Ecommerce is appealing to manufacturers, at least in theory. Customers can find you on the web and place orders through your ecommerce site. Without anyone doing much of anything, the cash register goes cha-ching! So far, so good.
In reality, ecommerce can be something of a challenge for manufacturers. Having worked with many manufacturing companies on the implementation of ecommerce, we can offer insights into what works, and what doesn’t. The following checklist should help you figure out the best path to ecommerce for a manufacturing company.
1) Decide if you even want ecommerce
Ecommerce is not for every business. Many manufacturers make products that are too complicated or expensive to sell online. The sales cycle and buyer engagement required to make a sale may also preclude the simple process of adding merchandise to a shopping cart and checking out. No one is going to buy a $2 million customized machining center on an ecommerce site. Companies that fit this profile might consider offering interactive customer engagement on their websites, but not an ecommerce experience. For example, by integrating your website’s front end with the right kind of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, you can offer site visitors a self-service product configurator. They can assemble the product features they want and then send off a request for a quote.
2) Keep checkout simple
Business-to-Business (B2B) ecommerce customers expect a consumer-like experience, even though they’re in a corporate context. Checkout needs to be simple and smooth. Also, it’s a good practice to offer multiple payment options.
3) Optimize the site for mobile users
Manufacturing customers are mobile, just like consumers. And, they work at varying levels of the customer organization. They might be young, for instance, and accustomed to researching and buying products on their smartphones or tablets.
4) Do SEO
If you want customers to find your manufacturing business online, you’ll have to put the effort into Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This need not be a Herculean or costly effort, but you to address the basics. This might mean researching and implementing keywords in product listings as well as making sure your site has the right “on-page” SEO characteristics. For companies with large catalogs, it is possible to make SEO keywords part of the product database. That way, keywords flow automatically from product data records right into the ecommerce site. This saves a great deal of work and avoids needless errors.
5) Align ecommerce with the sales team and channel partners
Selling products directly online can cause trouble for the sales team, whose members may feel the site is encroaching on their territories. It may also disrupt relationships with distributors, who might similarly worry that the ecommerce site represents an end run around their businesses. Both issues can be resolved, but there has to be a plan in place and clear communications. For example, you might make certain products available on the site and others only available through the channel. The ecommerce site could also track and pay commissions to salespeople. That way, it works in their favor. Or, the site could be seen as a lead generation tool, with new accounts being assigned to sales reps, and so forth.
6) Show all prices
Don’t be mysterious about pricing. If you can’t express pricing clearly on a site, that’s a sign that you may not be ready for ecommerce.
7) Stay connected with customers
Ecommerce sites are great for gathering valuable contact data for customers. Integrate your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution with your ecommerce. You can learn people’s names, postal addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, job titles and so forth. This rich data can be useful for communications and establishing long-term, trust-based relationships.
Some of the items on this checklist rely on having a powerful underlying manufacturing and operations management platform. We have worked with companies that connect their ERP systems to their ecommerce front ends. If you want to learn more about how we can guide your business on this process, let’s talk.