When industrial buyers aren’t at work, they behave as everyday consumers; they shop online, they compare products for deals that best balance quality and value, and they shop independently, relying on freely available resources rather than salespeople to help them in their decision-making processes.
These business-to-consumer (B2C) buying preferences and experiences are also influencing the way buyers shop for products and equipment in the business-to-business (B2B) marketplace; industrial specifiers and buyers now expect to have the same experience as they specify or source bearings as they have shopping for a camera. The lines between B2B and B2C — once considered disparate markets — are beginning to blur. And not only are end users’ habits changing and evolving, but so are distributors and original equipment manufacturers’ (OEMs).
To stay ahead of the curve, manufacturers should now be focusing on offering rich, discoverable, and manipulable product data. Below, we’ve outlined a few of the main reasons why this is so important.
E-Commerce Is Changing The Way Buyers Buy
Both in the B2B and B2C spheres, e-commerce has drastically changed the way buyers research, spec, and, ultimately, purchase the products they need.
According to a recent Forrester report, e-commerce activity in the B2B sector within the United States hit $780 billion in 2015, and sales are projected to top $1.1 trillion by 2020, accounting for 12% of all B2B sales stateside. But it’s important to keep in mind that not all B2B buying activity is strictly transactional; the majority of e-commerce activity revolves around product discovery — investigating products, evaluating configurability, determining what a given product can be used for, exploring customization options, and so on.
B2B buyers are spending more and more time (and more and more money) online; if you’re not providing useful, easy-to-access information on your products, engineers or sourcing professionals won’t bother investigating further. You need to provide the specifier and buyer with the detailed data they need to make informed decisions. This is especially important in the B2B market, compared to the B2C market; users can probably afford to buy the wrong type of shoes, but in large-scale industrial operations, buying the wrong type of parts or equipment can be a million-dollar mistake.
Buyers Are Bypassing Your Sales Reps
As online buying activity picks up, face-to-face sales opportunities are on the decline. In fact, another Forrester report found that three out of four B2B buyers prefer self-education using online product data to having conversations with sales representatives. Not only is this approach more anonymous, meaning buyers aren’t pressured by salespeople, it’s also much more convenient.
In the past, your sales team could speak for your products — they knew how to position them for the buyer, what benefits to emphasize, and how to differentiate your offerings from others. But now, as B2C habits cross over into the B2B field, you need to provide data that can do the talking for you. Every detail — every measurement, material option, customization, and use case — needs to be easily available to buyers at a click of the mouse or the tap of a finger.
Distributors Are Adapting
Distributors have already recognized this shift in buying habits and are making major changes in how they conduct their businesses in order to remain relevant.
Modern Distribution Management (MDM), a nationally recognized information resource for the distribution industry, conducts an annual “State of E-Commerce in Distribution” survey of its readers to gauge trends and shifts in consumer activity. The most recent survey showed that the percentage of distributors generating between 5% and 10% of their business from e-commerce grew from 16% to 19% between 2015 and 2016. And over the same period of time, the percentage of distributors generating between 10% and 20% of business from e-commerce grew by 2%.
Even in this shifting landscape, however, many distributors are still having difficulty obtaining rich and complete product data from manufacturers, which is hindering potential e-commerce activity. Offering informative, highly useful product data not only helps your end users, it also helps your distributors and, in turn, your bottom line.
The days of selling through a dedicated team of sales professionals — and controlling the business-customer relationship, from first contact to post-sale follow-up — are coming to an end. Today’s industrial B2B buyers are looking for a specification and purchasing journey similar to what they experience on Amazon — simple, anonymous, and self-educational. Rich, useful product data provides users with the intuitive, streamlined digital experience they expect.