B2B buying isn’t what it used to be.
The industry’s landscape is changing, and rapidly. B2B eCommerce sales in the U.S. alone grew by 11% to more than $1 trillion last year, and annual B2B sales are projected to top $10.6 trillion around the world in 2019.
This growth is largely the result of a much broader array of sales channels to reach potential buyers. Thanks to these new channels, B2B businesses now have new methods of connecting and interacting with B2B buyers, a growing group of whom count themselves as digital natives. As a result, leading-edge B2B manufacturers, distributors, and organizations have little choice but to embrace these tidal changes to remain competitive. Those that resist, meanwhile, will likely find themselves left behind to languish in the digital dust.
As a result of all this upheaval, B2B manufacturers and distributors alike are pursuing these new trends and innovations — and facing the new challenges that accompany them.
Print has long been a crucial part of any B2B seller’s arsenal. For decades, print catalogs have allowed sellers to reach out to customers and potential customers alike and share information about their offerings in a manner that was easy for customers to understand, and appealing to their eyes as well.
Even now, despite all the recent changes to the B2B space, print isn’t dead yet — in fact, it’s still a critically important touchpoint for those in the space. Many companies remain highly dependent on print catalogs for the same reason they first came in to favor.
Print selling may be old hat by now, but that doesn’t mean it’s simple for B2B businesses to create this collateral. Those that do still print catalogs face a host of challenges, starting with finding a way to create and manage product information in a wide range of formats, including everything from hard-copy catalogs, PDF files, solution brochures, product data sheets, and other materials. All of these different types of content require long product descriptions, detailed technical information, images, usage information, regulatory information and many other pieces of important product information, which can be difficult to manage. This information also needs to be contextualized to give customers a top-flight experience.
Companies that rely on printed materials also need a way to scale these materials when expanding to new geographic markets. Obviously, text needs to be translated to match the language of the new market — but that’s not all. Measurements must be converted to local units, and images, other digital assets, and even your product assortment must be adapted to meet local taste and preferences.
Print catalogs may still carry some serious weight among B2B buyers, but changing buyer behavior means that companies need to be sure their customers can research and buy products online. This is especially true as more millenials, Gen Z’ers, and other digital natives enter the workforce and rise to positions of B2B buying authority. These customers expect B2B buying to function in much the same way that B2C commerce has operated for years, where convenience and customer experience now rules the day.
Embracing digital transformation isn’t only about allowing customers to buy products from an eCommerce store, however. It could also mean beefing up an existing website or digital channel to help B2B buyers better research products, creating new, interactive methods of sharing product information with customers, or even using a digital platform to help field workers and remote sales reps access centralized product information while meeting with buyers.
It can also mean offering new interactive ways to share product information with prospective buyers, such as product configurators. These allow your teams to use a digital application or platform to select the options you want for a system.
There are plenty of obstacles standing in the way of this transformation, of course. B2B players need to make sure that the information customers find on their website is accurate, consistent, and emotionally compelling, while also presenting it in the proper context for this new digital channel they’re selling on.
eCommerce sites aren’t the only new sales channel B2B companies are tapping in to.
While some companies are turning their websites into eCommerce stores or digital information pages, others are expanding to other new and emerging channels in hopes of winning over these digital native buyers. Some, for example, are moving their offerings to online marketplaces like Amazon Business, Zoro.com, and GoDirectTrade. Others, meanwhile, are looking to the devices that customers tend to have in their hand all the time — the smartphone. Many are now looking to mobile channels to bring in more customers, both by allowing for mobile searching and research, and for mobile purchasing. Others, meanwhile, are using mobile devices to get information into the hands of employees in the field.
No matter what mobile manner companies are using to share information, however, each will have its own requirements for the information available and depicted. That means that using one set of product information to rule them all won’t fly here — you need to adapt your content to each and every channel you share information or sell products via.
These new trends in B2B business aren’t just about new ways to sell and communicate with customers — it’s also about how companies communicate internally.
Many B2B manufacturers and distributors, for example, are seeking ways to create accurate and comprehensive product information in context and simplify exchanging that information among each other. Manufacturers, in particular, are under increased pressure to export product information specific for a distributors requirements or for warehouses where customers buy and pick-up. This requires them to create exports of subsets of their catalog or customized data values by distributor — and as a result that distributor is effectively a separate channel that the manufacturer must now deal with.
B2B distributors, meanwhile, also typically rely on industry-standard formats to acquire product information but also need a place to enrich it beyond what’s included in standards such as ETIM, BMEcat and FAB-DIS. Once that happens, they need a place to track the flow of information and store the enriched product data — all easier said than done.
As this digital transformation works its way across the industry, B2B players are now also increasingly invest in their brand image.
Building a positive brand image starts with building credibility and trust with customers. This can be done by promoting brand values, appealing to patriotism or other positive feelings, ‘going green’, providing expertise or service after a sale, and more. But no matter how you decide to build your brand image, it’s crucial that the information you provide to customers isn’t just compelling enough to help them form a bond with your brand, but accurate and consistent enough that they can feel comfortable trusting that information. Inaccurate, inconsistent information is the quickest ticket to a ruined relationship with a customer and a poor brand image.
Establish trust and credibility is only part of the deal, however. Companies also need to differentiate themselves from their competition, so that they are seen as the experts in their profession, not just in the products themselves but also how they are described, how they work, how they can be used, and more. This once again requires highly accurate and consistent information — after all, no authority on a topic would put bad information up on their own site.
Brands can also drive a positive image by offering their customers a superior experience — just as B2C brands often look to do. John Deere, for example, offers ‘Drive Green’ events that invite customers to test drive equipment — something you’d never see in a catalog. But, just like with other brand image factors, offering these exciting experiences requires contextual, accurate, and consistent product information
Our last trend is one that impacts many of the other topics we’ve already discussed — namely, data governance. Data governance is all about information accuracy, compliance, and control over both the teams and the processes involved in product information management.
But it doesn’t stop at making sure that you’ve got accurate, consistent data being enriched via airtight workflows and by a top-notch team. Data governance also means encouraging interoperability with internal and external systems alike, making sure there are no kinks in your information’s path to publication.
Finally, data governance is also designed to provide your customers with an easy buying process. As more and more purchasing decisions are made not just by individual buyers, but whole teams and departments, information is increasingly consumed by a wide range of individuals with their own priorities and skills. That means your product data needs to be able to speak to anyone and everyone involved in the buying process from the end-users to procurement to finance to legal, and much, much more.
Bring your B2B business into the 21st century
No matter what B2B trend or challenge you’re trying to conquer, the common thread through all of these and many other topics, is high-quality, accurate, and consistent product information. Without this, your efforts to tackle these new buying realities will almost certainly fall short.
Discover how Akeneo’s Product Information Management (PIM) solution can help your company embrace new trends in B2B commerce by optimizing your product information, helping your team create compelling customer experiences and excel in B2B eCommerce by eliminating errors and inconsistencies in your product information.
This means your team can work together more effectively and efficiently, easing the enrichment process by taking tedious, time-consuming labor off their hands. Now, they’re free to craft emotionally compelling product descriptions, create beautiful product assets, and make sure all product information is accurate, consistent, and presented in the proper context for the channel your customers are using.
Ready to beat B2B challenges and make sales boom? See how product information and data lie at the heart of B2B eCommerce success by downloading our newest eBook, PIM — Unlocking Rapid Omnichannel Growth, or contact us today