How B2B Manufacturers Will Build Momentum in 2021

January 12, 2021 Team Zilliant

What happens when “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” runs headlong into “Necessity is the mother of invention?” The manufacturing industry showed us in 2020 that the latter wins out in this battle of aphorisms. Rarely have we seen a time in which the stuck-in-its-ways manufacturing sector transformed on a dime the way it did last year. When a once-in-a-century pandemic disruption shuttered factories, took trucks off the road and sent many workers to their home offices, businesses found a way to adapt as best they could. A major mid-year dip in output amid a global recession cratered 2020’s growth expectations, but many manufacturers are feeling optimistic about what lies ahead in 2021. 

To that end, we’ve curated 2021 predictions from some of the most trusted voices in the industry and added our own takes below. 

Today, a customer-centric experience is no longer nice-to-have, it’s an expectation in B2C. But when it comes to B2B, most businesses are still light years behind their B2C counterparts. We live in an experience-focused economy, which means as B2B leaders, we can’t force buyers to change their behavior to meet our solution. It just won’t happen. Instead, as we head into the year ahead, we must conform our solutions to give customers what they want when they need it in order to succeed. As expectations evolve, our solutions must be lean and agile so we continue to meet customers where they are and provide the best customer experience. 

Zilliant’s take: To echo our 2021 distribution outlook, we envision that by the end of 2021 the B2B eCommerce experience will mirror that of B2C in the sense that companies will be able to deliver the real-time pricing, product and sales experience their customers expect, with all the nuance of the dynamic, highly-negotiated B2B market taken into consideration. Whether selling direct to consumer or through distribution, the buyer expectation simply dictates this level of experience. It’s a new age, and distribution fulfillment teams want the same level of service they get when buying goods for themselves on B2C sites. While B2B manufacturers are certainly behind the curve compared to their B2C counterparts, the software needed to catch up with respect to eCommerce has vastly improved and can be adopted quickly once you’re ready to reimagine your business. 

In recent years, many manufacturers have opted to transition from a traditional business-to-business (B2B) model to a business-to-consumer (B2C) model. The B2C model boasts a number of appealing benefits, including: 

- Increased Profits: Companies can get the full manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) rather than wholesale prices for their products.

- Price Control: Manufacturers have the opportunity to reinforce their MSRP.

- Better Customer Data: Selling directly to consumers enables manufacturers to collect customer data that can ultimately result in better products, stronger relationships, and increased sales.

To effectively sell direct to consumers you’ll need to select a platform for your eCommerce operations that supports both your B2B and B2C sales platforms. It will have to deliver on order fulfillment and tracking, secure payments, customer service management, and sales and marketing activity tracking while providing a 360° view of all your B2B and B2C customer interactions. 

Zilliant’s take: As more manufacturers enter the world of B2C eCommerce, they’ll quickly run into a conundrum if they don’t have their pricing ducks in a row. To put it plainly, the speed of online commerce will quickly outpace any old-school, manual pricing processes. Don’t bring a spreadsheet to a digital fight. In order to avoid building a slick commerce site filled with misaligned prices, it’s necessary to invest in tools with dynamic pricing capabilities.  

The opportunity presented by direct eCommerce channels is massive. In order to capture it, visionary B2B leaders must deliver Real-Time Market Pricing. Powered by price optimization and management software working in conjunction with your eCommerce platform, Real-Time Market Pricing means always presenting relevant market-aligned prices online, while differentiating prices to honor existing customer relationships.  

This intelligent approach also harnesses that valuable eCommerce customer data. For example, you can utilize online-specific data like page views, conversions, cart abandonment and inventory availability to set multiple discounting strategies for eCommerce prices. If you’re showing high inventory and page views with low conversion, it’s a pretty clear indicator that your price is too high.  

Deloitte 

Across all these varied experiences, there is a common thread: the difficulty in forecasting in the current environment. This can be seen by the number of companies who have publicly stopped issuing guidance over the past several quarters. One could argue that the disruption brought on by the pandemic is unprecedented, and in some ways, it is unlike other past disruptions. However, it is possible that disruption could become a 'predictable' part of the business environment, even if the source of that disruption is unpredictable. For manufacturers, the events of 2020 may be a warning to develop better systems for navigating disruptions like the one we are currently experiencing. Visibility is likely to become the most critical capability for manufacturers in the coming months. 

Zilliant’s take: Forecasting can often feel like a fool’s errand, as 2020 harshly demonstrated. Manufacturers, especially those that depend on raw materials to build their products, must rely heavily on cost forecasting, however. We agree with Deloitte that 2020 made stark the need for better systems to navigate the future disruptions that are sure to come. We work with manufacturers that closely monitor metals indices to decide when and how much copper or steel to buy in order to be ready to deliver jobs that are months out. Both cost and price prediction have become more reliable with data science-driven tools. They give manufacturers of all stripes the power to make better decisions, effectively lowering their annual costs basis and avoiding the winner’s remorse of a financially doomed project. 

But economic uncertainty aside, the unprecedented supply chain disruptions of the year are a blessing in disguise for manufacturers, as they encouraged the often-stagnant industry to move faster and become more resilient than ever before. If there were a year to push the industry forward towards progress, this was it.  

Zilliant’s take: This sentiment was echoed by Zilliant CEO Greg Peters toward the end of Q4: Companies can’t stick to the status quo. If you are still approaching pricing and sales in the same way you were 10 years ago or even three years ago, it’s time to revisit it. Companies need to embrace digital transformation. eCommerce is here to stay. AI is here to stay. Organizations that make the smartest use of the data they collect in the course of doing business are the ones poised to come out on topThe pandemic is making permanent shifts in B2B sales and commerce activities. Every company needs to evaluate and act to ensure their future success. Every day, week, month that goes by is a missed opportunity to realize higher margins and grow revenue. It’s the companies that invest during challenging economic times who fare better in the long run. 

Increasingly, sales operations teams are being expanded into revenue operations to support integrations points between marketing, sales and service. Many departments are moving into advanced analytics and consultative support, areas that traditionally sit in marketing. Approximately half of study respondents see “cross-functional collaboration” as a leading challenge for revenue operations teams. Formalized sales/revenue operations can drive efficiency and productivity as the level of complexity in commercial models increases and enablement tools proliferate.  

Zilliant’s take: We firmly believe that sales ops are the unsung heroes of B2B sales organizations and will only grow in influence as the relentless pace of available data increases. These teams are under tremendous pressure to reduce friction in the sales process, build and track KPIs, ensure the success of sales tool investments and hold reps accountable to corporate sales strategies. We built our newest product, Campaign Manager, largely with the sales ops role in mind. The application ensures simple cross-functional communication and translates targeted sales strategies into action, including Win-Back, Whitespace/Prospecting, Inventory, Customer-Specific Product Promotions, and more.  

Happy New Year! Stay tuned to the Zilliant blog throughout 2021 to stay ahead of the game. You can also contact us any time.  

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