B2B – Swiss manufacturers are slow in embracing e-commerce trend

Establishing successful B2B commerce can be a challenge for manufacturers – this is mainly due to the high complexity of many industrial products and new customer expectations. Large industrial products are not off the shelf and need to be configured differently for a more personalised buying experience. This complexity is why today’s most successful organisations are striking a balance between human-led sales and digital interactions. They are doing it because it’s what their customers want and because it’s good for their bottom line.

B2B customers are increasingly expecting products tailored to their preferences. They have become accustomed to speed, personalisation, flexibility, and transparency from the consumer market and are demanding the same capabilities from their industrial vendors. According to Peter Vickers, Deloitte Partner and industry lead for Energy, Resources & Industrials,

Besides B2B sales, digitalisation is also creating new opportunities in after-sales service by significantly improving and expanding offerings and increasing the scope of targeted insights into customers and machines. The supplier side is also moving into the e-commerce space. This shift in dynamic for how generations interact and engage with the digital side includes not only buyers and customers, but also employees. From an employer satisfaction perspective, how well companies automate and digitise their processes in purchasing, sales and aftersales is integral to the retention of employees as well as employee speed, capability and ultimately success in performing their roles.

Switzerland is not necessarily an e-commerce driven market

In Switzerland the expectations of consumers are increasingly pushing manufacturers to also deliver customer driven customer experience through B2B commerce platforms. According to Josh Cottrell, Digital Experience and Transformation expert at Deloitte,

He goes on to add

However, the issue with B2B commerce for many Swiss manufacturers is not necessarily the front-end experience, but the transitioning from the back-end systems – for example – core IT systems and PIM (product information management). Legacy systems around PIM are a challenge due to the complexity of products. This needs to be addressed before sales can be effectively driven from an online platform. Data management and distribution play a key role in the B2B lifecycle of products. For example, an SME may have 50 digital applications and the ability to bind it all together. They may also have only one or two manufacturing sites. Whereas a large global organisation may have 2000 digital applications and several global manufacturing sites. This makes it important that their systems are built in an agile, well-structured, and organised way to work consistently between different businesses.

Many legacy systems hinder wide-spread adoption

One of the main challenges is how to automate highly administrative and historically paper driven processes into a digital flow. Customers need to access all their product information within their account – for example, warranty management, contractual management, and service history, amongst others. According to Josh Cottrell,

Flexibility and transparency are needed to give the customer experience that people are looking for now. Strong connection to ERP is required regarding the availability of product – is it in stock or what is the cycle time to configure it. All this needs to be transparent so that customers have immediate visibility. Unity and consistency of product data is important. Manufacturers need to figure out how to feed accurate product data into their warehouses and then figure out how that data is fed into their buying cycles so there is consistent understanding of the different components across the entire product lifecycle.

Companies also tend to forget about driving higher customer loyalty through an excellent post-purchase experience rather than just focusing on the pre-purchase experience. There is much to be gained by digitalising those post purchase transactions which have been traditionally heavily administrative, and paper driven.

In larger organisations the global versus local discussion arises. Are B2B commerce offerings a centralised management function or is it a localised management function? The scale of systems adds complexity – for example, when you have 50 markets running their own e-commerce platform and you are trying to run reporting on a global level, or you are looking for efficiencies between movement of components or commodity items. There is also the cost perspective, i.e. paying one global licence versus multiple local licences or having additional technology support.

What to do?

  • Change management: Where you have a traditional architecture with traditional engineers you generally have a group of people who don’t necessarily fit with a digital mindset. This can make it difficult to get buy in for how the digital experience can elevate organisations. An understanding needs to be developed within the organisation of how important digital experiences and customer experiences across that digital lifecycle are. This change of mindset will significantly support the technology transformation within the company.
  • Invest in technology platforms: There needs to be significant investments in product platforms, experience platforms and customer data platforms (CDP) that address B2B topics across the whole lifecycle to give manufacturers a competitive edge. It is not just about providing a platform for customers to buy and self-service in an easy manner, it’s also about addressing an organisational need to optimise operations and drive value (e.g. customer 360 solution). Focus should also be on having a clean and unified sort of systems architecture, rather than different localised solutions.
  • Personalise online experience: Manufacturers are increasingly disrupted by the B2C world. Consumers, employees and now customers too, all expect to have the same experience when they buy services (e.g., product availability, process efficiency, speed of delivery, simplicity of return). Successful B2B commerce is very much about managing and enabling a personalised customer journey and building trust along the way. For example, making the long development processes of industrial products visible for customers via webcam or mobile applications can increase customer loyalty and contribute to more consistent revenue streams.

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