Blog 5 minutes

5 ways to master the digital customer journey for manufacturers

Whitney Koontz
February 5, 2021
Meeting your customers needs

The latest research indicates there are opportunities for manufacturers to improve their digital customer experience.

Customer experience used to be a term that was strictly associated with powerful B2C companies like Apple or Amazon. It was in those digital spaces that consumers grew accustomed to the white-glove, specialized service that kept them coming back time and time again.

But as time goes on, there’s been a renewed focus on how to smooth out the digital customer journey for all transactions, particularly B2B digital transactions. In a recent report produced by Sapio Research, we found that more manufacturers are using digital solutions to improve customer experience. Improving customer experience will not only allow manufacturers to build new customer relationships but strengthen their current ones as well.

Based on an in-depth survey of over 800 manufacturers in the U.S., we were able to put together a series of vetted recommendations for your manufacturing business to stay competitive in a digitized world.

Improving the digital customer journey:

    1. Customer relationships are key

    Customer experience and digital transformation go hand-in-hand. Research points to the fact that a key driver for many manufacturers (38%) to invest in e-commerce solutions is improved customer experience.

    The same customer-centric mindset that made shopping online so appealing for consumers, is now being implemented to improve the B2B customer experience. In another recent Sapio Research report that surveyed B2B buyers, we found what buyers value most in their relationships with the manufacturers they buy from. Buyers value both easier and faster checkout (27%) as well as easy repeat ordering (27%) over other benefits that the online buying experience can provide.

    This is also in line with what manufacturers view as the top benefits of using an e-commerce engine. In the report, manufacturers also indicated they know how vital fast and easy checkout is to provide a good B2B buying experience. That may be why 42% of manufacturers are investing in streamlining their online experience to drive more customers to their channels.

    This trend is only expected to increase as more than half of manufacturers (55%) indicate e-commerce platforms will drive the most revenue in the next three to five years.

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    2. Evolution is necessary

    Because manufacturers anticipate such growth, you should focus on looking to the future and what changes will be necessary down the line. Due to changing customer preferences and technological advancements, strategic evolution is a necessary part of B2B business ownership and operation.

    Most of the manufacturers we surveyed saw it the same way. Particularly in light of the recent challenges brought on by COVID-19-related disruption, 94% of manufacturers report that they are changing their market strategies in 2021. To throw even more light on that figure, 57% have already implemented an online sales model and 32% are currently implementing one. The time may be running out to catch up to competitors who are already leveraging online tools to build better customer relationships.

    Therefore, a closer evaluation of your online presence and offerings is more important than ever. 47% of large manufacturers (employing between 1000 and 5000 people) report that they have invested in brand new e-commerce solutions to address their pain points. And even if that is fiscally improbable for smaller operations, 55% of manufacturers of all sizes report training their sales teams to help optimize their company’s online experience. Investing in e-commerce solutions is one sure way to evolve to meet the needs of customers.

    3. Prioritize ease and personalization

    As mentioned earlier, B2B customers value a seamless online customer journey that allows them the functionality to make purchases quickly and without any hurdles. This is one of the biggest challenges for manufacturers to meet because the nature of B2B buying process is quite complex.

    Manufacturers report that their biggest challenges with e-commerce come from the checkout process being too long or complicated (30%) as well as limited product data (32%). Manufacturers realize that this is an issue that could skyrocket the number of customer enquiries they receive or even cause a buyer to look elsewhere for their business needs.

    To address these issues, it is important to find an e-commerce solution that allows for personalization, making the buyer feel like more than just a number. The platform should be able to quickly tabulate complex discounts and bulk order processes that are common in B2B orders, ensuring a smooth checkout process. Additionally, providing up-to-date and thorough product data can reduce repeated customer enquiries. All of this will leave your buyers with a positive business experience and help forge a stronger relationship, turning them into advocates for your manufacturing brand.

    4. Ensure reliable data

    Most of the breakdowns in a reliable e-commerce system can be traced back to one culprit: bad data. Whether it is a matter of separate systems not commuting their data automatically or human error during input, it can cause serious complications for business efficiency.

    Both buyers and manufacturers know this very well. 35% of manufacturers report that missed or lost orders are consequences of having an unreliable e-commerce solution. Similarly, buyers report that this is a huge issue with 44% of B2B buyers experiencing online order errors with their top 10 suppliers at least every two weeks.

    Manufacturers should place more value on e-commerce solutions that ensure accurate and reliable data throughout the online experience. One solution for this is an e-commerce engine that speaks directly to the ERP software for manufacturers. This guarantees that all data only needs to be changed once in either system so an update across all programs will occur in real-time.

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    5. Expect the unexpected

    Finally, the last but most difficult recommendation for improving your B2B customer journey is to be prepared for whatever happens. While evolution is critical, it does not come without roadblocks, meaning that agility is critical in order to tackle hurdles head-on.

    As an example, when 33% of manufacturers were presented with internal resistance to launching an e-commerce platform, they immediately began working on ways to fix the issue. The majority of those manufacturers solved this by setting up an internal e-commerce team (55%) thereby alleviating the pressure on other employees.

    According to a 2020 report by McKinsey & Company, dealing with unexpected events in the B2B buying process is a make–or–break journey because this is when buyers are at their most vulnerable. It is up to manufacturers to relieve these fears and concerns by creating strong, adaptable processes for their B2B customer experience.

    Future success begins with a better customer journey

    The obligation is on manufacturers to stay competitive by tending to their buyers’ needs and improving their clients’ digital customer journey. The good news is that investment in buyer satisfaction is a positive feedback loop. By providing a better experience, happy customers keep returning, forging a stronger bond between you and your client. Eventually, these happy customers can become strong ambassadors for your manufacturing business, guaranteeing business growth and long-term success.

    Looking for more insights on B2B buyer trends?

    Our new 2024 B2B Buyer Report takes a look at the current state of e-commerce from a buyer perspective.