New Technologies are Helping Distributors Become More Customer-Centric

Denise Keating, CEO of DATAgility, a B2B digital consultation and data management services provider, says that as "digital natives" make up a larger portion of the customer base and workforce, distributors will need to become more integrated with new technologies to keep pace and engage their audience.

By Denise Keating
CEO, DATAgility
dkeating@datagility.com

B2B Buyers are changing. Are you setting your company up for success in today’s competitive and fast paced digital world?

More and more, you are competing not just with rival companies within your industry but also with companies outside your industry that are targeting your existing customers and attracting customers with their new digital offerings. The millennial generation is the largest in United States history and as they continue to enter the workforce their impact will be significant. It is estimated that millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025.

As millennials fill the job ranks, they are sure to carry with them a different perspective and approach toward digitization than previous generations. Workers in their 20s and 30s have grown up with mobile technology and expect to use their handheld devices for all aspects of their personal and work life. They want to research companies and products, use social media, and make purchases whenever and wherever. They are known as “digital natives” and have brought their consumer habits to the B2B world. It’s not just millennials that are bringing these expectations to their workplace, professionals of all ages are also changing their buying habits from traditional methods to more online platforms.

To compete in this new marketplace, digital transformation needs to take place. This process encompasses the implementation of new technologies to improve operations, sales and customer service, back office productivity and can help accelerate the growth of the business from end-to-end. However, a digital strategy isn’t only about the application of available technologies or new marketing methods—it’s about transforming your business to deliver more value to your customers and create a competitive advantage. It requires blending business strategy and objectives with customers’ desires and leveraging the right technologies and content with new approaches and techniques. We are seeing companies evolving into more customer-centric businesses as a result of digital transformation.

To continue to be successful, you should be where your customers want you to be and engage with them in the way in which they prefer to engage with you. Your challenge as a company is to ensure that you provide the full range of touchpoints that allow the customer to engage with you and that includes offering a robust digital experience on your website.

Customer Centric Driven E-commerce
B2B buyers require more sophisticated functionality to do their jobs more efficiently. Your ERP and other internal systems can be linked to your e-commerce software to provide customer-specific pricing and apply customer pricing rules, branch location inventory availability, access to past order/invoice/quote history (regardless of where order originated), and shipment details. Adding the self-service aspect to your website frees up your employees from reactive tasks and allows them to focus on more strategic tasks with your customers. The functionality introduced on your website should be tailored to best fulfill your customers’ expectations. Gaining customer insights can be obtained through accessing industry research, developing customer specific surveys and reviewing data analytics which allows you to provide a more personalized customer experience. Ultimately, knowing what your customer needs and providing solutions that meet those needs is a key step toward improving your website.

Device Compatibility
Along with a website that is designed to deliver on B2B customer needs, companies need a responsive website to ensure it is compatible for viewing on all the mobile device platforms. A responsive website enables your customer to access your website on any device and it dynamically resizes the web pages appropriately and provides easy to use navigation to quickly search and find information. It also will increase your ranking on search engines which translates into attracting more visitors to your website. More traffic can result in better lead generation, increase conversion rates, and ultimately drive sales growth.

Content Quality
The underlying success of e-commerce is fundamentally driven by the quality of the content. A great web store with robust functionality without good content is just as ineffective as a poorly functional website with good content. When a customer sees incomplete, missing, or irrelevant data on your website, the customer may abandon your site in favor of another with stronger content. A high-quality website offers the features needed to fulfill customer requirements and displays accurate, reliable, and current product data. It contains quality 360-degree images, product specs, features/benefits, downloadable data sheets, and other supporting material that will help make online shopping a clear, easy, and appealing process for site visitors. Quality content establishes trust and credibility and when quality data is combined with powerful e-commerce systems, it not only gives a reason for your customer to click and buy one time, it keeps them coming back again and again.

Emerging E-commerce Trends
There is a significant increase in mobile app development to offer users additional features within the app to make purchases, check inventory, find store locations, and sophisticated search functionality. This e-commerce trend has more companies beginning to leverage features that are inherent to smart devices and integrating those features with their mobile apps.

Voice Technology: For example, searching for products within a mobile app can be accomplished in many ways: A customer can type into the search bar, scan a barcode, take a picture of the current product, or use the microphone to speak into the search field. Most people can speak faster than they type and for those who don’t like using the keyboard, the voice technology replaces the need for fat fingering or typing in a search bar. The voiced-guided results enable the customer to further refine the search by selecting key product attributes as well as price and availability. This voice technology isn’t just for big companies as it is readily available to the distribution channel through many e-commerce platforms

Barcode Scanning and Image Search: Barcode scanning can be integrated with your e-commerce platform, allowing the customer to quickly place an order by scanning the product barcode with their mobile device and uploading it directly in their shopping cart. Another convenient ordering method is image searching, which has been proven to very beneficial mechanics, technicians, maintenance buyers who need a replacement or repair part for a piece of equipment but don’t know the brand, part number, or the UPC code. The buyer can take a photo with their smart device and upload the picture and the app will find and display products that match or are similar to the image supplied, giving them a great place to start identifying the product they need. These features take connecting with the customer to a new level.

B2B businesses stand to gain from digital transformation as it enables companies to open new sales channels, find new opportunities, increase revenue, improve efficiency, and deliver greater value to the customer. Millennials grew up with technology intertwined in their everyday life and their expectations raise the bar for B2B companies to quickly adapt. Going forward, distributors that lean on their younger employees will have an advantage as they work toward digitally transforming their business.

About DATAgility
DATAgility is an experienced B2B digital consultation and data management services company that delivers quality product content sourcing and enrichment, PIM implementation, and CMS/PIM consultative services to B2B distribution channels to drive sales and squeeze cost out of the supply chain. Its services have helped hundreds of manufacturers and distributors better understand, control, manage, and leverage their product content. DATAgility delivers better data for better business. For more information, visit www.datagility.com.