By Stephen Hardy, Managing Director, FPX Ltd.
The business-to-business (B2B) sales ecosystem is an inherently complex space which presents challenges to manufacturers. Regardless of what you sell, how you sell it, and who you're selling to, there are numerous obstacles to ensuring the right product gets to the right customer at the right price via the customer's preferred channel.
It can be messy for manufacturers to address and manage. But the level of complexity is not going to get easier. If anything, products, services and delivery methods are set to become more configurable and specialised. So how can manufacturers manage this complexity and deliver the optimal buying and selling experiences that customers as well as internal constituents selling your solutions are going to embrace?
Many companies have already taken action. CRM and ERP systems and ecommerce platforms are the tools helping companies better connect with customers while making it easier for sales reps and partner channels to sell. However, there's still a significant gap in how manufacturers are delivering solutions and the place that ideally, they want to get to.
According to a recent survey and study conducted by Forrester Research, global B2B enterprises currently see about 35% of their average sales coming from ecommerce systems. However, the ideal state for many of these companies is to see that number increase to around 50%. That leaves a 15% gap that, according to another study conducted by Forrester, could be the difference in taking full advantage of a $1.13 trillion B2B commerce opportunity.
The issue holding manufacturers back is the level of complexity they're forced to manage when taking their organisation's entire portfolio into an ecommerce channel.
The sheer volume of information ranging from customer data, pricing, product catalogues, thousands or even millions of SKUs, as well as layers of business logic and rules, all require an incredibly powerful application to source, rationalise and distribute this data into a consumable format across all channels.
As mentioned before, CRM, ERP and ecommerce platforms all bring something to the table in terms of solving the complexity problem. But at the same time, disparate systems like these introduce complications of their own. Namely, that they can be siloed, isolated and independent from one another, creating discursive pathways users must navigate to configure solutions, price them accordingly, manage the portfolio across a dealer or vendor network, and still offer dynamic updates to proposals, contracts and other documents throughout the sales cycle.
Many third-party research firms have positioned modern Configure-Price-Quote (CPQ) applications as the solution to many of these B2B omnichannel woes. Gartner, for example, has acknowledged that many CPQ vendors are implementing omnichannel capabilities that cater to a more customer-facing B2B sales model. Advantages include:
- Uniting existing sales technologies to ensure speed, consistency and efficiency
- Providing guided selling as well as guided buying
- Giving partners full visibility into availability, compatibility, and fulfilment
- Enabling the sale of complex solutions via ecommerce
For manufacturers, the ability to consistently sell complex solutions across multiple channels is more than just a pipe dream. To be successful in today's competitive market, it's an immediate and imperative strategy.
To achieve the ultimate goal of attracting and retaining buyers, manufacturers need to emphasize the customer and the user experience in their technology acquisitions and the steps taken to streamline sales processes.