In this exclusive interview with Rohit Garewal, Partner at Object Edge, learn how B2B manufacturers are pivoting to meet the new demands of digital commerce.
It’s been quite a year, what do you think has changed about how the B2B world understands digital?
It’s been a really dynamic year in some ways. Because of the pandemic and people staying home, many sales forces are grounded. Many B2B manufacturers – both small businesses and mid-size enterprises – have traditional sales channels. Whether that’s dialing into an office or hitting the pavement and meeting people.
The grounding of travel has hit every company, but it’s definitely hit manufacturers that have more traditional sales channels more significantly.
Those that had preexisting digital channels to communicate with buyers found themselves far less impacted than those that didn’t. But even so, no one went unscathed.
For those that were on the fringes, and knew they wanted to have more digital sales channels, they understood they had to rapidly evolve and provide digital touchpoints to their end customers and partners.
So B2B’s awareness and understanding of digital grew because it had to. Necessity is the mother of all invention, sales channels were heavily disrupted, and so they had to adapt.
Have the eCommerce roadmaps changed? If so, how?
From an IT perspective, 2020 has shifted how CIOs and IT teams need to support the sales teams. Maybe they’d had a three year roadmap on how to digitize. All of the sudden, they had to do it now.
This meant reprioritizing and identifying what technologies could be rolled out quickly that would give the business a viable digital foothold – really, a way to continue doing business.
Whether that meant sending out quotes, approving quotes, actually being able to browse catalogues online, purchasing online, being able to do complex quotes and customization – IT teams had to determine how to deliver those experiences to partners and customers.
CIOs and IT teams definitely needed to get up to speed on technologies, much faster than probably many of them were anticipating.
Where are manufacturers struggling with digital?
Unfortunately, the move to digital often uncovers product data challenges – and this is where manufacturers’ lack of experience in digital really hurts. I’ll just walk you through a very simple case.
So, let’s say the VP of Sales decides that their team needs to be able to show their catalogs online. The CIO may have never done this before, and might assume it just involves building a website, or implementing an eCommerce platform, or even a Content Management System (CMS).
But once they start digging into it further, the CIO recognizes that there’s no way to show products. Perhaps they’re in an ERP somewhere. There’s a lot of complexity in extracting, enriching, and organizing the taxonomy, especially if you’re a legacy manufacturer, and the data is locked into a 25-year-old ERP or PLM.
Suddenly, what you thought would be a three month project is really a nine month project, and there are no mitigation strategies in place.
Even so, you can’t get around doing the work. But there are better ways of doing it. Maybe you have a roadmap where you’re putting simpler products online to see how the process goes, and then rollout the rest of the catalogs.
Where do you see opportunities for manufacturers to differentiate and compete or, just stay in the game?
At this point I’m not sure that it’s a matter of differentiating. I think it’s something else altogether; it’s about being able to meet the needs of your constituency.
I was just talking about this with someone else the other day. I think that the term “eCommerce” is too limiting. It worked in the 80s and 90s, referring to electronic commerce. But now a better word would be “digital business,” because when you look at your business holistically, you have to determine how to digitize it across all touchpoints.
So manufacturers don’t need to be thinking about commerce. They need to be thinking about how to digitize across all major touchpoints – for their employees, partners, and customers.
It really isn’t a differentiator to have an eCommerce site, because essentially everyone in retail should have a digital channel. At this point, it’s expected. Even offering buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS), is now becoming expected. So if you don’t have it, you’re just behind, and if you, you’re not necessarily standing out.
Think about Punchout, which came around in the 90s. Many manufacturers latched on, and having a punchout interface is now expected. I think in the same way, digital channels are now expected.
So it’s not about differentiation. It’s about meeting customers, employees, and partners, and arming them with the tools to make doing business with a manufacturer a lot easier.
How does Launchpad fit into this business evolution?
Launchpad solves a key challenge. It’s a B2B storefront accelerator. It’s literally accelerating the delivery of the storefront itself, which is one of many components necessary to have a viable digital channel for customers.
I had mentioned creating digital channels for customers, partners, and employees. Let’s just take a look at how Launchpad serves customers.
Consider all the different experiences you need to provide customers on an eCommerce site. Launchpad has already thought this through for you: browsing, logging in, registering, approving quotes, creating quotes, making a purchase, looking at previous orders, re-ordering, and dozens more features.
Many manufacturers don’t even have a comprehensive list of what those features should be, let alone a way to rapidly implement them. Launchpad takes that typical eCommerce implementation of 3-6 months, sometimes even a year, and trims it down to as little as two weeks.
It still lets you launch with custom colors, and your custom brand, but all the necessary experiences are already defined. They’re built in and you can deploy them tonight.
Why is Launchpad built for commercetools?
commercetools is the best enterprise-class platform that allows you to have a headless storefront. So it’s a natural fit, because Launchpad is that headless B2B storefront. It’s an accelerator meant to sit on top of eCommerce platforms without being part of their core.
So being able to put our storefront against the best, headless, enterprise eCommerce platform in the world right now was an easy choice.
About Object Edge
Object Edge is an award-winning consultancy offering expert digital transformation, experience design, and commerce implementation. For over 20 years, Object Edge has been solving the most complex digital problems with innovative business solutions. Capabilities include: user experience and research, creative design, design engineering, architecture, data management, enterprise enablement, operations optimization, and platform delivery in B2B. We implement eCommerce solutions on commercetools, Oracle CX Commerce, Elastic Path, and Shopify Plus. More information at objectedge.com.