Historically, industrial manufacturing has never been known for quickly adopting new technology outside of the plant. Now, manufacturers across the globe are finding that the world is quickly changing; they realize that they must automate their sales and service processes to keep up with customer expectations, reduce the cost of doing business and enable their channel partners.
Customers Want to Self-service
There are many opportunities to digitize current processes in manufacturing. Pierce Washington specializes in many of these areas ranging from subscription management to complex configurations. In general, customers prefer self-service when available. The data is overwhelming.
Forrester’s research about customers indicates that:
- 60% prefer not to interact with a sales rep as the primary source of information;1
- 68% prefer to research on their own, online1; and
- 62% say they can now develop selection criteria or finalize a vendor list — based solely on digital content.1
- 93% of B2B buyers say they would rather complete their transaction online rather than through a salesman.2
- 44% of business state that their eCommerce site influences at least half of their offline purchases.2
- 43% of buyers prefer to buy a product directly from the brand that manufactures the product, rather than the distributor that sells it, and 20% of them are willing to pay slightly more for the opportunity to do so.3
McKinsey also makes the bold prediction for parts sales online by saying:
- 45% of the activities that individuals are paid to perform today can be automated using existing technology, and that 85% of the tasks that a standard parts salesperson performs, for example, can be automated.4
Knowing this, where do you start? For manufacturers, we typically see two key features implemented first:
- eCommerce sales of hard goods such as replacement parts and consumables
- Exposing ERP data such as order status and invoicing through a channel partner portal
Self-service portals can expand greatly. Read more about Pierce Washington’s view on self-service for B2B in our whitepaper, 6 Priorities for Delivering Next-Generation B2B Customer Self-service.
Replacement Parts are Better Sold Online
I began my eCommerce career working for AutoZone. AutoZone grew from a small store in Arkansas to a national, and now even international, seller of aftermarket parts by being staunchly committed to outstanding customer service. While greetings and pleasantries were important, the real competitive differentiation for AutoZone was expertise in recommending the right part for their customer’s needs.
As AutoZone grew, scaling consistent expertise became a challenge. Using stacks upon stacks of parts books to find parts was time consuming and error prone. To solve the problem, they introduced the first digital parts book in all their stores: The Z-Net System. This system provided fast, reliable access to part fitment information, schematics, and repair guides. Eventually that information was extended to self-service on the web via Oracle Commerce.
The data-heavy nature of identifying replacement parts, be they OEM or aftermarket, lends themselves well to a digital channel. Part application or fitment, part supersession, the endless permutations of OEM, vendor and customer part numbers, and complex assemblies with large bill of materials are all best presented directly to partners and customers online.
A strong search solution like Oracle Commerce Cloud is paramount to enabling fast, reliable parts buying experiences. Some key search features for parts buying include:
- “Part number only” search interface for fast lookup of OEM, vendor and other part numbers
- Wildcard Search allows for partial matches of part numbers
- Hierarchical Facets enable the ability to narrow search results by trees of information such as year, make, model, and/or engine in automotive use cases
- Relevancy Ranking permits the ability to make some search fields more important than others to boost results with the most important keyword matches
- Dynamic Curation allows you to boost products when the search relevancy is a tie. For instance, you may boost the most purchased, in-inventory result of a search for “O2 sensor”
- Speaking of O2 sensors, the Thesaurus feature allows you to make “oxygen sensor” the same as “O2 Sensors”
eCommerce integrated into visualization technology can provide your customers the ability to navigate complex assemblies, explore the schematic to identify the correct parts, and allow a purchase while in the field on a mobile device. Pierce Washington has partnered with CDS to provide this functionality for our customers. This level of assistance allows your company to truly be a trusted adviser to your customers.
Lastly, Asset Based Ordering (ABO) provides the ability to retrieve assets as they were configured when purchased to ensure customers are ordering the right part. This takes the more general fitment use case of narrowing the product catalog by searching for year, make, model, and/or engine and instead uses a serial number to retrieve a bill of material from Oracle CPQ or another asset repository. This is a powerful feature for customers and partners who need replacement parts for build-to-order products.
Enabling Channel Partners through eCommerce
Most manufacturers interact with their end buyers through a channel partner. Whether the partner is a dealer, distributor, or agent, partners are key in the sale and maintenance of products. Self-service partner portals are significant components of that relationship. These portals can provide important information needed to service your end customers. Some key features may include:
- Order status
- Complex product configuration
- Available inventory, lead times, and available to promise dates
- Quotes and saved orders
- Deal registration and management
- Quick order forms
- Purchase lists
- Product service cases and incidents
- Knowledge base and documentation
The technology in this space is also maturing to allow manufacturers the ability to provide channel partners with a self-service platform for their customers. This is often referred to as B2B2B or B2B2C, depending on the end customer type. End customers can leverage the manufacturers website to select a distributor and buy products within an experience branded for the distributor, with customer specific pricing, and inventory.
Furthermore, distributors can manage their own product catalog, pricing, inventory and service by leveraging a marketplace technology such as Mirakl in conjunction with Oracle Commerce Cloud. Distributors can then take responsibility for their integrations with the manufacturer.
These business models are great for buyers because they are given access to self-service from the manufacturer who has the most product information while still purchasing from their local distributor. By providing self-service in this way, you may eliminate the channel conflict manufacturers battle when trying to decide if they should sell direct to end buyers of a product.
Transforming the front office of industrial manufacturing has been a slow process, but as you can see from our examples above, Pierce Washington has an industry-specific solution for you. Starting with replacement parts self-service, we can reduce your cost of sale, increase your customer satisfaction and loyalty, and drive incremental revenue for your company. To learn more, reach out to us at www.piercewashington.com.