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In August 2017, Lori Wizdo, Principal Forrester Analyst said, “Today’s business buyer controls the buying process more than today’s seller controls the selling process.” It’s true that buyers today have more control over the buying cycle than ever before. Understanding how the B2B buying process has changed will ultimately allow manufacturing and distribution companies to identify strengths and weaknesses in their overall selling strategy. Though there are many factors shaping the B2B buying cycle, our experts have identified three major catalysts of change that manufacturers and distributors should address when shaping their selling strategy.

1. The Generational Shift

According to Forrester, by 2025 millennials will form 44% of the US workforce. What’s more is that 73% of millennials are involved in B2B purchasing decisions. As the new generation continues to move into more and more decision making roles, companies must adapt to meet their changing expectations.

Many of these new buyers have come to expect the same, seamless buying experiences they are used to in their personal buying experiences. When it comes time to sell to these buyers, many manufacturers and distributors are missing the opportunity because they have not changed how they sell.

The biggest question to ask yourself is whether you are meeting your customers’ expectations. This means taking an “outside-in” look at the pains that your customers are experiencing when they interact with your business. What ways are they interacting with your business? What are the experiences they have with each interaction? Are you easy to do business with, regardless of which channel they are utilizing to conduct business? Do your existing processes align with their expectations?

A key thing to keep in mind as you go through this process, is that all the people that interact with your business are not buyers. There are many different roles and expectations that must be met, when considering digital solutions. For example, a subject matter expert may be the first person involved in the process. Their experience needs to be specific to their needs and deliver the information they care about quickly and efficiently. The B2B buyer may be authorized to buy what the researcher approved. In this case ecommerce features like list management, that understand the complexity between people products and channels, would provide a great user experience for that buyer because it allows the researcher to add products to an approved list and the buyer to more efficiently place orders. The main point to consider is that you need to understand your customers and their needs. The right digital commerce solutions can help you meet and exceed the current expectations, and adapt with evolving needs.

One things is certain, companies who adapt to meet new expectations will certainly stand out from their competition.

2. The Rise of Self-Service and Independent Discovery

Traditional buyers relied on sales representatives to guide them through the B2B buying process. They were also fiercely loyal to the companies they were used to buying from because they trusted their long-term business relationship. As new technologies became available though, we started seeing a shift in the way buyers were making decisions.

Today, the buying process involves more self-service and discovery than ever before. According to Forrester, 68% of B2B customers prefer to self-serve and complete independent research online. Granted, buyers are still omnichannel creatures – meaning they float in and out of traditional and digital sales channels. We know from experience that the B2B buying process is anything but linear, and customers will move between self-serve and physical interactions as needed.

The challenge for most manufacturing and distribution companies is adjusting how their business is structured to allow for the omnichannel experience their customers are looking for. If a customer starts a process online, and realizes they need assistance, how does your business manage that? Customers often expect every person or channel they interact with to have records of exactly where they are at in their buying journey. Can the sales person or CSR assist the buyer in a seamless manner that doesn’t require the buyer to cue them into where they are at in the process? Or will your customer have to start over? Can they self-serve through the end of the buying cycle, and then print their order? All of these examples are real experiences that customers need and want. Is your business structured to manage any scenario your customers can dream up?

3. Evolving Competition

Though building customer loyalty is still very possible in B2B, customers are less loyal than they used to be. If they do not have a good experience with your company, they are more likely to consult a company that is easier to do business with. Companies who have developed stellar ease of business strategies are certainly a threat, and the way some forward-thinking manufacturers and distributors are conducting business is a competitive force as well.

We have to take a minute to discuss Amazon. We’ve stated previously that the B2B commerce cycle will never be entirely self-service, so Amazon will not be able to completely take over the market. However, Amazon does play a role in driving up everyone’s expectations for seamless customer experiences in both B2C and B2B ecommerce. So if you’re not prioritizing user experiencing, you’re likely falling behind.

Big marketplaces like Amazon build pressure for manufacturers to sell their products online and it means losing some control over things like pricing and shipping. Many manufacturers will now create products that are exclusively commodity type items to sell through these marketplaces.

Historically manufacturers and distributors managed their businesses regionally. However, as internet-only stores continue to rise, it creates heightened competition. These companies don’t face the overhead costs of brick and mortar locations and they don’t carry inventory. It is difficult to compete with businesses that are saturating the market and offering products at lower prices.

Further, with the rise of IoT and smart products, manufacturers and distributors have opportunities to sell ongoing services to manage and monitor the information in the products. These types of services help solidify deeper relationships with customers. As manufacturers and distributors continue to identify these value-added services, it’s harder for customers to go out and shop the competition or migrate elsewhere.

To keep up with these forces changing the buying process, you have to transform…

The shift in the B2B buying process is impacting every person’s role and your organization as a whole. Your customers expect to instantly find the information they need at their moment of relevance. Your team needs to be able to sell and market more effectively. Finally, you need to be able to differentiate your product and your brand from your competition. Keeping up with the new buying process means developing a strong unified selling strategy, one that combines traditional ways of selling with digital channels.

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