Team Thomas February 1, 2018
Today’s marketing world is filled with buzzwords. From acronyms like “KPI” and “CTR” to rising industry trends like “big data” and “hyperlocal,” sales and marketing leaders in the manufacturing space constantly find buzzwords left and right. So when you come across the word “omni-channel,” you may be quick to dismiss it.
That would be a mistake.
“Omni-channel” is now far more than just the latest buzzword getting its 15 minutes of fame. Originally the multichannel approach to online marketing in B2C, companies in the B2B manufacturing space are now adopting the omni-channel approach to provide a complete digital customer experience for buyers wherever a manufacturer’s products are discovered.
With omni-channel marketing making its move into industrial markets, manufacturers of complex industrial products need to consider how they can provide a positive digital customer experience — not only on their own website, but on the web properties of their distributors, industry portals and even their agents.
The idea behind omni-channel marketing is simple: provide your customers, both current and prospective, with a unified product discovery and selection experience that is rich and consistent across multiple sales channels. Each channel (agents, distributors, wholesalers) must support a seamless and powerful specification and purchasing experience, from viewing product data on a mobile device to making a purchase on a distributor’s website.
For businesses with complex data — industrial companies, especially — this seamless user experience is critical. All buyers now demand “easy,” “seamless” and “quick” as part of their buying experience. And industrial buyers are no exception. Your visitors expect digitized product data and an eCatalog viewable on any device — simple data that’s accessible where they want it, whenever they want it. To stay competitive, your business must supply this customer experience they’re looking for.
But how? Working with buyers and sellers in manufacturing for more than 100 years, Thomas Enterprise Solutions has seen a number of changes impact manufacturers of industrial products and materials. Leading manufacturers, such as Schneider Electric and large distributors like MSC or Grainger are investing hundreds of thousands dollars in omni-channel marketing to ensure their customers’ specification and sourcing journey is easy and meets the demands of the tools and processes they use. And they’re seeing real results: in 2015, MSC reported that eCommerce driven by a rich content and an eCatalog accounted for over 50% of their total revenue.
With this information in mind, Thomas Enterprise has put together the following report detailing the why’s and how’s of omni-channel marketing in Industrial B2B. Read further to learn more about the benefits that companies investing in omni-channel are seeing, and the steps to take for achieving a complete digital customer experience for your customers.
6 Reasons Industrial Manufacturers are Creating Omni-Channel Experiences
Online retail powerhouses — namely, Amazon — pioneered the “digital customer experience” concept.
Virtually overnight, Amazon revolutionized the B2C retail process by creating a digital customer experience for consumers that became the standard for all others. Retail customers, including those with day-jobs in procurement or engineering, quickly became accustomed to the powerful ways they could discover, compare and purchase products.
These industrial professionals soon began to look for similar experiences while researching and specifying parts and materials through the course of their work. To accommodate, manufacturing businesses started mimicking Amazon’s efficient product discovery and information experience by pulling product data out of PDFs and incorporating it into more dynamic digital data tables, CAD models, and detailed specifications. Now digitized, this data could then be shared easily with other channels — distributors, wholesalers, and even AmazonBusiness.
That step sparked a chain reaction in B2B omni-channel implementations within the manufacturing market. Last year, roughly $700 billion of industrial purchasing was done online — that number is now expected to grow to $1.2 trillion by 2020.
Omni-channel marketing strives to create a better specifying and buying experience for your customers and generates, stronger sales opportunities for your business in addition to customer loyalty. In making the shift to providing a positive digital experience for customers, your business is capable of reaching the following goals:
1 | Meet Customer Expectations
Industrial purchasers no longer simply hope for a quality digital experience — they are expecting and demanding it. In order to stay relevant in a growing and evolving marketplace, industrial companies are adopting the B2C-grounded omni-channel approach to deliver the specifications and data that customers need to confidently recommend their products
2 | Deliver Easier Buying Experiences
As of 2015, 68% of B2B customers made purchases via eCommerce platforms, a significant increase of 11% from 2014. Among B2B buyers, one out of three research their product options on multiple channels or web destinations before completing a spec or purchase.
An omni-channel approach is the ideal method to help secure these types of ecommerce sales. The model creates a purchasing process that is intuitive, flexible, and easy to navigate — exactly the type of experience that B2B buyers expect – wherever your products are available.
3 | Develop A Competitive Advantage
Industrial product sellers are already catching on to the need for quality, digitized content to meet not only customer needs, but also to differentiate their brand and website within the industry. Major distributors, including MSC and Grainger, have been investing in the development of robust online catalogs to help their customers find, spec and purchase products with ease. For these companies, emulating the Amazon experience within B2B is already accounting for as much as 50% of total sales.
The core theme of the omni-channel model is in its name: omni-channel, meaning that all of a manufacturer’s sales channels deliver a similar, robust digital product discovery experience. This includes, perhaps most importantly, a cohesive and consistent representation of product details across all distributor channels.
In a 2014 study, Thomas Industrial Network found that manufacturers and distributors lose tens of thousands of dollars every year when distributors don’t have the information they need to effectively represent a product line. Specifically, the research revealed that an automated, standardized format for technical product information would dramatically improve the data preparation and sharing process.
Omni-channel offers a streamlined exchange of product data between manufacturers and distributors, making it easier to find, compare and select your products with the confidence that the information is up-to-date. This confidence delivers a better customer experience, and the rich data brings visibility to your projects early in the design cycle.
In the industrial sector, use of mobile devices to find product information is experiencing excellent growth. In 2015, an estimated 42% of engineers and procurement professionals used a mobile device to research or purchase parts. Industrial suppliers that don’t offer an excellent mobile experience see reductions in organic search rankings, website traffic, and sales.
4 | Appeal To Changing Audiences
Millennials — the 18 to 34-year-old population — have grown tremendously in the B2B business sector.
Today, almost half of all B2B specifiers and purchasers are millennials. Between 2012 and 2014, this demographic grew by a tremendous 70%. More so than any other age range, millennials are keyed into the need for a rich, digital experience to be more productive in their jobs.
5 | Be Found in Google
In an omni-channel world, researchers and purchasing and procurement managers generally follow a three-step process:
- Recognize their need
- Search online for products that meet that need
- Select the product that has the right specifications, the best data, and the right price
By providing a rich set of data for each of your products, and ensuring that that data is the same across each of your active channels, helps to put a bright spotlight on your company and your products. More importantly, it attracts more than customers: highquality data appeals to Google and other search engines, as well, improving brand awareness and rankings.
Illustrating this trend, one study by Forrester Consulting found that 77% of B2B buyers consider the availability of real-time data on inventory level as “important” or “very important” to their purchasing experience. Providing this type of data on the websites of all your sales channels ensures a consistent experience for your customers.
6 | Increase Customer Loyalty
A unified sales and marketing strategy focused on meeting the digital data needs of customers is becoming a new definer of brand. Creating an easy, hassle-free research and sourcing experience for your customers is a way to bring customers back to your website and solidify their brand loyalty. When you are the company that is easy to do business with, specifiers and buyers are motivated to continue business with you and, most importantly, recommend your brand to others.
Specification Challenges For Industrial B2Bs
When implementing an omni-channel marketing approach, many industrial B2B companies run across a similar challenge: industrial and building components are often very complex. Even products that seem simple on the surface can often have thousands of available variants.
Few industrial products can simply be added to a shopping cart the way that a book, album, or pair of jeans can be. Instead, industrial purchases are driven by a range of important specifications, including detailed product and material characteristics, 2D or 3D drawings, varied dimensions, and complex configuration rules.
In order for an industrial business to create a simple and positive digital customer experience, it must have a thorough understanding of the tools and processes used by specifying and sourcing professionals in their target markets. Knowing how potential customers research and discover products, compare options, and analyze performance to commit a product to a project are all essential pieces of knowledge.
In order to ensure that your omni-channel marketing strategy is optimized for the clients you want, and the complexities they face in their specific market, you should follow these steps:
1. Know Your Audience
Understand the specifics of your audiences’ content needs. The better you understand them, the better your strategy will be to help them discover and your products and get the content they need for their workflow.
2. Create A Content Plan
It’s important to generate the data your target clients need, but it’s just as important to ensure that that data remains accurate, organized, and easy to access over the long term. Data maintenance is too often overlooked and results in spec errors and dissatisfied customers.
3. Extend Your Reach
Your website must be the centerpiece of any omnichannel strategy, but it is only one of many channels. To maximize your reach and, therefore, your potential sales opportunities, you must provide a high quality experience in each of your channels, including your distributors, other industry portals, and so on.
4. Create A Syndication Plan
Keeping your vast amounts of product data updated and current in a number of online destinations is a big job. It requires special tools, processes, and commitment — these things need to become a regular part of your sales and marketing team’s day-to-day mandate and operations.
The Path to Omni-Channel: Digitize Your Assets
You may have heard somebody refer to the PDF as the place where great product data goes to die.
PDFs are great and they have their uses, but product data is not one. They are static and inflexible, not to mention unwieldy to download or access on mobile devices or distributor channels. A website populated primarily with non-dynamic static images and documents is not enough, by a long stretch, to get you the specs and sales you are looking for.
The data you provide must be dynamic. Digital tools must be woven throughout all aspects of your omni-channel operations in order to allow for easy, fluid, real-time data availability. Online catalogs are an ideal example — standard print catalogs are often out of date before they even go to print. But if the right tools are used to build an online catalog, and it is integrated with resources across all of your channels, maintenance can be easy and intuitive.
Whether you know it or not, your audiences are demanding a dynamic online experience — and you need to provide it to them to land their business, wherever they discover your products.
The Tools to Get You There
Thomas' Product Data Solutions subject matter experts work with your marketing and engineering teams to get your products found, specified, and purchased.
Our suite of solution tactics include a dynamic eCatalog, product configurator, dynamic CAD and BIM engine, and Intergraph smart modeling tools — all of which consolidate and develop your product information into a rich, high-quality database. This easy-to-access database not only gets your products omni-channel-ready, but also reduces engineering hours and delivers the most accurate data in the right format.
Contact us today to learn more about our tools and the services we provide.