By 2025, the Internet of Things (IoT) will comprise of 75 billion connected devices. From voice-activated devices like Amazon Alexa to smart refrigerators, IoT devices are changing the way consumers interact with brands. But the growth of the IoT has implications far beyond the consumer space.
As connected machines become more common, industrial IoT devices are revamping B2B commerce by streamlining the ordering process for manufacturers, contractors and other business buyers. Many engineers and industrial experts are already using the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to get a better picture of their operations, but industry decision-makers and their B2B sales reps are missing the full potential of these sensors for commerce. Manufacturers can use IIoT technology not just for automation, safety and predictive sales, but to fundamentally change their business models as well.
Here’s how you can leverage IIoT as you broaden your vision to prepare for the future:
- Streamline the buying process
The first step to leveraging the IIoT is one that most forward-thinking manufacturers have already taken: reduce friction from the reordering process. For buyers, time is money. Traditional B2B sales processes still require too much time and effort of buyers, who often prioritize ease of purchase above all else. A farmer who needs to replace an oil filter in a tractor doesn’t want to spend 30 minutes researching options, or even worse, dialing a phone number to speak to a sales rep. She wants to easily order the correct product or reorder the same product or part she’s purchased before with minimal time and effort.
It’s your job to shorten the time between purchase decision and purchase action. She shouldn’t need to leave the field, turn on the computer, research her options and complete her transaction—she wants to simply approve an order when she is alerted and have a replacement on the way. If you can provide that convenience, you’ll guarantee that customer isn’t leaving anytime soon. By enabling easy reordering using the IIoT, you can score a quick and significant win and create more valuable relationships with your buyers.
- Enable preventative maintenance
It’s one thing to allow buyers to easily reorder replacement parts. It’s another to empower them to anticipate maintenance issues and address them before they cause costly downtime. IIoT technology solves for significant problems that were once accepted as givens for many buyers.
The next stage of maturity means using the IIoT to aggregate data across each piece of machinery so buyers know exactly when equipment needs maintenance and how to plan for it. Better yet, the manufacturer can plan for it on behalf of the customer. If you can effectively use sensors to monitor equipment, you’ll increase efficiency and cut costs for your buyers.
Think about the traditional way of maintenance for a piece of manufacturing equipment. Usually, manufacturers monitor a vehicle after a certain amount of mileage or usage time, regardless of the condition it’s in. Instead, imagine having the ability to monitor every aspect of that piece of equipment, freeing the buyer up to only focus on maintenance when something is about to go wrong. Suppliers can even offer a subscription model that automatically sends supplies when parts or equipment need to be replaced. You’d eliminate wasted time and check-ins and could prevent problems before they occur, without playing guessing games on when and what to address. This technology is already cutting close to 20 percent from manufacturer budgets and increasing reliability and efficiency across the board.
- Offer visibility into valuable data
Effective preventative maintenance requires a comprehensive understanding of complex data points related to upwards of hundreds of sensors. Leaders in the space are not only able to understand this information themselves, but they can provide an accurate and digestible view of big data to their buyers.
Your buyers don’t have time to aggregate and make sense of data. That’s costing them. Data-as-a-Service presents another opportunity to act as a strategic partner for your clients. If you’re able to analyze and deliver real insights, you’ll unlock new insights and empower them to make the best decisions for their business—and earn your spot as a strategic partner for the long haul.
- Dive into servitization of products
Say you’re a manufacturer of large medical equipment. Your products require a massive investment upfront from your buyers, as well as ongoing maintenance and thousands of consumable parts. A laboratory buying equipment from you, for example, must not only pay for the machine but for maintenance of that machine and single-use consumables to operate those machines. Buyers need to schedule regular maintenance themselves with other third parties (that may or may not be your business). If an unforeseen spike in machine usage—caused by, for instance, a natural disaster that increases blood donations—occurs, the lab may or may not be prepared to accommodate it. Understandably, this causes quite a headache for buyers at the lab.
A servitization model powered by IIoT technology removes the burden from the buyer by placing it in your hands—ensuring a stickier and more direct relationship. You’d work with your buyer to anticipate and handle maintenance issues, reorder supplies and scale up or down depending on usage statistics. You’d deliver actionable insights based on data that could increase the efficiency of the lab itself. You’d function as a real partner with your buyer, promising better results for both parties. This is what the future of the IoT looks like for manufacturers.
Whether you’ve barely explored the potential of the IIoT for your business or if you’re a seasoned veteran, you need to be looking ahead. The future of the buyer-manufacturer relationship, supported by powerful IIoT technology, is the complete servitization of products, focused squarely on customer outcomes. With the help of IoT data and automated processes, preventative maintenance, reordering and ultimately business strategy, becomes a shared effort between buyer and manufacturer.
Industry leaders are already leveraging this technology to create seamless and productive experiences that drive buyer loyalty. Armed with this technology, your sales staff can shift into a consultative role. They can now use their time for the more complex purchases and enrich relationships with buyers, resulting in higher-value and longer-lasting deals. Don’t leave money on the table—get on board with IIoT.
John Bruno is vice president of product management at Elastic Path.