Open Your Digital Doors: How Manufacturers Can Get Started with eCommerce

Content | Design & Development | eCommerce | Strategy

The B2B landscape is undergoing a digital revolution. Gartner predicts that a staggering 80% of B2B sales interactions will occur online by 2024. On top of that, approximately 70% of B2B buyers today prefer to purchase from a website [Gitnux Market Data Report 2024] rather than relying on sales representatives. This shift skyrocketed during the pandemic, as more millennials entered the B2B space. 

Today’s B2B buyers want everything upfront: specifications, dimensions, inventory levels, order history, high-quality photos – essentially, a digital one-stop shop for informed decision-making. This shift in buyer behavior demands a new approach – enter eCommerce websites.

However, for manufacturers entrenched in traditional sales methods, this shift to eCommerce can feel overwhelming.  This blog is designed to bridge that gap. We’ll guide you through the fundamentals of B2B eCommerce, exploring key considerations and offering practical tips to ensure a smooth and successful transition into the digital marketplace.

The Benefits of eCommerce for Manufacturers

If you’re reading this, you likely are already familiar with the benefits of eCommerce. There are also plenty of challenges to consider (don’t worry, we’ll get to that). But if you need a shortlist to help generate buy-in, here are some key features.  

Improved Efficiency 

eCommerce revolutionizes the ordering process for both manufacturers and customers by streamlining it into a digital workflow.  For manufacturers, gone are the days of managing paper orders and manually entering data. eCommerce platforms automate order processing, reducing the risk of errors and saving time.  Customers also benefit from a smooth and efficient experience.  They can submit orders 24/7, configure products if needed, and access real-time order tracking information – all from a user-friendly online platform. This reduces the need for manual communication and ensures both parties are working with the most accurate information. Ultimately, eCommerce creates a win-win situation by streamlining the ordering process for both manufacturers and customers.

24/7 Availability & Convenience

Imagine a world where your customers can browse your products and make purchases whenever it’s convenient for them, no matter where they are in the world or what time zone they operate in. This is the power of B2B eCommerce.  By offering your products online, you break free from the constraints of traditional business hours and geographical limitations. Domestic customers can access your products 24/7, allowing them to independently research and make informed purchasing decisions on their own schedule. This is particularly valuable for busy procurement teams who often work outside of standard business hours.

The benefits extend beyond domestic sales. International customers can also explore your offerings at their convenience, eliminating the challenges of time zone differences and fostering new business opportunities in previously untapped markets.  Ultimately, a B2B eCommerce platform provides unrivaled convenience for your entire customer base, both domestically and internationally.

Data & Analytics

Beyond streamlining processes, eCommerce platforms act as goldmines of valuable customer data. Every interaction, from product browsing to purchase history, paints a detailed picture of your customer’s behavior and buying habits. This data can be a game-changer for your business. By analyzing buying patterns, you can identify popular products, recognize underperforming items, and spot trends that inform the development of new offerings that better cater to your customer needs. 

By understanding which products are viewed together or frequently purchased after an initial purchase, you can create targeted marketing campaigns that promote relevant complementary products. Ultimately, this data-driven approach fosters a more personalized customer experience, increasing satisfaction and loyalty.

Challenges & Solutions of eCommerce for Manufacturers

While eCommerce offers numerous benefits, manufacturers also face some unique challenges:

Complex Product Orders

B2B products can be intricate, requiring customization, large quantities, or specific configurations. Here’s how eCommerce can address this:

  • Configurable Product Options: Many platforms offer product configurators that allow customers to choose features and specifications to build the exact product they need.
  • Quote Requests: For highly customized orders, integrate a quote request functionality. This allows customers to submit detailed requirements and receive a personalized quote from your sales team.

Security Concerns

Security is paramount for B2B transactions, often involving large sums of money and sensitive data. Building trust is crucial:

  • Robust Security Protocols: Implement industry-standard security measures like Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption and firewalls to protect customer data during transactions.
  • Data Encryption: Ensure all sensitive customer information, including financial data, is encrypted at rest and in transit.
  • Compliance Certifications: Consider obtaining relevant security certifications like PCI-DSS to demonstrate your commitment to data security.

Maintaining Customer Relationships

The human touch is still important in B2B sales.  Here’s how to foster relationships online:

  • Personalized Communication: Utilize features like email marketing or live chat to provide personalized communication and address customer inquiries promptly.
  • Dedicated Account Support: For high-value customers or complex products, consider assigning dedicated account managers for personalized support and guidance through the eCommerce platform.
  • Self-Service Options: Offer a user-friendly platform with self-service options like account portals, order tracking, and reorder functionality to empower customers and improve their experience.

By addressing these challenges with the right solutions, manufacturers can leverage the power of eCommerce to build trust, strengthen customer relationships, and achieve success in the B2B online marketplace.

Planning Your Manufacturing eCommerce Journey: Product Complexity & Customer Interactions 

So, you want to join the eCommerce revolution. As you begin to plan this transition into eCommerce, there are a couple of key considerations to think about in addition to some of the aforementioned challenges. 

Product Complexity

The first step is evaluating product complexity.  Distinguish between simple, off-the-shelf items and those requiring customization or bulk orders. Many manufacturers’ parts and accessories fall into the “simple” category. Complex products, on the other hand, might involve unique configurations, large quantities, or integration with other components. While both types can be effectively sold through eCommerce, categorizing them upfront helps determine how they’ll be presented and managed on your platform.

Customer Relationships

Beyond product complexity, consider how your customers will interact with your offerings online. Even “simple” products might require compatibility with specific equipment. Here, a customer portal can be invaluable. This online hub allows returning customers to easily identify compatible parts and accessories based on their previous purchases, boosting efficiency and personalization.

However, stellar customer support remains vital in the digital age. Explore ways to offer one-on-one communication. Implement features like live chat on your website for quick inquiries. For complex products or established customers, consider dedicated account managers to guide them through the eCommerce platform and provide personalized support.


Building Your Manufacturing eCommerce Powerhouse

As you embark on this journey, it’s important to think ahead a little bit. Investigate tools, software and strategies that are future-proof, flexible, and compatible with your existing technology. 

Platform Selection

When it comes to platform selection and your eCommerce website, there are many big players out there. Here are a few things to look for as you consider the right software:

  1. B2B-Specific Features: Look beyond standard functionalities and prioritize features that streamline B2B transactions. This includes:
    • Customer Account Management: Create tiered user groups with custom pricing, personalized catalogs, and self-service options for frequent buyers.
    • Bulk Ordering and Quotes: Enable easy processing of bulk orders and allow customers to request quotes for specific needs.
    • Advanced Search and Reorder Functionality: Facilitate efficient product searches with filters for complex B2B product lines. Implement reorder functionality to expedite repeat business.
  2. Integration with Your Ecosystem: Seamless data flow is crucial in B2B. Ensure compatibility between your ecommerce platform, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, your website (CMS), and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software.
  3. Customization for B2B Needs: Consider whether the platform allows for:
    • Tiered Pricing: Implement different pricing structures for different customer segments (e.g., wholesale vs. retail).
    • Customer-Specific Pricing: Accommodate negotiated pricing agreements with specific clients.
    • Multi-Brand Management: Manage multiple brands or product lines under a single platform if needed.
  4. Scalability: Choose a platform that can grow with your business, handling increased traffic, product offerings, and transaction volumes.
  5. Security and Compliance: Prioritize robust security features and ensure the software is compliant with relevant data protection standards, like PCI compliance.
  6. User-Friendliness and Mobile Responsiveness: A user-friendly platform is essential for both your administrators and your B2B buyers. Mobile responsiveness ensures a smooth experience on any device.

Remember: Don’t hesitate to request a demo of the software before making a decision. This allows you to assess its functionalities and user interface firsthand.

Content Creation 

In the world of manufacturing eCommerce, high-quality product information is your golden ticket to winning sales.  B2B buyers rely on comprehensive and informative content to make informed purchasing decisions. This means ditching the vague product descriptions and investing in detailed information that empowers your customers.

Start by creating in-depth product descriptions that clearly explain the features, benefits, and applications of each product.  Supplement this with technical specifications, including dimensions, weight, compatibility details, and performance data. Don’t forget about data sheets – these are treasure troves of technical information that cater to detail-oriented B2B buyers.

Here are some additional tips:

  • Focus on clarity and conciseness: Present information in a clear and easy-to-understand format.
  • Use high-resolution visuals: Include high-quality product images, diagrams, and even videos to showcase your products in detail.
  • Optimize for search: Integrate relevant keywords throughout your product content to ensure your offerings are easily discoverable by B2B buyers searching online.

By creating informative and engaging content, you become a trusted resource for your customers, build confidence in your brand, and ultimately, drive sales through your eCommerce platform.

The Roadmap to Success

The B2B landscape is undergoing a digital revolution, and manufacturers who embrace eCommerce are poised to thrive. 

This shift presents both exciting opportunities and potential challenges. We’ve explored the advantages of eCommerce for manufacturers, including increased efficiency, 24/7 availability, and valuable customer data insights.

We’ve also addressed the unique challenges you may face,  from handling complex product orders to maintaining strong customer relationships in the digital sphere.  By implementing the recommended solutions, such as product configurators, quote requests, and robust security measures, you can effectively address these concerns.

Now, as you embark on your eCommerce journey, remember to consider product complexity and customer interaction methods.  A well-designed platform with features like customer portals and account management tools will further enhance the buying experience for your customers.

Finally, choosing the right eCommerce platform is crucial. Prioritize B2B-specific functionalities, scalability, and seamless integration with your existing systems. Don’t forget about security and user-friendliness – both for your administrators and your buyers.

By following these steps and embracing the power of eCommerce, you can position your manufacturing business for long-term success in the ever-evolving B2B landscape.

Get in touch with our team for a complimentary consultation where we’ll define your next steps in preparation for eCommerce.