Products are no longer purchased, but rented, leased or shared. Machine engineers and distributors have already understood this. According to a 2018 Capgemini survey, 72 percent of manufacturers expect to sell not only products but also services in the future.
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Communicating with customers burns money. Sales and support staff is often burdened with recurring routine tasks: taking orders, sending out documents and invoices, and locating user guides and data sheets. These processes are costly, time-consuming, prone to human error, and occur throughout the customer life cycle: from customer acquisition, sale, and customer onboarding through to support and after-sales service. As products and services become more complex, these costs will inevitably rise.
Using the B2B self-service tools in the digital customer portal, customers can access information and documents whenever they want. This frees up staff in sales and service roles and reduces errors. Another plus point is that by using the portal to support and simplify core sales tasks—such as negotiation, fulfillment, invoicing, reporting, and master data management (e.g., customers, products, price lists)—vendors can reduce the cost per customer contact and let sales staff focus on what matters most: adding real value for customers.
Services play a crucial role in driving customer satisfaction. Most B2B customers have grown up in a digital world and expect the same service experience and usability they are accustomed to as B2C consumers. Every day, buyers use online portals offering tailored services that make their lives easier. They go shopping on Amazon, receive personalized recommendations on Netflix, and manage their insurance policies via service portals. These experiences create the expectations that B2B customers bring to the workplace.
What’s more, this trend will be even more pronounced from 2020 onwards, when the majority of B2B buyers will be “digital natives”—who are even more digitally savvy and demanding.
A digital customer portal also improves efficiency by using up-to-date customer data to create personalized and perfectly timed offers. While the customer is free to manage their own data, the vendor can tailor cross-selling and upselling offers that increase sales and customer loyalty. These offers are particularly effective if they add specific value for the customer—which solves two problems at once. For example, easy-to-manage offers, such as add-on insurance, not only generate additional revenue, they also make it more feasible to carry low-margin products.
According to the Forrester report Online and Mobile Are Transforming B2B Commerce, 54% of the 353 companies surveyed are more successful in reaching customers when they use a digital solution to market services. And if related products and services are clearly presented:
Products are becoming increasingly digitized and also collecting data as part of the Internet of Things. This data can be used within a digital portal to allow customers to improve their operations and vendors to understand their customers. Vendors who recognize their customers’ needs can create tailored digital products that offer genuine added value. They also have an active means of differentiating themselves from their competitors.
A digital customer portal is the ideal platform for diverse digital services that have the potential to create new value, e.g.: