For decades, industries like chemical manufacturing primarily grew their businesses through conventions, conferences, and one-on-one sales. But the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. Not only did it force nearly everyone to work remotely - even if their role was not suited for remote work - it also accelerated digital buying patterns. That acceleration brought about a rapid change in consumer expectations: now buyers want a premium digital buying experience in every industry, not just retail. Here’s how chemical manufacturers can navigate the problem and easily adapt to this new reality.
The COVID shift
Overnight, the world canceled conferences and stopped meeting in person. According to a McKinsey and Company study, almost 90% of sales shifted from in-person to videoconferencing, phone, and web-based sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, more than half of people say these remote sales models are as effective - or more effective - than sales models used pre-COVID. While some didn’t like remote sales, the report stated that “for every respondent who cited [remote sales] as “less effective,” there was another who thought it was equally or more effective.”
Sellers started to prefer remote sales because they found it more efficient. But buyers loved the convenience of digital sales channels, including:
The shift was not just moving to remote, but the acceleration in quality and offering of digital buying experiences. Brands of all kinds - B2B, B2C, and Direct to Consumer - thought up novel digital buying experiences to keep customers engaged when they could no longer create a spectacle in person. And people liked it.
Further, buyers stopped differentiating between different types of experiences. The easy personal experience someone had on Amazon buying books or patio furniture became the experience they demanded from their B2B buying process at work. With technology making it relatively easy to build digital sales channels, consumers demanded high quality across the board. This of course didn’t take into account the challenges that many B2B brands have with complex supply chains, but consumer demands rarely understand the nuance companies have to navigate.
“A global chemical producer saw 95% of their customers transition to digital buying channels - and noticed higher traffic to their branded sales portal than to their company website”
Despite the complication for some brands, having an effective digital experience is now an influence in buying decisions. Post-pandemic, the B2B buying world will be majority (73%) millennials, who expect digital sales channels. These buyers are also willing to privilege companies that deliver a good digital experience: McKinsey research found that companies with an ‘outstanding digital experience’ have a 2x increased likelihood of being chosen as a buyer’s preferred supplier.
The chemical industry is not exempt from this drastic shift to digital. B2B buyers in the chemical space demand the same quality of digital experience as other buyers, meaning chemical manufacturers need to move quickly. As discussed in our previous blog Marketplace vs. Commerce Platform - What’s the difference? there are many options out there, and finding the right one for your business is critical in 2022.
The top pain points cited by B2B buyers - wanting to place orders, download documents, and order samples - can be addressed when customers have their own branded online portal. Further, research and support functions - price transparency, stock transparency, and tracking orders once they are made - are functions that a branded online portal can provide.
Image source: McKinsey and Company
When buyers look to buy chemicals online, they want easy access to all the relevant product information. From there, they want to learn more about the company and reach out to a salesperson if they have additional questions.
The chemical industry has a lot of regulations and compliance hoops to jump through, so a fully digital buying experience may not be feasible. However, a digitally native experience means that customers have access to all the information they need from a research standpoint, but they can easily interact with a human at necessary points. This can be done by chat, phone, videoconference, or even booking an in-person meeting for specific cases.
“One global chemical producer saw 60% of their customers increase repeat purchasing because digital sales channels made re-buying easy.”
Once someone is a trusted and paying customer, chemical manufacturers need to make it easy for them to reorder, buy more, or get in touch for support. A branded online portal builds this functionality from day one since you get visibility across the entire customer lifecycle from lead to reorder.
One Agilis customer - a global chemical producer - noticed these benefits almost immediately. The company saw a significant increase in user traffic on their branded portal on Agilis compared to their own website. Over 95% of their customers converted to digital channels and 60% of their customers increased repeat purchases through the portal thanks to ease of doing business via digital portal.
Delivering a high-quality digital buying experience does not mean eliminating humans from the process. If anything, with the abundance of information available online, experienced people working behind the scenes become more important than ever.
Customers want the convenience that digital can provide, but when they have complex questions, they want to talk to a human. Chemical manufacturers have a unique opportunity to build great digital experiences with a branded online portal, but they need to build easy human connections to facilitate sales, support, and ongoing relationship management.
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