With the surge of eCommerce in the manufacturing space, it has become crucial for these businesses to adapt to a changing marketplace. This guide will provide a high-level overview of B2B eCommerce for manufacturers, what it entails, why it's important, and how to get started with it. Whether you're new to the digital commerce space or looking to enhance your existing strategies, we've got you covered.
Manufacturers, once primarily focused on production, are now realizing the immense potential of doing business on digital networks like the internet. There, they can easily interact with wholesalers, retailers, distributors, and various other partners. To embark on the B2B eCommerce journey, there's what we call a “crawl-walk-run” approach:
Start by integrating your existing management systems into the digital framework of your choosing — this means connecting your traditional business management tools and processes with the digital platform you're implementing for eCommerce. These tools include ERP and CRM systems, inventory management software, order management programs, and financial processes.
From there, make sure you maintain all existing data on your website — populate your site with product information, customer data, and order history to ensure continuity for your customers and partners. Even if you're not ready to sell online or receive quotes via your website forms, you can at least integrate your OMS and/or ERP systems with your website to provide your customers with personalized portals to access order history, payment status, and more. This information is purely informational, but much more efficient than your customers having to call or email your team. These portals could also offer cross-sell and upsell opportunities even if you are not selling online — they are gentle suggestions to your existing clients for how you can provide even better value to them.
Once you have your current process transferred to the new space (and the portals mentioned above in place, should you choose to do so), add features like requesting quotes online. These will make it easier for customers to interact with your products and provide a reason for them to adopt this new model.
The ultimate goal is to enable complete transactions online, allowing customers to place orders with ease. The exact path through this process varies depending on the nature of your products and distribution channels — but seamless online transactions should be your end goal. This area is where some heavy lifting may be required by your development team as they build out product configuration tools to bi-directional API connections. This is your business' opportunity to implement unique features that set you apart from the competition while improving operational efficiency.
Today's B2B buyers have evolved. They expect the convenience of conducting business online, rather than relying solely on phone calls, emails, or even faxes (yes, faxes). To reach the B2B buyer in more places, consider leveraging affiliate marketing and marketplaces like Amazon, Walmart, and Macy's. Also, don't forget to explore international markets — eCommerce can facilitate global expansion. You will bolster your prospects by diversifying your channel reach and connecting with your buyers where they are and where they will be in the coming years.
Now more than ever, potential buyers are browsing through various marketplaces all over the world. Where is your business in this digital landscape? To meet buyer expectations, ensure you are present on platforms like Grainger, eBay, and others (as well as the marketplaces mentioned above). Many buyers need or want 24/7 access, accurate pricing, and comprehensive product information — so be sure your website has it all.
The benefits of embracing B2B eCommerce are immense yet simple. According to a 2021 PwC survey, 66% of manufacturers say that implementing digital marketing and sales over the next two years is a “high” or “very high” priority — meaning that the shift has already begun.
B2B eCommerce opens doors to increased sales revenue, wider market reach, and an overall improved business and customer experience. It also allows manufacturers to reach customers and partners across the globe, providing growth opportunities that were likely once unimaginable.
There are three key points (in our opinion) that manufacturers benefit from the most when it comes to B2B eCommerce — operations, customer experience, and market expansion.
B2B eCommerce provides the features and functionality that manufacturers need to streamline their operations, including order management, inventory control, and seamless communication with partners.
Manufacturers can provide a superior customer experience by offering self-service features, personalized product recommendations, and user-friendly interface, making it easier for clients to find and order products.
By going digital, manufacturers can massively expand their market reach. They can connect with a broader range of partners, explore international opportunities, and access new channels for sales — and much more.
Transitioning into B2B eCommerce as a manufacturer can be a game-changer for your business — but it can also be complicated or daunting. To make this journey as smooth as possible, let's delve deeper into five crucial steps that will help you get started.
Your journey into B2B eCommerce should always begin with a clear sense of direction. Define your goals and objectives, and make sure they align with your overall business strategy. Here's how to do it:
Reader Tip: It is important for B2B manufacturers to be judicious in their implementation of an eCommerce platform — unless you have unlimited budget to design and build the platform of your dreams, it is essential to analyze and prioritize requirements according to their relative ability to deliver return on investment.
Selecting the right B2B eCommerce platform is one of the most critical decisions you'll make on your journey to the digital commerce space. Here are some key considerations:
Your website is your digital storefront, and its user-friendliness can significantly impact your success. Here's how to create a website that resonates with your customers:
The heart of your B2B eCommerce website is your product catalog. Here's how to create one that’s both comprehensive and informative:
To truly stand out in the B2B eCommerce space, consider implementing advanced, uniquely online features that enhance the customer experience:
By following these five steps, you'll be well on your way to establishing a successful B2B eCommerce presence as a manufacturer. Remember that the key to success in this endeavor is ongoing optimization and staying attuned to the evolving needs and expectations of your customers.
To help you get a better sense of what a successful B2B eCommerce site looks like for a manufacturer, explore a few real-world examples:
A renowned manufacturer of tools and hardware, Stanley Black & Decker has embraced B2B eCommerce to serve its vast network of wholesalers and distributors. According to their 2021 annual report, they delivered 30% organic growth in 2021, with eCommerce now representing a $2.5 billion channel for the business globally — it also accounted for nearly 20% of their tools business.
Their user-friendly online platform offers a comprehensive product catalog, real-time inventory updates, and quick ordering options, making it convenient for their business partners to place orders and manage their accounts.
JBL, a subsidiary of Harman International Industries, is a well-known manufacturer of audio equipment. They have a full-featured B2B eCommerce platform that caters to retailers, dealers, and distributors worldwide. Their website features an extensive product range, detailed specifications, and easy bulk order capabilities, providing a seamless experience for their B2B clients.
Bosch is a global leader in home appliances and industrial technology. Their B2B eCommerce platform allows partners in various industries to access product information, place orders, and track shipments with ease. Bosch's commitment to user experience and efficient order management has made them a prominent player in B2B eCommerce.
These manufacturers exemplify the successful integration of B2B eCommerce into their business strategies, showcasing how embracing digital channels can enhance customer relationships, streamline operations, and drive growth in various industries.
Now that you have a plan for moving into the B2B eCommerce space, take time to evaluate your business needs, objectives, and explore the right platform that aligns with your goals. In doing so, embrace the future of manufacturing via B2B eCommerce — this is not just a trend, but a fundamental shift in the way business is conducted in your industry.