E-commerce in manufacturing reflects a paradigm shift from pure transactions to experience-driven commerce. Purchasing parts or products online is nothing new, but many of the legacy systems used to bring products online are unwieldy. However, manufacturers that leverage modern B2B e-commerce solutions can turn this often complicated process into engaging experiences that satisfy their modern customers.
How is E-Commerce in Manufacturing a Game Changer?
As traditionally product-focused organizations move to become more customer-centric, manufacturers are looking for digital solutions that facilitate the change. E-commerce comes with many benefits: improving accuracy of orders, 24/7 access to order history and account management, more efficient digital processes, among many others.
What distinguishes e-commerce over other digital solutions is its potential to transform the nature of the manufacturing industry. E-commerce in manufacturing is not simply another digital tool for businesses to add; rather is a platform that enables manufacturers to move away from their traditional business models and embrace a digitally connected ecosystem of customers, internal teams, data and systems that they manage through a single platform. These benefits are game changing to manufacturers as this solution allows them to:
1) Bring Content and Commerce Together
E-commerce enables manufacturers to combine their marketing sites with their purchasing sites so that customers, employees and other users don’t need to switch between multiple systems; research, purchasing and management can all happen in one place. Modern e-commerce platforms achieve this by uniting content and commerce, which brings benefits such as:
- The ability to configure personalized catalogs and pricing per account or job role all within the software, rather than having to track agreements manually.
- Increasing discoverability through search engines, a major way that B2B buyers are conducting their research online before ever talking to a sales representative.
- Sales and customer service teams being able to service accounts on one platform, seeing what the customers see so that they can create better experiences for the customer together.
- A smoother experience for customers that is no longer managed through siloed tools but rather through one consolidated e-commerce platform.
2) Gather Data for a Continuous Loop of Improvement, Innovation and Efficiency
Manufacturers are very familiar with collecting data from their supply chain and factories in order to streamline their production processes through automation. However, the same data-driven strategy often hasn’t been applied to their marketing strategies.
Data from customers can provide valuable insights that manufacturers can feed back into their business. E-commerce platforms can gather customer data in the form of purchasing trends, returns and qualitative feedback such as product quality ratings and reviews. This data is vital to understanding the health of customer accounts in Manufacturing and can often reveal new opportunities to guide product development or new service programs, especially when combined with the data already being gathered from the production process.
By collecting data at every point of the manufacturing process, from assembly to consumption, manufacturers can set up a continuous cycle of data and innovation that will grow their business and develop sustainable competitive advantages.
3) Empower Sales Representatives
Though the benefits of e-commerce, especially self-service e-commerce, are promising, there’s one major downside for many manufacturers: conflict with the established sales team. Most sales teams worry that a new digital channel will take away from their livelihood or replace their role altogether. The right e-commerce approach can transform this fear into new opportunity for sales reps, supporting them to act as more than just order takers. Instead of using time to log orders, the same customer data that’s being used to improve product development can be given to sales teams so they can focus on higher-value, more strategic selling.
Sales representatives don’t even need to be in the same location as customers in order to do business now; e-commerce enables manufacturers to scale and capture business in new markets regardless of where their sales teams are located.
Becoming Customer-Focused Organizations
Moving from being a product-centered business to a customer-centric one is feasible and beneficial using an e-commerce platform; however, simply adding an e-commerce solution to an existing technology stack is not the end-all solution. If implemented successfully alongside a detailed strategy, an e-commerce platform is not just another way to sell but a transformative solution that solves traditional B2B challenges and elevates manufacturers to becoming customer-driven businesses that will ultimately drive long-term success.