile-friendliness, personalization, exciting deals, helpful feedback and reviews, live chat, live stock levels, multiple shipping options, order tracking… the list goes on and on.

While B2C provides seamless shopping, B2B manufacturing frequently serves up some of the most user-unfriendly eCommerce buying experiences. B2B manufacturing has been so preoccupied with high-touch, relationship selling techniques of yesteryear that it’s failed to realize B2B buyers are transforming. They don’t want to deal with sales reps. They want to research and buy online. They want a consumer-like shopping experience. And why shouldn’t they?

COVID-19 has thrust B2B manufacturing forward several years in digital adoption, and it’s never going back. B2B manufacturers can no longer ignore buyer’s evolved preferences and the supremacy of digital channels. But the move online means customer loyalty is at an all-time low. There’s a global pool of competition only a few clicks away, and switching suppliers has never been easier. B2B manufacturers have to get inside the minds of buyers to deliver the B2C-like experience they want. Or risk losing customers to bolder manufacturers that will.

From Y to Z: The Generational Driver in B2B Manufacturing

Millennials are now the largest generation in the US labor force. As they swell in numbers and adopt more high-level decision-making roles in prominent organizations, their influence snowballs. The global labor force will be 75% Millennials by 2025 (that’s the widely circulated figure, although recent research casts doubt on its accuracy.) B2B manufacturing has to prioritize this internet-savvy generation’s needs and understand how its members think and operate.

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For Millennials, eCommerce is the norm. Face-to-face sales meetings (even via Zoom) are a burden at best, and an unsettling, alien experience for many. Millennials have grown up around the internet and bring their B2C shopping experiences to bear on their B2B buying. They expect B2B eCommerce to be personalized (a la Amazon) with custom prices and catalogs, intelligent recommendations, location-specific services, and predictive ordering. 

Millennials like to research their product choices independently and define their own needs before placing an order online (or making contact with a supplier if absolutely necessary). They value IQ (i.e., tech) over EQ (i.e., human interaction) and will side with suppliers that provide the most technologically impressive buying journeys. 

B2B ecommerceB2B manufacturing businesses ignore Millennials’ buying preferences at their peril. Still, the most forward-looking manufacturers are already thinking beyond Gen Y to Gen Z – the next generation – those born between the mid-to-late 1990s and early 2010s. Gen Z will soon hold a significant chunk of decision-making roles, and they come with their own set of attitudes and expectations. Forget “digital savvy” – while Millennials have learned to adapt to social and mobile, Gen Z was born into it!

“Gen Z is better versed in using voice search and the IoT, they’re more attuned to digital inauthenticity and insincerity, and they value the voices of their peers far more than those of brands.” So says Shama Hyder of Zen Media. They definitely don’t want to be sold to and outright reject the traditional B2B manufacturing sales approach. They despise “advertising,” both conventional and digital. And are more likely to be persuaded by influencer marketing, experiential marketing, and content marketing funnels – all relatively established marketing techniques in the B2C world that are now spilling over into B2B.

How B2B Manufacturing Can Use CPQ to Cater to the B2C Mindset

For B2B manufacturers selling complex, configurable products, implementing CPQ (configure, price, quote) is the first step on the road to providing a more consumer-like buying experience. But not just any old CPQ will do. The right CPQ has to provide a customer-facing solution that buyers can use solo, in their own time, at their own pace, through any device, from any location.

First, a quick recap on CPQ: In the most basic terms, CPQ is a faster, more controlled way to configure products, calculate prices, and supply quotes with fewer errors and greater accuracy. It starts with the “product configurator” – an interface designed to guide users, through a series of questions or visual prompts, towards perfectly optimized customer-specific selections. As users “play around” with their configurations, prices update automatically in real-time. And once the configuration has been finalized, CPQ instantly generates a quote or proposal for the customer.

B2B ShoppingCPQs come in all shapes and sizes, but most are operated exclusively by sales reps, as a gated tool. They simplify the sales process and dramatically shorten sales cycles, catering to a consumer-like desire for instant gratification. But this type of inward-facing, rep-operated CPQ does nothing for the desire to self-serve, which is perhaps the defining characteristic of the modern B2B manufacturing buyer. KBMax offers an alternative CPQ solution. One that’s customer-facing and can be embedded into any external B2B eCommerce site, for use by buyers independently, regardless of product complexity or the wealth of options available.

KBMax’s product configurator is visual and highly intuitive. Buyers can configure products by simply dragging, dropping, pointing, and clicking to add parts, upgrade features, change colors, resize sections, and swap components within a lifelike three-dimensional scene. Product rules built into the configurator ensure that each configuration is optimized from a technical and profitability standpoint, and errors are eliminated. Prices change in real-time as buyers select different options, helping them assemble their ideal products while staying within budget constraints.

Unlike non-visual configurators that operate like a black box (information goes in and information comes out, but nobody really knows what goes on in between), a visual product configurator gives buyers a deep visual understanding of your products and their assembly. Buyers’ desire to interact with a product prior to purchase is resolved, decision-making is enhanced, and anxiety is reduced. Buyers are connected to their configurations on a deeper, more emotional level—the result: a 40% increase in conversion rates and considerably larger deal sizes.

KBMax’s CPQ has VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) capabilities that take visual configuration to a whole other level. The solution provides a fully immersive experience that engages buyers more than any sales pitch. Not only can buyers view a 3D visual representation of products from all angles, but they can also interact with them. They can drive a vehicle, operate a piece of machinery, walk around the inside of a workshop – anything’s possible. And with the right technology, it can take place any time, any place, without any sales reps input. 

With remote working here to stay and B2B buyers determined to serve themselves, it’s little wonder more than one-third of US manufacturers either already use VR and AR technology or plan to do so in the next three years. In a Post-COVID world, where buyers’ digital expectations are higher than ever, companies in the B2B manufacturing space would be remiss to ignore the power of customer-centric CPQ. Digital transformation is no longer just an option but an imperative.