Historically, manufacturers have avoided the adoption of Web technology, especially business-to-business (B2B) eCommerce, into their business plan. Manufacturing is known for its complexities and unique intricacies in planning, workflow, distribution and communications. Until recently, cost effective technology was not available to help manufacturers grow online.
However, times are changing. Due to improvements in technology and the adoption of cloud technology, manufacturers will begin embracing Web technology as part of their growth strategy. Over time, making this move will slowly become a requirement for manufacturers to stay competitive.
Based on Gartner and Forrester Research, the B2B eCommerce industry is valued at roughly $780 billion today. According to this research, Gartner and Forrester are expecting the B2B eCommerce industry to increase in value to roughly $1.13 trillion by 2020. Other research firms are estimating numbers as high as $1.9 trillion.
Avoiding the use of Web technology in the past has been understandable. Every manufacturer has unique processes and modeling these processes with technology was not only difficult, it was time-consuming and expensive. It was common for manufacturers to shy away from Web solutions, because they expected it to be a costly headache that could negatively impact customer relationships.
Today, however, the opposite is true. With these challenges in mind, software companies, such as xTuple, have solved these problems with flexible systems that mold to the needs of manufacturers, improve customer relationships, and increase efficiency and the bottom line. Here are three examples of how B2B eCommerce can benefit a manufacturer.
1. Flexible systems that meet the manufacturer's needs
Each manufacturer has special use cases. Their unique workflow, the configuration of products, or their complex pricing schedules made it difficult (or impossible) to do business online. Today’s technology is constructed with these challenges in mind. The solutions are built with a foundation to support the manufacturing industry, and the systems are flexible enough to adapt to the specific use cases of the manufacturer.
For example, manufacturers maintain a variety of relationship types. The buyers may have differing negotiated rates, some buyers only purchase a fraction of the manufacturer's offering, or some buyers may purchase on behalf of other customers. Each of these use cases can be very unique and custom for each individual manufacturer. With B2B eCommerce technology, the buyer’s account is based on information that resides in the manufacturer's ERP. By using pre-existing data in the ERP to understand who the buyer is, the Web system will know which products to display at which prices. Additionally, if needed, buyers can purchase on behalf of their own customers. By maintaining multiple ship to addresses, payment options and recipient information within their account, the buyer information will be easily managed by the buyer, while being saved into the ERP.
2. Improve customer relationships
Today, most people are comfortable using Web technology for research, purchasing and account management tasks in their personal lives. It’s become a standard. Buyers are also adapting to the process of doing business on the Web. Manufacturers can benefit from this trend by giving their customers Web-based tools to perform their job responsibilities online. By giving customers access to a Web portal where they can manage their own accounts, research products and place orders online, manufacturers are saving time and money while increasing positive customer relationships.
Today’s technology allows the manufacturer to give their customers specific levels of access to account data. This doesn’t mean that their customers will suddenly have access to everything. Instead ,the manufacturer can develop and implement a permission plan to offer access to only the most appropriate information. Perhaps customers can manage past invoices, see their pending orders, research product information, download marketing and sales documents (PDFs, for example), or even manage their own payment options. By offering these kinds of tools, manufacturers will be keeping buyers happy by letting them work comfortably on their own terms.
3. Increase efficiency and the bottom line
If customers are happier doing their work online, why not give them tools to engage with your sales team in a similar manner? Imagine a buyer's frustration when required to call their sales representative just to update contact information or ask about inventory levels of a particular product. Buyers, just like manufacturers, desire a more efficient workflow that increases performance.
When customers call their sales representative to learn about a product, they only do so because it’s the only option. By giving customers access to product information online (e.g., inventory levels, related products, configuration options, etc.), you are giving them the self-service tools to improve their performance and their own efficiency. This results in sales calls focused around relationship-building and the art of selling rather than simply sharing information.
Based on market research, B2B eCommerce will dwarf the success of buisness-to-consumer (B2C) eCommerce and the market will grow rapidly. By adopting B2B eCommerce now and making wise decisions in Web technology investments, manufacturers will stay ahead of their competition while offering solutions that satisfy customer desires and increase efficiency throughout their organization.