A B2B purchase is more common than not, far more complex and custom than a typical B2C purchase. This is one of the many reasons why B2B companies have been slow to adopt eCommerce in comparison to their B2C counterpart, this is especially true for manufacturers.
Purchases are commonly custom and require altercations to standard products or made under precise specifications. For this reason, many manufacturers have completely abandoned the idea of selling online, as it usually cannot meet the requirements of the B2B purchase complexity.
Kevin Colletti, CEO of Solidify, was quick to notice the pain points that were holding manufacturers back from an online sales method and set out to create a digital solution that could streamline the complex ordering workflows of a manufacturer.
We caught up with Kevin to get the story behind the revolutionary eCommerce for manufacturers solution, Solidify.
What positions did you hold before starting Solidify?
Prior to joining Solidify, I was the Head of eBusiness Operations at ING Financial Services for the US. At ING, I worked with diverse business units in the US and globally, uncovering opportunities and developing and implementing strategies to further their online business goals.
On the agency side, I served as VP, Director of Interactive at one of the nation’s top marketing firms, and was also former President & CEO at a leading digital agency. There I was responsible for developing digital solutions for globally recognized brands including Amica, Humana, Konica Minolta, McDonald’s and UnitedHealthcare.
What were the pain points you saw in the market that made you want to create this solution?
A few things. As we started working with different manufacturers we kept hearing how difficult it was to find a vendor/solution that suited their complex business and sales process. There's a number of B2C e-commerce tools in the market (or hybrids of both B2B and B2C) but that B2C buying experience doesn’t translate 1:1 when applied to the more complex B2B world.
We had a lot of prospects and clients telling us about mishaps they had by using B2C platforms that cost them time, dollars and resources. We saw a real need to build online solutions specific to the complex B2B manufacturing world and their buyers.
Another important pain point was the ability to configure a part online. Most manufacturing company’s product lines are complex, typically requiring customers to request help from a sales rep or customer support person to accurately and successfully configure a part.
This might include phone calls, emails, drawings, or help from engineers to ensure the part could be ordered or custom made.
We can help alleviate all of these steps and save manufacturers time by providing their customers with self-service, user-friendly, intuitive and accurate rules-based product configurators. What used to take days now can take minutes to configure a part online with our solution.
Direct selling was also a big factor. It wasn’t really a ‘pain point’ factor per se but more of an opportunity. Meaning we saw the B2B manufacturing space as a fertile ground for those companies to begin to sell online / direct but there was less than 50% of the market doing it.
A lot of Manufacturers think their complex products are too hard to sell online but the issue is the platform they’re using or lack of a proper solution, not the complex products. With Generation X now being in more senior management roles in these organizations, the adoption of eCommerce is going to grow exponentially.
What do you believe are the biggest issues B2B companies have when moving online?
Simply put, companies don’t know where to start. Regardless of industry or product solutions, businesses all seem to face the same set of obstacles in getting started. One of Solidify’s strong points is helping B2B companies get started by creating roadmaps for their online initiatives.
We’ve been working B2B manufacturing companies for over 15 years so our engineers are quick to offer recommendations based on previous work we’ve done for similar companies who have been successful at evolving their online business.
Product data is always an issue.
Businesses have data all over the place, which is a common challenge when getting started. Whether the data is in a legacy system, spreadsheet, PDF, on a napkin or all of the above, we work with the client to get it organized and into one centralized location. Once this first step is done the possibilities to filter, categorize, search, display your data online are endless.
Channel conflict is a big concern we hear.
Companies worry that selling ‘direct’ online can negatively affect other channels. We always tell our clients to be sure to keep the conversations open internally and ensure all channels that your online business objectives are to make it easier for them to do business with you. ‘Online’ can help sell in the direct channel and can also be a sales-enabler for your sales team and channel partners.
A lot of times we’ll talk to the project champion at a company that is really onboard with moving their company forward online.
Unfortunately it’s not uncommon that an online initiative will get push-back internally. Reasons are typically surrounding “we’ve always done it this way” and “our internal processes can’t handle / support online selling”. Frankly this can be the biggest obstacle to moving online.
Thankfully there is now a lot of data to support the success of B2B manufacturers online. We take it as part of our responsibility to help arm the corporate champion with data necessary to help ‘sell’ the concept. Also, as mentioned earlier, the influx of Gen X (and Y) influence is helping to mitigate this objective a bit.
How do you feel your software disrupts the B2B sales process or compliments it?
You could say our software does both. We’re disrupting by changing the old-school way B2B manufacturers were previously doing business online; only having products available via a PDF catalog, using outdated or inaccurate product spec sheets, pushing customers to order via phone calls, email inquiry and handwritten quotes that took weeks to approve.
Our software compliments the B2B sales process by making the entire buying and selling process easier, faster and better. B2B buyers expect a lot more than B2C buyers when it comes to e-commerce. These are business-minded people who are juggling multiple tasks in their work day.
You have to make it easier for them to do business with you or you’ll lose them. And the crucial factor in e-commerce is really how well you allow these customers to quickly find and buy the exact product they need, when they need it, and on their device of choice.
We designed our software to have a lot of the familiarities of the B2C shopping world but we’ve translated them to B2B buyers needs.
For instance, our behavior-based engine that shows users their Recently Viewed items, related items, and suggestions like “customers also viewed”, for cross-sell and up-sell opportunities. Not to mention our side-by-side comparison tool that allows the user to compare manufacturing products just like they would do with a Big Screen TV on BestBuy.com
We focus on the manufacturing sector whose products and process are highly complex and also highly customizable. We’ve simplified the front-end of our solutions by providing users with a familiar B2C type experience with an intuitive, guided discovery process. The back end of the software does the real heavy lifting with rules and logic in place to serve as checks and balances to keep things running smoothly and error free.
What would you recommend to B2B companies just now starting to move to an online store?
Start with a win and build from there. It can be overwhelming if you take on more than you can handle with your first e-commerce initiative. It's a challenge to build an online presence and create a new sales channel. You need to get different departments involved while focusing on different aspects of your business all at once which can really complicate things. The first initiative paves the way for the future so get a success under your belt.
This is something we recommend to clients all the time. A phased approach is an easy way for them to get a quick win before adding more to the project scope. For example, some of our clients build up to e-commerce by starting first with making their products available online via our interactive product catalog or configurator with an RFQ option. Then they may turn on e-commerce once they have their internal team, sales and channel partners ready for it. Other clients have started with product configurators for internal use only, then make them public-facing, adding e-commerce functionality. The great thing is that our products are all modular so you can easily add functions when the business is ready.
Our software also collects data on user-statistics to help our clients better understand their buyers. Our customers can analyze and present this data to help launch further online initiatives or change strategy based on findings.
Solidify Inc., is a cloud-based software company that helps B2B manufacturers do more business online through their suite of e-business solutions. Offering both self-service and sales enablement software, Solidify help’s manufacturers succeed in today’s competitive environment. Solidify’s self-service offerings include product catalogs, configurators and eCommerce solutions to help users configure complex parts and send RFQs or buy directly over the internet. Solidify’s sales-enablement software makes it easier for sales and channel partners to do business with customers by utilizing CPQ, a system for more accurate and timely quoting and Sales Portal, a tool for tracking order status, inventory and pricing post-sale.
Topics: Disrupting B2B