What Manufacturers Should Know About Navigating the COVID-19 Sales Landscape in 2021
Many small and medium-sized manufacturers were underprepared for the changes they faced since the coronavirus pandemic upended the way we live our lives and conduct our business, with long lasting impacts to the global supply chain, service, tourism, retail and manufacturing sectors. As physical locations shuttered in the face of stay-at-home orders, businesses found novel ways to stay operational — and online ordering, delivery and curbside services skyrocketed nearly overnight. When it came to manufacturing, the largest enterprises were best positioned to make the pivot to remote sales, as most had already invested considerably in their e-commerce capabilities. But even today, some smaller and medium sized manufacturers are still finding themselves playing catch up.
According to a survey of manufacturing businesses by DigitalCommerce360, COVID-19 quickened the pace of e-commerce adoption for many B2B manufacturing businesses, with 98% of manufacturers reporting they have established or have a plan for establishing a digital commerce sales channel. However, 81% of those same manufacturers are reporting challenges with their current e-commerce strategy. And since most sales reps within manufacturing are relationship builders, not e-commerce or IT experts, the fear of technology (and outside IT and integration costs) remains a real roadblock for manufacturers when it comes to progressing their digital evolution.
So what should manufacturers know about navigating the changing COVID-19 landscape in 2021?
Remote B2B sales are still going (and growing).
The manufacturing landscape was already in a period of transformation before covid, and in the aftermath of the pandemic many of the challenges that were already changing the traditional sales model have intensified: high operational costs, lost revenues, shrinking retail square footage, lagging investment in enablement and integration, and a shift to e-commerce.
For small to midsize manufacturers, the transition to selling remotely had been coming for several years, as e-commerce was already becoming the preferred online sales channel for B2B buyers, driving higher revenues, and helping to meet customer demand and increase overall satisfaction.
B2B sales have always been a largely in-person business; a business of contact and contacts. It’s also a business that comes with more than its fair share of time-consuming admin: from calculating commissions to filing expense reports to manually processing orders. In the face of the pandemic, long-held business models were thrown a curveball. But since then, the strength and enduring popularity of e-commerce and remote sales have been proven time and again. According to McKinsey, in 2021 ⅔ of B2B buyers still prefer digital self service or remote interactions to face-to-face. Today the staying power of B2B e-commerce doesn’t mean a total elimination of the distributor or retailer, it instead represents an opportunity for a more flexible sales approach which gives manufacturers the freedom to experiment with what channel works best for their customers and the ability to adjust their selling strategy accordingly.
Speed to market matters.
Today, manufacturers need solutions that can be implemented and scaled quickly. For many manufacturers, lack of in-house IT resources and e-commerce expertise can hold them back from rapidly scaling their business, putting them at a real disadvantage in 2021’s fast-paced sales landscape. Finding a commerce platform that can help you reduce time spent with product onboarding and training can help boost your productivity and improve your speed to market.
Increasing visibility within your supply chain is critical.
A recent Deloitte report pinpointed the importance of visibility when it comes to avoiding production disruptions and shut downs, particularly the role digital technologies can play when it comes to sharing real-time data across the many different stages of your supply chain. Investing in a digital ecosystem that helps streamline and unify your sales partners will help manufacturers build a more resilient, efficient and agile business.
Cloud-based commerce solutions are a solid investment in your sales future.
To be competitive today as a small to midsize manufacturer or rep agency you need to have a commerce platform that solves your day-to-day business problems: whether that’s selling through your inventory, understanding top sellers in different categories, or managing your back office and sales. A cloud-based SaaS unified commerce solution, Aleran presents a unique opportunity for manufacturers looking to survive and thrive in a post-COVID sales landscape. The platform was built expressly for the sales agency, sales rep and manufacturer/vendor, which means it automates, simplifies and streamlines the time-consuming back office tasks that form the heart and soul of their sales and order management. Cloud-based means users can access these tools from virtually anywhere with an Internet connection, whether they’re working from home on a desktop or taking orders in the field, and there’s also no downtime. In stark contrast to other platforms, Aleran gets its users up and running in minutes (versus days, weeks or even months), so they can get on with the business of selling. Finally, the platform is price-sensitive and purchased as a monthly subscription service, which means no costly IT integrations or lengthy service contracts to contend with.
The Aleran Unified Commerce Platform includes a suite of solutions, from sales order management for automating ordering and fulfillment; to a vendor management tool for manufacturers to connect to their ERP and gain visibility with their channel partners; to revenue intelligence for real-time measurement and reporting; to B2B and B2C e-commerce builders and patented, shoppable catalog transformation technology that will have you creating custom websites in minutes. The Aleran platform also includes merchant services, which guarantee PCI compliance and save manufacturers in credit card processing costs. All in all, each part of the platform is designed to give sales agencies, reps and manufacturers/vendors exactly the tools they need to adapt and thrive in today’s fast moving, remote sales landscape.
The road ahead
A rapidly changing sales landscape in a post-COVID world doesn’t have to mean bad news for sales agencies, reps or manufacturers. Change presents an opportunity for innovation. As reps learn to combine their relationship building abilities with the right software or technology partner, a new kind of selling is possible: one that leverages strong personal connections with the convenience, cost-savings and customer-centric possibilities of cloud-based technology. Manufacturers searching for the way forward should be looking carefully at their business operations and relationships and thinking about how they can maximize assets and create new efficiencies with the right technology partner. Because right now, all roads lead to a digital-first future.