The Comprehensive Ecommerce and Marketing Guide for B2B Manufacturing and Distribution

Today, every B2B  is subject to similar expectations as top-tier B2C brands: providing customers with multiple channels in which to order, more personalized shopping experiences, and quick delivery of information are essential. The B2B brands that maintain customer-centricity will create a competitive advantage.

But unlike most digital-first B2C companies, many B2B manufacturers are lagging behind—without a clear digital strategy.

To compete in today’s digital landscape, manufacturers and distributors must invest in transforming their product information, customer experience and supporting processes. Traditional marketing techniques and in-person sales conversations are no longer enough to attract and retain customers.

Transitioning your catalog business to an optimized, ecommerce buying experience requires significant resources, but the outcome is well worth it. In this comprehensive guide, we discuss the challenges B2B manufacturers face today and the digital solutions available to solve them.

Keep reading this guide to learn:

What is the Relationship Between B2B Manufacturers and Distributors?

The B2B manufacturing supply chain  involves several parties, each fulfilling a need or contributing value to the customer. The supply chain may consist of producers, vendors, warehouses, transportation companies, distribution centers, and retailers—just to name a few.

Manufacturers have long used B2B distributors  as a means of moving products through the supply chain; however, the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) may significantly change this traditional relationship.

The Impact of IoT

Billions of connected sensors and devices have taken the B2B manufacturing world by storm, and are predicted to continue doing so into the foreseeable future. So, what does IoT mean for the traditional supply chain?

  • The role of distributors will change when devices have the ability to order their own replenishment directly from the manufacturer.
  • Field maintenance services will need to adapt to a landscape where products can monitor their health and operation, predict maintenance needs, and order replacement parts proactively.

To fully realize the value of IoT and tackle the challenges of today’s B2B marketplace, B2B leaders must be prepared to adapt their relationships with suppliers, employees, and distributors.

The Challenges B2B Manufacturers Face Today

Today’s fast-paced, ever-evolving digital landscape comes with benefits and challenges for B2B manufacturers. With new technology and software readily available, CEOs and CIOs must take the step to implement it, offering the B2C experience their customers expect.

However, the expectations to efficiently answer questions and fulfill needs faster than ever before have rendered traditional B2B manufacturing models extinct—forcing manufacturers to face the challenges of adopting new tech  that requires quality data.  

(Too Many) New Marketing and Customer Engagement Technologies

With digital-first competitors threatening to upend many manufacturers’ longstanding business models, business leaders are turning to the latest technology innovations for answers.

Most manufacturers become either overwhelmed or misled when it comes time to choose from the oversaturated B2B technology marketplace. Tools like cognitive computing, AI, and bots may sound promising, but often are not cost effective or aligned with overall business goals.

The challenge for B2B manufacturers is avoiding fragmented processes, content, and data by choosing the technology that is practical to implement and suits their needs.

Unorganized and Incomplete Data

New technologies rely on complete, organized, high-quality data. And most traditional manufacturers are dealing with disconnected data and processes, built up over years of technology cycles and business evolution.

Today’s constantly connected, multi-channel, multi-device world requires that manufacturers build an information architecture with the ability to support a continuous digital transformation.

When solving these challenges, many manufacturers lean on a comprehensive ecommerce solution for answers.

How B2B Manufacturers Use Ecommerce

Manufacturers have long stayed away from the online selling space, concerned that their products and buying processes were too complex for a B2B ecommerce platform. In the midst of the pandemic (think: supply chain disruptions and store closures), however, many leaders began a necessary shift to digital commerce.

In 2020, total manufacturing and distributor sales grew by just 1.5% to $17.5 trillion. But B2B digital sales grew at an impressive 10.9%, generating nearly $9 trillion  .

Manufacturers  have begun to leverage ecommerce to provide an easier purchasing experience for customers. Here are a few key tools  that most B2B ecommerce strategies include.

  • Taxonomy framework: Before manufacturers can deploy a successful ecommerce site, they must develop a taxonomy that clearly organizes products and solutions, with their varied characteristics.
  • Ecommerce website: An ecommerce platform is the backbone of any B2B digital commerce initiative and should provide the customer with a seamless user experience.
  • PIM software: Selecting and deploying the right PIM software allows manufacturers and distributors to compile all product data in one centralized database.
  • Digital product catalogs: Like B2C merchants, it’s now critical for B2B manufacturers to offer customers an online catalog complete with related product verticals.
  • Information architecture: Given the complexity of the B2B buying process, a well-orchestrated content model is critical throughout all stages of the B2B buyer’s journey.

Ecommerce solutions give manufacturers and distributors direct access to their customers, while also offering significant opportunities to personalize the entire buying experience. In recent years, these B2B solutions have already started to evolve with the introduction of artificial intelligence.

How AI is Impacting B2B Manufacturing and Distribution

Artificial intelligence (AI) technologies present a wide range of opportunities for B2B enterprises today and into the future. With virtual assistants and chat interactions becoming increasingly popular tools for customer communication, it’s only a matter of time before more manufacturers and distributors embrace smarter technology.

In Artificial Intelligence for the Real World, Tom Davenport and Rajeev Ronanki discuss three types of AI projects  that add value to B2B enterprises.

  • Robotic process automation (RPA): Automating repeatable, defined processes and tasks like copying data from one application to another.
  • Cognitive insight: Applications that help organizations make sense of large amounts of data and make suggestions for exploration.
  • Cognitive engagement: Humans interact with systems using natural language. The goal is to make the interaction with a computer easier, more efficient, and more closely aligned with the user’s needs.

In the age of the Internet of Things, connected devices and artificial intelligence applications have numerous implications for the B2B manufacturing and distribution industry.

  • Anticipate and diagnose problems, allowing for corrective action or preventative maintenance.
  • Optimize operating conditions and parameters.
  • Allow for remote control, and in some cases, autonomous operation.
  • Improve efficiency, lower maintenance spend, and reduce or eliminate downtime.
  • Personalize and simplify the buyer’s journey for customers.
  • Support the sales team and improve productivity by eliminating repetitive, time consuming tasks.

While automation and artificial intelligence have the potential to impact B2B operations, they also have the ability to influence B2B marketing strategies—something many manufacturers struggle to implement.

Steps to Create the Right B2B Marketing Strategy for Your Business

B2B manufacturers are behind many other industries when it comes to marketing, but consider this an opportunity to get ahead of other manufacturers with a targeted B2B marketing strategy.

With a sound digital marketing strategy, manufacturers  will be able to reach more potential customers and encourage them to continue coming back. Similar to B2C companies, B2B companies must use marketing to capture their audience’s attention and differentiate their products and services from competitors’.

Unlike B2C marketing , however, B2B marketing strategies tend to focus on logical messaging (rather than emotional) and span across a longer buying cycle.

Key elements of a B2B marketing strategy include:

  • Target audiences: B2B marketers typically target key decision makers within an organization, rather than the end user.
  • Strategic partners: In B2B, customers aren’t the only notable audience. It’s important that manufacturers also nurture their relationships with distributors and other key players within the supply chain.
  • Optimized content strategy: B2B content marketing should be optimized for your target audiences—logical messaging, free of confusing jargon.
  • Ample lead nurturing opportunities: In B2B manufacturing and distribution, the sales cycle can last anywhere from six to nine months. Ensure that you have ample content and a process in place to nurture prospects through this lengthy sales cycle.
  • AI implementation strategy: Identify areas of your marketing processes that could be enhanced with artificial intelligence technologies, then pilot the solutions that make the most sense for your B2B organization.
  • Data Analytics. Leverage new technologies and the data they collect to improve and increase your marketing reach.

Deploying a successful B2B marketing strategy can be overwhelming, especially when most manufacturers must also worry about production schedules and ROI. Luckily, there are organizations, like Earley Information Science, that can help B2B manufacturers and distributors elevate their existing ecommerce and marketing initiatives.

How Does Earley Information Science Help B2B Manufacturers and Distributors?

At Earley Information Science, our team of experts regularly helps B2B manufacturers and distributors build the taxonomies they need, clean and normalize decades of data, and design the necessary processes to get data from its source to ecommerce platforms.

Establishing a roadmap to digital transformation is worth billions. In the end, a well-executed B2B ecommerce and marketing strategy allows manufacturers to focus on their customers, leading to an increase in ROI.

Ready to offer a world-class B2B customer experience, but not sure where to start? Download our free whitepaper and uncover the secret to delivering a superior B2B shopping experience.

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Earley Information Science Team

We're passionate about managing data, content, and organizational knowledge. For 25 years, we've supported business outcomes by making information findable, usable, and valuable.