By Jonathan Whiteside, Principal Technology Consultant,Dept Agency
Face-to-face meetings between buyers and suppliers have always been central to building an ongoing relationship in the B2B world. Both parties benefit from the personal touch and the ease of airing out any queries and sorting potential issues. With the coronavirus pandemic cancelling every booked face-to-face for the foreseeable future, buyers are now looking for a digital solution to the challenge.
At the same time, disruption to factory production has broken links in the global supply chain, creating the added challenge of buyers potentially needing to source new suppliers who are able to deliver. If lockdown measures have limited production or forced the temporary closure of a factory, these potential buyers need to be able to quickly find the solution that your business is offering.
Supply chain disruption, combined with the difficulty of running in-person meetings, means the manufacturing sector must consider alternative options. McKinsey’s recent ‘Global B2B decision-maker response to COVID-19 crisis’ survey covered what B2B decision-makers are looking for when researching suppliers, tracking the importance of different digital features in this new marketplace. The survey looked at the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, China, India, South Korea, Brazil and the US, and found that across the board, there’s an increase in demand for digital self-serve options that empower buyers to find their solution.
Onsite Search is a Priority
Across all surveyed countries, when asked “what ways of interacting with a supplier would be most beneficial to you when researching/considering suppliers going forward?”, the most popular choice was onsite search. Can a buyer visit the company website, search for the product they are looking for, easily find more information, and process their order?
It’s important to consider this in terms of the purchase journey. Onsite search often comes early on; a quick guarantee that this company can supply the product they need. After the first point of contact, whether it’s a call, email, piece of direct mail or a self-initiated Google search or referral, the company website becomes the most important reference point, always answering questions that a potential customer may have.
For this reason, every manufacturer and supplier needs to ensure there is a search option onsite and that existing product and information pages are up-to-date with relevant information. Your CMS or commerce platform may provide a simple search feature to add to the site, but optimising the content for search requires a little more work.
From a UX perspective, a visible and well-defined search bar will make it quick and easy for anyone to find products and information. This will result in fewer clicks and less time spent on the homepage. A faceted search will enhance the general search, enabling users to narrow down their search to a category, price, product options and custom fields. All of this will improve the customer experience and help customers find what they’re looking for, quickly and easily.
Having a well optimised on-site search also has the added benefit of providing further insight into what buyers are looking for and what the roadblocks to purchase are. This information is gold dust; it either shows demand, or it shows opportunity. For example, a product selling at a fairly low rate could actually be getting high search volume, indicating a potential opportunity for the business to push this product to the fore.
These search stats and insights can also inform your business of developing trends in terms of customer demand or common difficulties. While there is nothing better than speaking one-to-one with a client about the challenges they are facing in the coming weeks, months and years, having clients visit your site and type their challenges into the search bar is a close second. Use this to tool your sales team with information on what common challenges are driving discussion in the industry. It’s also useful in optimising the messaging of onsite copy and any marketing campaigns your business is running. Reviewing search logs can also guide your business on what is currently missing from your site.
The preference for onsite search shows two important points. The buying and research process is digital-first and driven by self-serve opportunities. This shows a drift towards on demand information, giving buyers the ability to research at their own pace. This is backed up by the second preference — live chat. Rather than scheduled phone calls or back and forth emails, buyers are opting for the on demand option, enabling them to engage with potential suppliers when it suits their schedule.
Improving the Customer Experience with Live Chat & Chatbots
A strong live chat system combines automated and staffed solutions. Like a customer service line, live chat conversations typically begin with a light automated opening that directs the visitor to the appropriate colleague for this conversation. Parts of this can be decided in the background, such as knowing which page the visitor is on and using this information to inform which representative joins the live chat.
The added bonus for companies implementing a live chat or chatbot feature on site comes through an extra customer services option; through a flow of automated responses, a chatbot can help current customers find a quick solution, taking the strain off of call lines.
When looking at the surveyed countries in Europe, there is a soft preference for sales rep led interactions, showing the importance of a personal touch, even in an increasingly digital market. Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK all name face-to-face meetings in their top three ways of interacting with suppliers; a major challenge during the lockdown period.
The clear lockdown replacement is video calling. What is often ignored is the idea of availability. It’s generally understood that if a buyer wants to call a supplier, they can pick up the phone and dial a number listed on the site. The culture does not yet exist around video calling, meaning companies need to make it clear that their sales reps are ready for video calls should a buyer want to talk face-to-face.
Update your site design with information about video calling as an option, and speak about it in your outreach and marketing. Proactive options include video consultancy sessions, organised on a one-to-one basis or a gated livestream, available to viewers that sign up. This broadcasts the point that your business offers video conferencing to current and potential clients that are still interested in face-to-face discussions. With sales reps working from home, keeping the CRM system up to date with information from these video calls is a top priority.
Looking across to the APAC region, Brazil and the US, digital self-serve options fill the priority touchpoints for buyers, from apps to websites to social media. Knowing that these regions prioritise digital and self-serve is useful for suppliers and manufacturers in Europe that sell internationally.
Increasing Agility with Headless
If you operate internationally, the already complex task of managing localisation is currently heightened, given the varying level of Covid-19 restraints in your operating markets. To speed up the delivery of localised messaging, content and microsites, you can consider moving to a headless technical architecture for your content management.
A regular CMS connects a single front end (the sales channel that a customer interacts with), to a single back end (the operational side that processes payment and data and keeps the channel running). In this setup, changes to the front end must be reflected in the back end. This creates a fair amount of work if a company is running multiple websites, an app, or mobile-specific sites, as any updates must be repeated across each sales channel. A headless CMS connects each front end into a single back end. This means edits can be made to the front end without requiring a constant update to the back end. Launching new sites or creating an app for these new markets is a much more agile process with a headless architecture. For more of a deep dive into the benefits of headless and when to consider it, check out our recent webinar, ‘Moving with speed and agility with headless systems.’
It’s important to remember that this shift has been accelerated by the Covid-19 crisis, rather than being caused by it. The drift towards digital and self-serve options in the B2B space is part of a industry-wide move to online and on-demand that’s been building momentum over the past couple of years. Reorienting your operations to be more digital ensures relevance during the pandemic, but also provides a platform for the company to stay at the forefront of how buyer and supplier relationships function.
Each adjustment the business makes now should factor in the multi-year strategy for the business, an initial change that leads to a much wider digital transformation. Now is the perfect time to review your digital roadmap and accelerate the digitalisation plans that will make the biggest impact as we enter a period of recovery.
FIVE REASONS WHY YOUR BUSINESS’ PROCUREMENT TEAM SHOULD BE USING A CONTRACT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
By Daniel Ball, business development director at Wax Digital
Even in today’s digital-first environment some businesses are still storing documents, such as contracts, in filing cabinets making it labour intensive to retrieve, manage and even identify important paperwork. In fact, it is calculated that poor contract management practices are costing companies an average of nine percent of their annual revenues.
Moving to a contract management system online can speed up the retrieval process and help decrease the amount of time and resources required to manage contracts. Using a CMS companies can create an online database to centralise information and store documents. Not only does this help ensure contracts are well managed and kept up-to-date, but it can also help businesses save up to 20 percent of overall costs per year.
From legal departments overseeing regulation compliance to finance teams ensuring payment deadlines are met, contract management technology benefits many areas of an organisation. So, how can a good CMS help your procurement team?
How will a good CMS help your procurement team?
The number of suppliers your procurement team must oversee varies depending on the size of your business. It’s not uncommon for large enterprises to be working with thousands of suppliers at one time. A CMS will use automation to record, manage and streamline data, providing procurement teams with important contract details including time and location information, as well as real time alerts such as contract breaches.
Here are five reasons why your business should be using an online contract management platform:
- Increased spend visibility
Using a CMS can give procurement professionals full visibility of suppliers, including the company name and location of where a product is coming from and in what quantity. This transparency will also help contribute to the risk management strategy of your business as it enables you to spot vendors who may be prone to environmental, economic and political uncertainty. In the current environment, for example, suppliers’ may have decreased or ceased production due to COVID-19 or could have been heavily impacted by the negative price of oil, making visibility increasingly important for businesses.
- Eliminates maverick spend
Centralising and streamlining contract documents will ensure that buyers can instantly access up-to-date information to see if a contract already exists. This helps buyers avoid simple and common mistakes that often occur when using manual filing systems, such as onboarding new vendors when existing agreements are in place with another supplier.
- Keeps track of contract renewals
It’s easy to forget about contract renewals or sign up for another term without ending an existing agreement, especially when using a traditional filing system. Businesses using an online CMS can set up renewal alerts in advance, allowing buyers sufficient time to source new vendors or negotiate better prices.
- Improves spend management
A centralised database means that all negotiated prices, contract conditions and other important transactions can be accessed in one place, making it easier to analyse spend. A CMS can help identify discrepancies, find where contract violations have occurred and deal with any associated problems.
- Adhering to regulatory and legislative compliance
It’s important to ensure that all suppliers are meeting the terms of their contracts. A CMS will automatically audit supplier information, meaning that any failures are immediately raised to procurement teams. The platform will also provide notifications if any new data is required or updates need to be made, avoiding potential legal issues.
It’s clear that using an online CMS will benefit your business and procurement teams by increasing spend visibility, enabling access to up to date information, ensuring contracts are closely monitored while contributing to the reduction of unnecessary spend. So, now’s the time to stop relying on those dusty old filing cabinets and start using a CMS.
PROTECTING YOURSELF AGAINST A RECESSION
James Turner, Director at Turner Little
The coronavirus outbreak has spread to businesses, leaving many around the world counting costs. Notoriously, known as the Great Lockdown, it’s been affecting the world economy since early this year. The predicted recession is considered to be the steepest economic downturn since the Great Depression.
So, what does that mean for you? James Turner, Director at company formation specialists, Turner Little, suggests “While there’s no fool proof way to ‘recession-proof’ your finances, establishing a solid base now will put you in a better position to weather the storm.”
“Whilst the future of the global economic landscape is simply too complex to predict, it’s not hard to spot imbalances that have built up, as central banks and governments around the world talk about introducing further fiscal stimulus and monetary expansion, the consequences could be significant,” adds James.
A good wealth management agent will recommend starting by saving a substantial cash emergency fund in a high-yield savings account, understanding your spending habits and where you could cut back if you needed to, and establishing your long-term investing strategy now, so you can stick to it.
If you were to solely invest based on the inevitability of a recession, you are likely to miss returns that are immediately available. If you truly want to recession-proof your assets, the best thing to do is develop a long-term strategy and invest wisely.
Diversification still matters
It’s dangerous to pile all your investments into a single sector, including consumer staples. Diversification is especially important during a recession when particular companies and industries can get hammered. Creating a diversified portfolio of assets blended across asset classes—such as fixed income and commodities, in addition to equities, sectors, geographies and strategies—can also act as a check on portfolio losses.
Build a reserve
To keep your money protected before, during and after a recession, it’s recommended to have an income generation conversation with a financial advisor. This will cover a lot of different topics, but one of the most important is the emergency fund. You’ve likely heard many times that it’s good to have between three and six months’ worth of living expenses set aside in the event of a job loss, health crisis, or other unforeseen circumstance.
Protect your assets
If you’re interested in talking about protecting your assets and your investment portfolio, do get in touch. We specialise in creating bespoke solutions for individuals and businesses of all sizes. The knowledge and expertise of our specialists will be able to assist with any enquires, no matter how complex.
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