In every industry, buyer expectations are changing. The consumer expectation of simplicity and smooth digital experiences has seeped into the business world, and manufacturers are working to keep up with the changes. This isn’t an easy task, however—most manufacturing companies sell complex products with variations and processes that make a one-size-fits-all digital solution impossible.
Still, the B2B digital transformation is well underway. An essential part of this process is implementing the right tools to conquer the shifting landscape. While it is important to keep up with competition, some tools may not work for your business, or are difficult to integrate into existing processes. You can position your organization as a manufacturing leader by learning what buyers want and asking the right questions before selecting which tools to implement.
A Digital Revolution
After transforming the B2C retail space, the ease-of-use of companies like Amazon.com are unsurprisingly influencing the preferences of B2B buyers. Global B2B companies currently drive about 35 percent of their sales from e-commerce, and many of these businesses want to see this number grow to over 50 percent. This goal is in line with buyer habits, as 68 percent of B2B buyers prefer to conduct initial product research online on their own, according to Forrester Research’s 2017 Death of a Salesman study.
However, B2B purchase journeys are much more complex, making it important to select only digital tools that easily work with your business’s operations and can scale with its growth. For instance, a digitized catalog wouldn’t be effective for a buyer ordering an airframe or jet engine, given the array of price quotes, configurations and interlocking engineering processes required to produce that product. Other digital practices, like quote-to-cash tools built into CRM systems, may help automate processes, but don’t make much of an impact on the customer experience.
Rather than the common mistake of digitizing siloed aspects of a business, effective digital transformation for manufacturers starts with a companywide initiative to emphasize the customer perspective. This opens conversations in the company about how best to overhaul outdated processes, and which tools can address the changing preferences of B2B buyers.
Things to Consider
It’s easy to get excited by new technology and the promise of faster, more efficient operations. But how can you ensure that a tool will live up to the hype and help transform your manufacturing company? There are several important questions to ask before making technology purchases, including:
- Does it support your business’s existing objectives and strategy?
For organizations with clearly outlined core objectives, this should be easy to answer. If a piece of software streamlines your current processes and makes it easier to accomplish your company’s mission, it is worth the investment. If it introduces new problems, or “solves” an issue that didn’t exist, it is likely not worthwhile.
- Do you understand the product’s functionality?
Prior to making a purchasing decision, it’s important to know how a product works, and how specifically it would be used in your company. The vendor should be able to clearly explain its functionality, and answer any questions you have. If you have an in-depth understanding of the technology, it will be easier to implement and introduce across your business. Plus, if the vendor is making promises of capabilities that you aren’t able to identify, it may be best to reconsider the purchase.
- What will it take to implement the new technology?
Before moving ahead with a technology-buying decision, you should take time to think about the resources, time and additional knowledge you’ll need to implement the new solution. From the timeline of getting it up and running to addressing security issues, there are a lot of factors to plan for when introducing software. Considering these in the purchasing process will ensure you have selected the best option and are prepared to successfully implement the technology in your daily operations.
Keeping technology and processes up to date is critical for successful manufacturing companies, but this advancement should be strategic and valuable for your organization. Taking the time to evaluate the industry landscape, understand your buyers’ preferences and ask fundamental questions will ensure you stay ahead of the B2B digital transformation without wasting time and money on unnecessary tools.
Mark Bartlett is chief experience officer at FPX.