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Let’s talk history. Most manufacturers and distributors have a go-to-market strategy and sales model that mimics the model set forth by John H. Patterson when he started the National Cash Register Company (NCR) in 1884. The success of the company was largely influenced by the sales model Patterson developed. He trained company salesmen very carefully by holding conventions and incentivizing sales. He also created a method of sales management that included many aspects of selling like calculating quotes and commission rates.

The National Cash Register model ultimately reformed methods of distribution. Patterson realized that they could sell cash registers directly to stores. Business-to-business sales essentially began when NCR recognized that selling a product to businesses was different from selling merchandise directly to consumers.

This model was introduced more than 100 years ago. Fast forward to today you find processes, procedures, sales management and go-to-market strategies that are based off the same physical sales model. However, the B2B buying cycle has evolved. B2B buyers expect seamless experiences that allow for both digital and traditional channel interactions. B2B buying has changed but many manufacturers and distributors are still selling based on an antiquated model.

In order to compete and deliver the experience buyers want, manufacturers and distributors must prepare their business to transform into a digital business. Moving to digital is a pivotal point of change for many businesses and it requires a leap of faith and a little bit of risk. Preparing your business for digital comes down to identifying how your customers are buying and want to buy, understanding how you are selling today and how you should sell, and ensuring you have the right people and resources to make the transformation happen.

Identify how your customers are currently buying and how they want to buy.

How can you go about understanding how your customers are currently buying and how they want to buy? Sure, some of it is you making assumptions, however, you can also survey your customers directly and analyze their buying data. Understand how many orders are coming in across different channels. How many phone calls are you receiving? How many emails? Are customers still faxing you? Or are they looking for newer ways to interact with your business? Interact with your customers and determine how they would buy differently if they had different options.

Pay attention to the trends. For example, millennials and younger generations are moving into B2B decision making roles. According to Forrester 73% of millennials are now involved in B2B purchasing decisions. These buyers expect seamless omnichannel experiences – ones that support traditional and digital channel interactions.

Also remember, your customer isn’t always just a buyer. They may also be a researcher or a subject matter expert working to identify approved products and adding them to lists for the buyer. Supporting every role within the complex B2B commerce cycle helps drive successful digital transformation.

Understand how you are selling today and know how you can change.

In order to keep up, manufacturers and distributors simply cannot continue to sell the same way. Some companies continue to send sales people out on calls, requiring that they reach a certain number of calls per day. What if their customers prefer to self-serve? What if their customers simply don’t have time to meet with your sales people? Further, CSRs often have to rekey in orders that come through fax, mail or phone. These types of low-value tasks can be automated with eCommerce solutions built for B2B, to free up your internal team and give them more time to focus on consulting and building relationships with your customers. It’s not that sales and CSR roles are going away. These people are incredibly valuable, their roles are just changing.

We have to talk briefly about ERPs because many businesses choose to use the storefront available with their ERP to deliver a digital experience for their customers. The problem here is that ERPs were originally designed to run your internal business. ERPs were designed for your internal teams to complete tasks like entering quotes, they were never intended to be automatic. They weren’t built for automatic things like machine learning or dynamic personalization. ERPs were never designed to be external facing. When ERP companies make eCommerce sites, the user interface is often a poor user experience. After all, when is the last time someone in your own organization commented on how much they enjoy the user experience their ERP interface gives them? In order to succeed in incorporating digital channels, you have to look at everything you do from the eyes of your customer.  Once you determine what your customers are experiencing and what they want to experience, you’ll be able to adjust how you’re selling. But it starts from the outside-in.

Get the right people to help you transform.

The harsh reality is that you might not have people in your organization that can help you make this transformation. Often manufacturers and distributors will hire a consultant or a B2B eCommerce expert to help them get started. You need to be selective and choose someone who understands the ins and outs of your business and more importantly knows B2B.

At Insite, we understand one size does not fit all in B2B. The more complex a product is, the more complex a go-to-market strategy is. That’s why we have an assessment tool that helps manufacturers and distributors understand what eCommerce requirements they have and what the investment will look like.

This goes beyond deploying a website. It is not a simple project or an initiative, it is complete transformation. Every organization has to undergo change. At some point you have to take a leap. Digital transformation is about growth and repositioning your business for the future.

Attending B2B Next this September?

“Business Models” is one of the four main tracks at B2B Next this year. You can learn how to transform your business model for a digital market when you attend sessions under this track. Insite experts would also be happy to share their perspectives on preparing for digital when you stop by booth 206 in the exhibit hall or schedule a meeting

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Manufacturing and distribution companies know that the true value of digital commerce is the ability to make it easier for your customers to do business with you. The B2B buyer is often responsible for purchasing products from one to many vendors or product types

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