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B2B Experts Share Key Drivers to Support Digital Commerce Buy-in and Bring ROI

Today’s B2B buying process is now digitized, and the proof is in the latest industry statistics. With 90% of B2B buyers currently using online search to research products and 55% expected to make at least half of their work purchases online by 2020, a digital commerce channel is essential to survival.

To help B2B professionals understand the impact of a digital presence and, more importantly, learn how to justify and support a return on their investment, Unilog hosted an exclusive online webinar featuring two industry authorities: eCommerce expert and author Brian Beck, and Michael Eichinger, COO of Bay Fastening Systems, a mid-market industrial supply company that has taken digital commerce by storm. Together, they broke down the key drivers for ROI, and reinforced the efficacy of digital commerce by highlighting case study examples and Bay Fastening’s own eCommerce achievements.

Justifying the Investment in Digital Commerce - a Unilog Webinar Recording - YouTube

B2B buyers are driving suppliers to a digital experience

In an age when people are forced to do more with less, employees are looking for ways to work smarter, not harder. It’s not a surprise, then, that Forrester Research found the top two reasons B2B professionals make purchases online versus offline are convenience and speed. In fact, Beck explained, a faster, more convenient way to shop trumped a lower price shopping experience. “Buyers are putting more priority on making their jobs easier than getting the lowest price,” he said. “That’s a really important takeaway because if you can make the buyers’ job easier and faster, they are going to order from you more often.”

For those businesses worried that an eCommerce site will impact their traditional sales model, Eichinger said traditional sales won’t go away, but there will be a bit of a trade-off. When Baysupply.com – the eCommerce site Bay Fastening implemented with Unilog in 2014 – went live, they saw a shift from traditional sales to digital sales as more customers started buying online. But, as their transition to digital continued, they noticed their digital channel was also feeding into their traditional sales. They acquired new customers in people who found them online but wanted to do business in a traditional fashion through a representative. “What started out as a bit of a trade-off actually turned into growth in both sales sectors and, as a result, we’re trending towards 125% of our entire sales revenue since we started our digital transformation,” said Eichinger.

Beck stressed to webinar attendees that digital commerce does not replace account management; it only enhances its effectiveness. A self-service site with a customer portal, up-to-date product information and pricing, and multiple transactional methods opens the doors to greater opportunities for sales staff to:

  • Focus on building customer relationships and new customer acquisition
  • Develop more strategic goals for greater sales impact
  • Profitably service smaller customers that they normally can’t get to
  • Spend more time on complicated selling activities

Consider an eCommerce site as an incremental addition to your sales channels; it provides more convenience for your customers, and allows sales staff to better serve them. These efficiencies and benefits translate to tangible ROI for your company.

Three core elements of digital commerce ROI

Many B2B professionals find themselves in the same boat. They realize the importance of a digital commerce presence, but don’t know how to build a proper business case and provide anticipated ROI to their leadership team. Beck explained that successful ROI models for B2B eCommerce are built around increased revenue, increased profit, and organizational efficiency. Ultimately, he said these returns – which he refers to as lift, shift, and enablement – lead to higher enterprise valuation. He added, “What that means is your owners will be happy because the business is worth more. So whether you’re public or private, that’s a good outcome.”

Beck and Eichinger delved into these three ROI elements, providing solid use case examples and actionable tips for attendees. Here are just a few nuggets they shared:

  1. Increased sales (lift)

    There are multiple ways you can build sales through eCommerce. When you make a buyer’s job more efficient, the opportunity for reorders increases, as does the average ticket price. Digital commerce allows you to expose more of your catalog to a wider audience and new markets, so invest in digital marketing, SEO, and selling in additional marketplaces like Amazon Business to build visibility and incremental revenue. Eichinger said they developed a strong SEO strategy for their website, which has helped them rank high in online search results, and acquire 25 to 35 new customers every week. “Our quality content is driving everything for us; it drives Amazon, it drives Google, it drives our customers,” said Eichinger. “We think of our website as our ultimate salesman in the electronic space.”

  2. Higher profits (shift)

    Another way to increase ROI is by shifting routine transactions to more efficient channels. As Beck relayed from Forrester’s study, customers are willing to pay a premium for convenience. Self-service shopping is an important option for buyers, especially for reorders and quick purchases. When you shift more buyers to transact on your eCommerce site, not only will you experience a higher gross margin from your website, but you’ll also see increased overall revenue at a higher profit margin. For Bay Fastening, their site helped them double their business, and the ROI from their digital sales gave them the resources to invest in other areas of their business.

  3. Organizational efficiencies (enablement)

    Self-service is a great way to improve the customer experience and grow digital sales, but it also drives a number of internal efficiencies. When your customers have the ability to manage their standard service-related needs on your website, it frees up your resources to focus on higher-value work. Beck said organizations can expect efficiencies across many different functions in the organization – from sales and marketing to customer support and fulfillment. Bay Fastening continues to experience major time and cost savings due to their self-service site, including 81% time savings in order entering, and an 83% reduction in warehouse order processing times.

Research and case studies unequivocally show a trend toward digital. According to Beck, selling online is a win-win proposition for everyone because it’s more cost-effective for distributors and manufacturers, and more convenient for buyers. He also stressed that the B2B professionals in buying roles today are younger, digital natives with higher expectations shaped by their experiences on retail sites. “These new buyers just want to get in, get their work done, and move on,” stated Beck. “That’s why digital transformation is necessary for you to survive as a business.”

Beck and Eichinger shared a lot more great insight during the hour-long webinar, including ways to gain executive buy-in, how to take a customer-centric approach, lessons learned during Bay Fastening’s digital journey, and the benefits of a B2B-specific eCommerce platform like Unilog’s.

If you missed this Unilog online event, you can click here to watch the webinar in its entirety.

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How One Distributors’ Small Team Entered and Conquered the Digital Marketing Arena

It can be difficult for B2B organizations to break from their traditional mold and adopt a new mindset. The old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” still resonates with many small to mid-sized distributors who feel they don’t need to attract new types of buyers, or provide more than what they think their customers need.

New York-based wholesale distributor Hill & Markes knew that outdated thinking would get them nowhere fast, so they chose to embrace an innovative spirit and explore new paths to help drive their future viability and success. The foodservice disposables, janitorial supplies, office supplies, and industrial packaging products distributor understood that as their customers’ needs changed, their company had to adjust to accommodate those needs. With their newly hired eCommerce Manager, Mike Powers, leading their initiative, Hill & Markes partnered with Unilog in 2015 to implement a complete overhaul of their eCommerce platform. When the new site went live in December 2016, it gave customers a more sophisticated way to shop online and provided an enhanced user experience complete with custom functionality, user-friendly features, and robust product content.

Through effective internal and external promotion, the distributor quickly experienced high website adoption rates, including a 60% increase in registered online users and a 65% increase in online orders within their first year. Hillnmarkes.com quickly became a beneficial sales tool for the company and opened the door to future marketing opportunities for them.

With their unique online offerings putting them ahead of the pack, the wholesale distributor decided to take advantage of their website by launching their first digital marketing campaign in 2017 to promote one of their suppliers, Clorox. Powers and his team marketed Clorox’s cleaning and disinfecting products, including their Total 360™ System, via their social networks, e-mail campaigns, and on their website for one month. The campaign results were astounding. Hill & Markes experienced a 14.7% increase in Clorox items sold and an impressive 72.0% growth in Clorox sales revenue. Powers admitted, “What we saw made us realize that we needed to completely rethink our marketing program from previous years.”

Soon after their successful beta test with Clorox products, the cleaning and janitorial distributor began approaching their larger suppliers to discuss digital marketing opportunities with them. Armed with the impressive results of their Clorox campaign, Powers and Digital Content Specialist Katie Bruno showed manufacturers that with the new Hill & Markes eCommerce site, they could showcase their products with call-to-action banner ads, promotional blog posts, product spotlight videos, dedicated landing pages, social media promotion, and more. “In many cases, we were the first distributor to come to them and discuss how we could leverage our digital environment to grow sales and track conversions,” stated Powers. “We wanted them to know just how dedicated we are to our eCommerce efforts.”

In 2019, Hill & Markes officially launched their digital marketing program to their vendor network.

Led by Powers, now Director of Marketing & E-Commerce, the multi-tiered program offers manufacturers a choice of investment levels, with associated benefits and deliverables at each level. Any vendor who wants to participate in their digital marketing program must first sign up for the Hill & Markes Standard marketing program, which includes a number of traditional marketing perks, including enriched product data for their item, a custom flyer, SPIFF campaign, and ride-along opportunities to promote their product with their salespeople. After becoming a Standard marketing program member, the vendor has the opportunity to upgrade to either the Pro or Preferred level digital marketing programs for enhanced online exposure. For smaller vendors and brokers who lack the marketing bandwidth to invest in the Pro or Preferred digital marketing programs, Hill & Markes also offers a la carte options so they, too, can leverage digital benefits.

At the end of the promotional cycle, Pro and Preferred level members receive a summary showing how well their digital campaign performed. Bruno tracks all the metrics and presents vendors with a graphic chart and breakdowns by each initiative, including open and click-through rates via the email campaign, number of followers reached and engaged with on social media, number of clicks on their banner ads, and number of product orders. Vendors can see the varying levels of engagement and sales results, and can compare those numbers with the year prior during the same month. “The last promotion summary we just provided for a member showed a 57% increase in total revenue and 143% increase in total quantity sold,” said Bruno. “So we’re definitely seeing a boost in sales when we promote their items through our digital campaigns.”

In addition to the jump in sales for vendors, Hill & Markes is also reaping the benefits as they leverage their website and other digital platforms as lead generators. Now that they offer standout banner ads, informative product content, and engaging product videos, they’re seeing longer browse times and more items filling the shopping carts. “Our website is more than just a place to transact. We see our customers having a more enjoyable shopping experience; it’s very different from the typical online storefront other distributors offer,” Bruno explained.

It’s clear that many of their industry counterparts agree. In fact, Hill & Markes was recently awarded the Digital Innovator Award by Modern Distribution Management (MDM). As one of only 10 distributors to receive the inaugural award, they were recognized for their digital transformation and marketing capabilities. Powers said they were thrilled when they heard the news. “This award is not only for our company, but also our team. We couldn’t be more proud.”

For those organizations with a small marketing team, digital marketing may seem overwhelming. However, Powers has words of advice for them: Don’t overthink it; just do it. “We’ve proven that digital marketing is absolutely possible, even with a two-person team,” asserted Powers. “When Katie joined our company, she didn’t have any video experience; but now she’s writing, narrating, and editing all our product spotlight videos which are, by far, our number-one engaged piece of content.”

Powers also contends those who use Unilog’s CIMM2 eCommerce platform already have an advantage. “The Unilog platform lets you easily create banner ads, build landing pages in the CMS, and add a blog section on your website,” he said. “Those three things are the foundation of any digital marketing strategy, so CIMM2 users should feel confident knowing they have the platform to do it.”

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Paradigm B2B founder and B2B eCommerce expert Andy Hoar just released his first in-depth evaluation of midmarket eCommerce platform vendors. In his inaugural report entitled “The Paradigm B2B Combine (Midmarket Edition),” Unilog tied for the most gold medals earned, receiving our highest evaluations for our “Ability to Execute,” “Customer Service & Support,” and “Sales & Channel Enablement.”

You can download the entire report here.

“The Paradigm B2B Combine (Midmarket Edition)” evaluated 13 leading eCommerce solutions for midmarket manufacturers, distributors, and wholesalers, awarding Gold (Exceptional), Silver (Superior), and Bronze (Differentiated) distinctions to finishers within certain scoring ranges. Out of 10 evaluation categories, Unilog’s CIMM2 solution received a total of eight medals. In addition to our three gold medals, we also earned three silver medals in “Total Cost of Ownership,” “Vision & Strategy,” and “Content and Data Management.”

“We’re very pleased that Andy recognized Unilog’s Vision & Strategy as ‘superior’ in his unbiased report,” said Suchit Bachalli, Unilog’s CEO. “We believe we have a powerful digital commerce platform today, and an even better vision for how we can help our customers evolve in this exciting – and profitable – market over the coming years.”

In evaluating the eCommerce vendors, Paradigm B2B gathered market feedback from dozens of vendor partners and clients, and included their input into the scoring methodology. As a result, the report cited that Unilog customers spoke highly of CIMM2’s PIM-centric “all-in-one commerce solution,” robust site search offering with image-driven, type-ahead search, as well as the solution’s ability to easily create microsites and landing pages.

Additional Unilog eCommerce solution strengths noted in Hoar’s report include:

  • A best-of-breed product information management tool (PIM) with “content-as-a-service” subscription
  • Novel go-to-market via associations and trade groups such as Orgill and Affiliated Distributors
  • An ability to quickly and easily provision new sites, create microsites, and produce landing pages
  • Automatic keyword generation from detailed content taxonomies
  • A content-based approach to workflow, optimized for onboarding new products

As a leading authority on B2B eCommerce business and strategy, Hoar says he developed The Paradigm B2B Combine to provide his assessment of eCommerce solutions for B2B professionals. “I’ve mirrored the combine process that professional sports teams use to assess the capabilities and fit of draft candidates,” Hoar explains in the report. “My goal is to evaluate software vendors in key performance categories so that eCommerce teams can determine where and how a solution fits into their system.”

“I really like Andy’s analogy to the sporting combines,” said Scott Frymire, Unilog’s SVP of Marketing. “For instance, some NFL teams are looking for a speedy wide receiver who can stretch the field, while others desire a possession receiver who can snag an errant pass on 3rd down. It’s very similar for B2B companies evaluating digital commerce platforms. Some want a platform that is world class when it comes to enabling their sales channel, while others view total cost of ownership as the deciding criteria.”

To read Hoar’s entire assessment of leading eCommerce solutions for midmarket companies, download “The Paradigm B2B Combine (Midmarket Edition)” here.

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Company’s digital commerce platform awarded eight medals overall

WAYNE, Pa., June 26, 2019 — An independent expert has given three gold medals to Unilog, which offers powerful, affordable eCommerce solutions to midmarket B2B companies, the company announced today — tying it for first in the number of gold medals earned by vendors. Unilog also earned three silver medals.

The report, Andy Hoar’s Paradigm B2B Combine (Midmarket Edition), awarded gold medals to Unilog for “Ability to Execute,” “Customer Service & Support,” and “Sales & Channel Enablement.” Unilog earned silver medals in “Total Cost of Ownership,” “Vision & Strategy,” and “Content and Data Management.” In all, Unilog medaled in eight of ten evaluation categories, tying them for the most medals awarded in the report.

“A gold medal indicates exceptional performance in a category,” said Andy Hoar, CEO of Paradigm B2B. “There were relatively few gold medals awarded overall. It means that the vendor’s solution in that category is world class.”

“Andy Hoar’s expertise in B2B digital commerce is well-known,” said Unilog CEO Suchit Bachalli. “We are gratified that he and Paradigm B2B have recognized our work with these exceptional medals. They reflect the effort we put in every day to serve our customers in the wholesale distribution and manufacturing markets.”

Andy Hoar’s Paradigm B2B Combine (Midmarket Edition) cites Unilog for several strengths, including the following:

  • Best-of-breed PIM (Product Information Management system) with “content-as-a-service” subscription
  • The ability to quickly and easily provision new sites, create microsites, and produce landing pages
  • A content-based approach to workflow, optimized for onboarding new products
  • Keywords generated automatically from detailed content taxonomies
  • A novel go-to-market approach via associations and trade groups (e.g., Orgill and Affiliated Distributors)

Unilog also performed well in the Enterprise Edition of the report, winning gold medals for “Total Cost of Ownership” and “Customer Service & Support.”

You may download a copy of the Paradigm B2B Combine (Midmarket Edition) report for free at https://www.unilogcorp.com/paradigm-b2b-combine/

About Paradigm B2B

Paradigm exists to guide medium-sized and mid-market B2B companies through today’s complex and digitally disrupted commerce landscape. B2B companies need differentiated customer experiences, but often struggle to create them. Paradigm offers high-quality but affordable advice that’s well-informed and immediately actionable. For more information, visit http://paradigmb2b.com/ .

About Unilog

Unilog is a global technology company that delivers powerful, affordable eCommerce solutions for the B2B marketplace. Our cloud-based eCommerce platform and product data enrichment services help distributors, manufacturers, and wholesalers increase online sales, reduce cost to serve, and enhance their digital channel. For more information, visit www.unilogcorp.com.

PRESS CONTACT
Bill Brazell
bbrazell@witstrategy.com
917-445-7316

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Project Details
CLIENT Bay Fastening Systems
LOCATION Farmingdale, New York
INDUSTRY Industrial Supply
PROJECT Digital Commerce Growth

PROBLEM

For nearly 60 years, Bay Fastening Systems has steadily evolved with the marketplace. The engineered fastening and distribution business based out of Farmingdale in Long Island, NY, realized early on that if they wanted to continue to survive – and thrive – they had to change their business model and expand their offerings to meet customer needs.

With deep roots in Brooklyn and Long Island, Bay Fastening wanted to do something their competitors weren’t even close to considering: create an online storefront that would not only reach more buyers across the country, but also across the globe. Their forward thinking and entrepreneurial spirit helped them reach this goal, but only after foregoing trials and errors with multiple eCommerce service providers. It was in 2012, when they made their initial venture into digital commerce, that they realized their eCommerce platform didn’t offer the true functionality and experience their B2B buyers needed to shop and transact online.

“When we were looking to build our website, we made the same mistake as others did by going with partners who claimed to be B2B experts, but were really driven towards a B2C mentality,” explained Michael Eichinger, COO of Bay Fastening Systems. “We worked with two different eCommerce partners, but couldn’t find anybody to really fit our needs – that is, until we read an article about Unilog.”

Eichinger said he made a phone call to the author of the piece – a B2B industry consultant – to find out more about Unilog and their platform. “He told me Unilog was really the first true B2B eCommerce software to exist for wholesale distribution. That consultant’s insight and recommendation is what led us to make the move with Unilog.”

SOLUTION

Bay Fastening Systems enlisted Unilog to do more than just implement their out-of-the-box digital commerce solution. They also asked the eCommerce vendor and content services provider to integrate the new storefront with their ERP system, Distribution One; enrich the content for their 100,000+ item product catalog; and create a better framework for their product taxonomy. As the only eCommerce vendor that provides both a leading eCommerce platform and robust, enriched product content, Unilog executed Bay Fastening’s digital transformation and made their new site live in 2015.

While Unilog was the third eCommerce company to work with Bay Fastening Systems, Eichinger said they are the only company they’ve had a successful partnership with during their digital commerce journey. “Unilog is constantly helping us to innovate and grow. I think that’s unique, in that our previous partners were not so interested in our success,” he asserted. “This is one in which we feel it’s a true partnership.”

Now, Bay Fastening has a powerful eCommerce platform equipped with the critical functionality B2B customers expect, as well as better product content and catalog classification to attract more buyers and increase search rankings. Unilog also helped facilitate a connection with online marketplaces via ChannelAdvisor to broaden the distributor’s reach. They’ve since opened sales to Amazon Business, eBay, Rakuten, Newegg, and other international platforms. Since their site launch, Bay Fastening has experienced tremendous growth as a direct result of the new online offerings – from increased revenue to operational cost savings.

To help Bay Fastening compete in international markets, Unilog also provided functionality that identifies what part of the world a customer is visiting their website from and then automatically alters the product pricing to display in that customer’s localized currency. According to Eichinger, “This functionality is not only unique, but the benefit to capture a global market through localization has indisputable benefits.”

RESULTS

In the first year they launched their new site, Eichinger said they experienced a 42% jump in online revenue, and that was without any marketing efforts to promote their site. The next year they nearly doubled that revenue. In addition to increased revenue year over year, Unilog has provided Bay Fastening with other impressive results:

  • Web traffic increases 100% each month
  • Customer online order entry takes 80% less time for employees to enter than standard orders, which require more attention and information gathering
  • With all of logistics taken into account, 60% less staff time is needed to process a digital order
  • While the number of staff stays consistent, the company revenue continues to grow, with sales up an additional 34% to date in 2019
  • Gross profit has continued to surge since implementation: it grew 517% in 2015 and skyrocketed 1,056% in 2018

As with most companies, Bay Fastening spread out their total eCommerce investment over three years. However, Eichinger claimed if they had absorbed 100% of their total investment to date (which includes staff administration costs and third-party vendor expenditures for marketing and SEO) in the first year of their launch of the Unilog platform, they would have established a return on their investment by the end of their second year.

Having completed the core strategy of B2B eCommerce implementation, Eichinger said they now have the resources to explore improving analytics and site enhancements. They’ve also streamlined their processes and invested in new technology in warehouse software and logistics to double their capacity and continually improve their efficiency. “If it wasn’t for the ROI from our digital sales, we wouldn’t have had the resources to invest in other areas,” remarked Eichinger.

LEARNINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Bay Fastening Systems learned a lot from their digital journey. As trailblazers in their industry, they can attest that eCommerce is a total disruption of business for all B2B supply chains. But, as Eichinger maintained, eCommerce is vital for customer retention and the continued success of any business. “Vendors see much greater value in partners that embrace B2B digital commerce. Some of our vendors paid little attention to our company before we had our eCommerce site. Now we have vendors closing off direct business with other distributors and directing them to process all orders through us. Unilog’s eCommerce platform made that possible,” he said.

For those organizations looking to build or improve their online presence, Eichinger offered a few words of advice for greater ROI and success. First, an omnichannel approach to commerce is important. By providing an easy and consistent buying experience across every sales channel, you’ll meet the needs of your different customers, from those who prefer traditional phone-in orders to younger buyers who are digital natives relying solely on mobile devices.

Second, offer self-service as an option on your website. Buyers today don’t always shop during normal business hours. Those who prefer to shop whenever and wherever they like need a site that gives them all the tools, support, and functionality to do that. Likewise, buyers want the convenience of an account portal where they can access past orders, reorder items, and track orders without the help of a customer service associate.

Accessibility leads to Eichinger’s third recommendation, which is to provide total transparency on your website. Don’t create obstacles for customers by hiding their pricing and other customer-specific information. The more information you can provide on your website, the easier it will be for buyers to make a purchasing decision.

Bay Fastening System’s digital journey started out bumpy, but with their strong partnership with Unilog, it has become a much smoother endeavor that has brought their organization unbelievable rates of return. “I can firmly state that the overall benefits of establishing a digital strategy for any company undoubtedly opens new doors for prosperity and the ROI is inevitable,” affirmed Eichinger. “The longer a company waits, they will watch their competitors embrace technology, and the speed in which ROI is achieved will continuously be reduced.”

About Bay Fastening Systems

Founded in 1962, Bay Fastening Systems started with modest beginnings in Brooklyn, New York. After 50 years of growth and success in the northeast, the engineered fastening and distribution business launched Bay Supply in 2012, an online marketing division of Bay Fastening Systems. Two years later, they purchased a new facility in Farmingdale, Long Island, where they continue to be a vital partner in supply logistics for industrial supply distributors around the globe. https://www.baysupply.com/

About Unilog

Unilog is a global technology company that delivers powerful, affordable eCommerce solutions for the B2B marketplace. Our cloud-based eCommerce platform and product data enrichment services help distributors, manufacturers, and wholesalers increase online sales, reduce cost to serve, and enhance their digital channel. Unilog is an ISO 9001:2008- and ISO 8000-certified company with North American headquarters outside of Philadelphia, PA and international headquarters in Bangalore, India. For more information, visit www.unilogcorp.com.

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In today’s advanced digital world, voice recognition and search technology speaks volumes – literally. Voice-enabled virtual assistants like Siri, Google Home, and Amazon Echo have become trusted household devices that provide us with answers to all of life’s questions, from what is the most populated city in the world to who has the best deep dish pizza in town. When we’re not at home, our virtual expert is with us on our mobile devices, allowing us to speak our questions directly into the phone and receive both verbal and typed answers instantly.

Providing the ultimate in convenience, voice-enabled searches have continued to grow in popularity, especially with younger buyers. A 2018 study by PwC found that 65% of 25- to 49-year-olds speak to their voice-enabled devices at least once per day, followed by 59% of 18- to 24-year-olds, and 57% of people over the age of 50. In addition to providing a convenient way to gather information, voice search is now a faster, more accurate technology, which is helping drive its adoption. So much so that the media measurement company, ComScore, predicts that 50% of all Internet searches will be done using voice search by 2020.

What started as a cool gadget for the home has now become a common tech tool to help people do things faster and with less effort. With voice-enabled commands, users can accomplish almost anything – control electrical devices, order products online, track packages, and even pay bills. But as consumers continue to embrace this evolving technology, it begs the question, will B2B buyers follow suit and integrate voice search into their daily work life?

How voice search will impact the B2B marketplace

Some consider voice-enabled devices novelty items, but if you think about the benefits they provide users, it’s understandable why the technology is extending its reach into more applications and sectors.

These user advantages have definitely helped boost eCommerce sales in the US. According to OC&C Strategy Consultants, digital commerce sales from voice searches reached $2 billion in 2018, and they project that number will skyrocket to $40 billion by 2022.

Consumers are simplifying their lives by using voice commands, so it only makes sense that B2B buyers would want to do the same. Industry experts agree, and suggest voice-enabled technology will provide an opportunity for increased revenue and improved operational efficiencies for businesses by putting more control in the hands of their buyers. Although wholesale buyers typically make more complex product purchases and require alternate transaction methods than consumer shoppers, the B2B customer lifecycle still entails information gathering, customer service, and post-purchase assistance – which could be done more efficiently through voice-enabled technology.

Consider how a simple voice search could assist B2B buyers with these tasks:

  • Perform initial product research and price comparisons
  • Access account history and reorder products
  • Manage current order status and track deliveries
  • Obtain product information such as installation instructions and user guides
  • Find business details like the closest store location, its phone number, and business hours

Chances are your customers are accustomed to using voice search in their personal lives, so the natural progression is for them to employ it on the job. As mobile technology continues to improve and become more user-friendly, you can bet buyers will rely more heavily on voice-enabled technology in every aspect of their lives.

Begin employing voice search-friendly tactics now

Compared to the retail industry, the wholesale distribution marketplace is a bit behind the technology curve. But B2C trends are usually good indicators of what’s to come in the B2B market, and all signs are pointing to a growing need to be voice search-friendly. If you want to be ready to accommodate your buyer needs, start making adjustments to your online offerings now. Here are five ways you can gear up for voice-enabled demands from B2B buyers:

  1. Optimize your site for mobile devices

    As mobile devices increasingly become the primary tool for B2B professionals, make sure your eCommerce site is optimized for mobile use – starting with a responsive design. This type of site architecture ensures visitors to your website will have the same user experience on their mobile phone or tablet as they do on their computer. Responsive sites are more intuitive, flexible, and easy to use, and provide a great first impression for visitors. Above and beyond a responsive design, other ways you can improve your site for mobile use include making sure page load speeds are fast, removing pop-up ads, abandoning hard-to-use drop-down navigation menus, and formatting videos to display as full screen when held in a vertical position.

  2. Create web content to attract Google’s featured snippets

    Google has introduced a more concise way to obtain answers to voice-enabled queries: featured snippets. They provide the “short answer” (an average of 29 words) to a voice search question by pulling information directly from a relevant website. On voice search devices, the featured snippet and its source are automatically read out loud for the user. The snippet is also displayed at the top of the search results page, eliminating the need to click through to a specific result. How does Google decide where to pull their featured snippets from? Essentially, they search for the exact question the person voiced into their device, and if that question is found in the same format on a website with a corresponding answer, Google will pull the text answer from the webpage and link it to their snippet.

    Featured snippets can really boost brand recognition and attract site traffic for businesses because they are essentially calling out a website as an expert resource. In order to be considered for a featured snippet, you must first incorporate Google-preferred content such as long-tail keywords, conversational language, and answers to specific questions on your content pages to improve your visibility. Continue reading for content-related tactics that will increase your chances of being selected for a featured snippet.

  3. Update your SEO strategies to incorporate more long-tail keywords

    Unlike typed searches, voice searches include detailed, natural language that garners better-suited results. To attract more mobile-friendly searches and provide more targeted search results, integrate long-tail keywords in your web content as part of your SEO campaign. Long-tail keywords are usually at least three words in length, and provide more specific descriptions of a product or need. According to Amazon, the makers of Alexa, long-tail keywords usually have better conversion rates than generic keywords because they give search engines more insight into the intent of the person performing the search, so they can steer them to better results more quickly.

    Research which long-tail keywords your buyers are using to search for products and answers, and incorporate them into your pages, making sure to use their same language and phrasing to attract them to your site.

    While Google dominates the search engine market, voice assistants like Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana rely on Bing for their search results. Therefore, make sure Bing is also a focus in your SEO strategy so you can build a stronger presence and higher rankings on both search engine platforms.

  4. Build a robust Frequently Asked Questions page

    As we noted earlier, Google’s voice-enabled featured snippets scour the Internet to find answers to the exact questions voice searchers ask. What better way to get Google’s attention than by providing more questions (with answers) on your website. Build out a comprehensive Frequently Asked Questions page on your site using question-focused headings instead of only keyword-focused headers. For instance, instead of “Resetting your password,” display it the header as “How can I reset my password?” Change “Minimum delivery orders” to “What is the minimum amount for delivery?” In place of a basic “Locations” header, try “Where are your branch locations?” The more your content pages can mimic actual voice searcher questions, the easier it will be to lead them to the appropriate answers.

  5. Include AI assistance with your online offerings

    While the above tactics help support better voice searches for buyers, there’s also opportunity to integrate voice-enabled functionality on your eCommerce site using software apps and APIs. Artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots with voice recognition provide another interaction point for customers, and give them the ability to verbally place an order via the chat tool. With AI chatbots, customers can also log in to a website portal, register for events, and even fill out form fields by simply speaking into their device instead of typing into multiple fields.

    For those who provide configure-price-quote (CPQ) services to their customers, there are newer CPQ software applications like Apttus CPQ from Salesforce that provide in-built, voice-activated workflows. Apttus CPQ features a conversational user interface and an “intelligent agent” named Max who listens to voice prompts and interacts with salespeople to help develop complex solution quotes for customers.

If you’d like to create more opportunities for your customers to engage with you, start incorporating content and tools that support voice-enabled technology. As mobile devices continue to improve and become increasingly user-friendly, voice control will inevitably take on a more prominent role in our daily lives. Your buyers have a voice, and they want you to listen.

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It seems every time you read industry news, another wholesale distributor has acquired or consolidated with a distributor. In the electrical industry, McNaughton-McKay announced they acquired The Reynolds Company in January 2018. Border States Supply Chain Solutions procured four electrical supply companies in the past six years, including Kriz-Davis and Shealy Electrical, as part of its efforts to become a product and supply chain powerhouse. In the plumbing and HVAC sector, Ferguson Enterprises continues to acquire its competitors, with the most recent being Blackman Plumbing Supply and Wallwork Bros, Inc. last year. As the largest US distributor of plumbing supplies and a major distributor of HVAC equipment, Ferguson continues to expand its presence across the country, with nearly 50 acquisitions under its belt so far.

Joe Bennett, SVP of Strategy at Unilog, says with this uptick in mergers and acquisitions, we’re seeing more larger-sized businesses than we have in the past. “These companies are looking to build scale so they can do more with less,” remarks Bennett. “They’re following the mantra, ‘If you’re not growing, you’re dying.’ For them, being bigger is definitely better.”

As these industry moves reshape the B2B landscape, they also cause a ripple effect that impacts the businesses and employees connected with the mergers, as well as their competition. If you’re contemplating a merger, looking to be acquired, or wondering how you can compete against these mega-mergers, read on for some helpful advice and factors to consider.

Considerations when contemplating an acquisition or merger

With more competition, there’s increased pressure for distributors to grow their business – whether they do it organically, or through mergers and acquisitions. Those who choose the latter have a major technology journey in front of them if they plan to merge their ERP systems in order to run on one enterprise system. There are two ways a company can brand their eCommerce offerings; if both company brands bring value, it may be worthwhile to maintain separate brands as well as two sites, as long as they both communicate with the same ERP system. Alternatively, it may be advantageous to slowly sunset one brand in order to maintain a single strong brand, as long as there is a marketing strategy in place and extended timeline to do so.

With any acquisition or merger, expect major shifts to disrupt the people, culture, and technology associated with each organization. As a seasoned strategist, Bennett offers three key factors to consider and plan for before making a business move:

  1. Culture alignment: A company’s culture is a unique ideology built upon powerful core values. Entities should be similar in how they think, and in what they feel is important to their employees and customers. Research the company’s culture, including their investment in their people, to determine if they are like-minded and able to integrate well with your organization.
  2. Technology alignment: The single biggest investment a company makes is in their ERP system. Therefore, it would be beneficial to merge with someone on the same ERP system to minimize the added time and money needed to train employees on a new system. “There will be an expense to integrate systems, and to merge and cleanse the data, but it will be easier and less costly to do if you share the same ERP system,” explains Bennett. Additionally, Bennett says having a dedicated product information manager (PIM) will benefit your integration because it has the ability to manage multiple sites and catalogs. “The Unilog eCommerce platform has an in-built PIM that maintains custom fields, subsets, and catalogs for multiple sites, and can then push product information to different sites and other distribution channels like Amazon and eBay. A dedicated PIM is a must-have for technology alignment.”
  3. Collateral damage mitigation: When two companies integrate, there will undoubtedly be shared services that will come into play, which means redundancies in accounting, IT, and other core functions. Are you ready to handle letting people go? Can you deal with the fact people will lose their jobs? Bennett emphasizes businesses must acknowledge that there will be collateral damage. “As business leaders, we must strive to minimize that damage, and to try to make people as whole as possible in the exit process,” stresses Bennett. “Be graceful, kind, and humane during their transition so that eventually mergers and acquisitions won’t be viewed as negatively by employees.”

Be prepared before selling your business

If you don’t feel your organization is able to keep up with the growing competition and customer demands in the marketplace, you may be considering selling your business to a larger entity. If you don’t have an eCommerce presence, you may argue you don’t need one if you’re going to sell your business. Bennett believes to the contrary, and says an eCommerce presence actually helps attract potential buyers. “If you don’t have an online storefront, get an eCommerce site up and running quickly so you can have at least 7% of your sales flowing through that that engine real fast,” directs Bennett. “An eCommerce site will increase the value of your company, because non-touch sales will do a higher multiple than touch sales in the valuation of your company.”

How to compete against these mergers

If you’re a smaller company looking at these mergers and wondering whether you’ll remain competitive in your sector, it really comes down to a numbers game and whether you can maintain your value proposition to your customers. However, Bennett feels having low prices is not the kind of value proposition to help you stand apart because there will always be others who will be better at it than you. He tells smaller distributors to embrace and promote their real value to customers: knowledge about their products. “As someone who is knowledgeable and passionate about their products, you can be a trusted consultant by providing expertise on product choices, applications, and installation,” he explains. “I think that’s the reason why you’re still going to be relevant and important to buyers.”

Additionally, Bennett says a buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) option is an enticing feature for many contractors. (read BOPIS is Helping Distributors Compete with Amazon and Big Box Retailers) Giving buyers the option to purchase products online and then pick them up in your store provides added convenience for those needing products in a hurry, or who would like to ask questions about the product or installation while in store. “If I needed a product real fast, I would prefer that as opposed to next day shipping on Amazon,” adds Bennett.

Whether you’re thinking of acquiring a company, consolidating your business, or just looking for ways to stay relevant in the sea of competition, do your research, think before you act, and stay true to your value proposition. Despite the surge in mergers and acquisitions, small to mid-sized distributors will always appeal to customers if they continue to provide a value-added difference.

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Successful B2B organizations are dropping the traditional sales funnel approach and embracing a more fluid lifecycle marketing strategy as buyers evolve from prospects to customers and, ultimately, to advocates. Unlike the outdated sales funnel which focuses on new customer acquisition, the lifecycle marketing approach considers the value of retaining customers by providing communication and content after the sale as well.

Lifecycle marketing gives you the ability to provide the types of communications and experiences your audience wants as they move through the customer lifecycle. It follows how a customer is acquired, retained, and even lost, so you can better understand their journey with you, and finds opportunities to improve and continue that journey. With a bigger focus on customer retention, lifecycle marketing increases the chances of existing buyers becoming repeat customers, and grows their lifetime value with you.

Segment content for each stage of the buyer journey

A study by KoMarketing found that the primary reason B2B buyers don’t engage more with vendors is because they receive too much irrelevant content from them. Michael Deckman, Director and Principal Consultant of CoreOps Digital, says many marketers assume that all their content is of value to their audience. “The reality is only some of your content may be valuable to certain individuals within certain companies at the right moment in their buyer journey,” he explains.

If you want to provide more meaningful content to your audience, Deckman says you must pinpoint each stage of the customer journey and analyze their needs so that you can create specific content that informs, assists, and engages with buyers at each of those stages. Segmented content that speaks to an audience’s specific needs offers much more value and, as a result, will more likely get a buyer’s attention.

There are five main stages that make up the customer lifecycle: Awareness, Interest, Consideration, Purchase, and Retention. Each stage involves a different mindset of the buyer, which is why you need different types of content that speak to each mindset.

Stage 1: Awareness

As buyers set out to find a solution for their needs, they begin frequenting distributor websites as an anonymous visitor. They’re looking to see what they offer online, how easily it is to find and shop their products, and if they have a good understanding of their needs. Buyers in this Awareness stage want information and validation, so reach out to them with a follow-up e-mail that affirms your product expertise by sharing white papers, product videos, industry news, and other educational resource links tailored to their product search.

Stage 2: Interest

Next, buyers begin exploring different online resources to search for products and solutions to meet their needs. At the Interest stage, these buyers are more likely to register with a distributor site, attend a webinar, or download content in an effort to learn more. Here, it’s important to provide segmented content that focuses on providing solutions. Content in the way of product comparison guides, application videos, and training webinars that demonstrate features and benefits may encourage them to move to the next stage where they consider making a purchase.

Stage 3: Consideration

After buyers have pinpointed the product or products they are considering, they begin engaging more directly with the distributor. They may ask questions via an online chat or phone call, or add products to their cart. At this critical Consideration stage, offer them content that addresses the buyer’s specific needs and differentiates you in the marketplace. Direct people to your About Us page, which should provide the history, values, and purpose of your organization. Offer product and vendor comparisons with factual information that make you stand out from the competition. You may also consider providing discounts or introductory offers to help them transact with you.

Stage 4: Purchase

Once you’ve successfully connected with a buyer and they’ve committed to making their first purchase with you, it’s time to validate their decision. Thank them, welcome them as a new customer, and pass along relevant information related to their purchase like their tracking number, expected delivery date, and supporting documents such as FAQs, user manuals, and installation guides. Show them the attention and care they deserve for becoming a valued customer.

Stage 5: Retention

For some organizations, a product purchase is the pinnacle of the customer journey. But to truly reach the summit, your business must work to cultivate and retain customers, and develop them into loyal buyers and brand advocates. Maintain a regular communication cadence to keep them informed about new products, industry trends, and promotions. Make them aware of new or complementary products related to recent purchases to help them address future needs. Create and promote a loyalty program that offers discounts and incentives. This type of segmented content reinforces their trust and assurance in your business, helps drive repeat purchases, and fortifies a long-lasting customer relationship.

Keep the lifecycle going

The key to customer lifecycle marketing is to keep buyers from reaching the end of their journey and encourage them to circle back and continue being an active consumer. This cyclical vs. funnel approach can help save your business money and provide real ROI. The Harvard Business Review estimates that it’s 25 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one. When it comes to ROI, a study by global management consulting firm Bain & Company finds that a 5% increase in customer retention can bring B2B organizations a 25% to 95% increase in profits.

Creating and maintaining segmented marketing content is a tall order for any size wholesale business, but it can be done efficiently and affordably with the help of marketing automation tools. Marketing automation technology helps streamline, automate, and measure marketing activities across sales channels and segments in a way no other marketing campaign software can. In addition to generating content campaigns, it provides deep analytics and reporting that help identify and cultivate leads, support customers, and pinpoint which campaigns have the most impact. Today’s B2B buyers want information available 24/7; as a result, businesses must employ an “always-on” marketing strategy, and marketing automation is the tool to make that happen.

For a more efficient and effective way to support your customers, forego the funnel approach and adopt a lifecycle marketing strategy. Lifecycle marketing taps invaluable opportunities – from influencing prospects to make an initial purchase, to converting returning customers into loyal buyers and advocates. Using the five stages of the customer lifecycle as guideposts and marketing automation tools to develop segmented campaigns and measure your efficacy, your business can provide the attention and support that each buyer needs at every step of their journey.

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A company’s values are the heart and soul of its culture. They affect every aspect of an organization and are the guideposts that keep everyone aligned, empowered, and mindful of their goals. Without core values, an organization can’t articulate who they are or what they want to be, which makes it nearly impossible to achieve their vision or purpose.

Howard Stevenson, Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, puts great significance on a company’s culture saying, “Maintaining an effective culture is so important that it, in fact, trumps even strategy.” Suchit Bachalli, CEO of Unilog, agrees and believes Unilog’s people and culture are the reasons customers buy their products and services. “Our working style is how our values translate into daily life and shape our client experiences with us,” says Bachalli. “We are passionate about what we do and the difference we can make for our clients.”

The core values that built the foundation for Unilog’s innovative culture were inspired by Sanskrit – a language of ancient India developed over 3,500 years ago. Highly complex with an extensive vocabulary, Sanskrit is a classical Indo-European language that means “refined, decorated, and produced in perfect form.” Unilog’s five Sanskrit values remind employees what’s important, help with daily decision-making, and guide our interactions with others.

#1 Viveka: Be good, do good
Viveka reaffirms each employee’s moral compass to be ethical, responsible people who yearn to make a positive difference in others’ lives. We have a deep purpose to help elevate ourselves and the people around us.

#2 Vijaya: Compete hard, yet be fair
A competitive mindset drives us so we can give more to our customers and to each other. We never settle for the status quo; we constantly aim higher and work harder to ensure our customers’ success.

#3 Vidya: Learn every day
ur teams continually strive to become better at what they do. We don’t tolerate ignorance or mediocrity, and encourage each of our employees to be curious, voice their opinions, and make an impact.

#4 Veera: Be brave and fearless
Through support and teamwork, Unilog employees are brave and unwavering so they can take on the most difficult challenges and determine the best solutions to serve customer needs.

#5 Vinaya: Be humble, courteous, and serve others
Everyone deserves respect and consideration, which is why we treat customers, partners, and employees alike with kindness, compassion, and humility. It is gratifying for us to serve others so that they may achieve their goals.

Unilog’s core values and deep purpose to elevate others have been driving factors in our ongoing success as a global technology company. Unilog has seen year-over-year growth in every aspect of our business, including a 58% growth in subscription revenue, a 52% increase in customers, and a 20% rise in employee head count. Bachalli says the collective intuition of Unilog’s servant leaders is directing the company where we need to go in the next one, three, five, and 10 years. “We have a deep sense of where we sit in the ecosystem, and are building products and services that will continue to help deliver innovation to our customers.”

If you’re a forward-thinking individual looking for a challenging and highly rewarding career, visit the Unilog Careers page to learn about current job opportunities and to apply. We’re always looking for dynamic people who are excited to learn, be empowered, and make a difference.

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Innovation took center stage at this year’s EVOLVE 2019 event hosted by Unilog. Technology futurists, business leaders, and wholesale and distribution industry experts shared insight into the future of the B2B marketplace and stressed how innovation will be the leading cause of and solution to the impending market disruption.

With historic New Orleans as the backdrop, Unilog’s fifth annual customer conference featured thought-provoking speakers, hands-on training sessions, and engaging panel discussions on a variety of topics and for varying skillset levels. Keynote speakers Frank Gillett and Jack Shaw provided an in-depth look at the future evolution of the B2B market and digital commerce as emerging technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain gain momentum. Gillett, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester, showed how businesses can take advantage of the data that’s collected from the products they sell by integrating IoT technology into their current business model. “IoT will disrupt the traditional B2B business model because it requires new business skills and roles but, when implemented properly, it can give your company the ability to monetize the data you collect from your products and strengthen your digital commerce channel,” explained Gillett.

Technology Futurist Shaw shared marketplace examples where blockchain technology is transforming industries by reducing costs and providing better accuracy and reliability of shared information (watch the complete video recording of Jack’s presentation). He noted that Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company, projects that implementation of blockchain technology will mitigate administrative costs of international trade so much that it will reduce their overall shipping costs by 15%. But, he added, while blockchain technology, IoT, and artificial intelligence are all exciting tools, none of them matter if you don’t have a strategy for digital transformation. “Digital transformation is not about force-fitting new technologies into your existing business model. It’s about reimagining your business model and the entire business ecosystem,” stressed Shaw.

Keynote speaker Jack Shaw talks about the impact of Blockchain technology on the supply chain.

As Shaw, Gillett, and other industry experts profiled the latest innovations for the marketplace, Unilog CEO Suchit Bachalli emphasized the importance of embracing innovation within an organization (watch the complete video recording of Suchit’s presentation). He highlighted the intuitive and innovative nature of some of the most successful companies – and how that intuition and innovation drives Unilog to connect and maintain relevance with its customers.

“Companies like Microsoft, Ford, and Southwest Airlines are intuitive because they have a structured approach to staying relevant: they are strengthening their core, being curious, and innovative. None of this would be possible if they didn’t have the most important ingredient to make them great: purpose. Purpose allows us to remain centered, reinvent ourselves, and drive us forward,” asserted Bachalli. “We can only be intuitive as a company if we’re truly connected. We’re accomplishing this at Unilog by strengthening our own core, driving innovation, and defining our culture.”

Bachalli shared the core values and mission Unilog follows, which is creating dramatic results for the company. Their commitment to their customers, insatiable thirst for knowledge, and competitive drive have spurred a 58% growth in subscription revenue, a 52% increase in customers, and a 20% rise in employee head count. “We work every day with our customers to help them achieve their corporate goals,” said Bachalli. “This is what gets us up in the morning: a deep purpose to help elevate ourselves and everyone around us.”

Unilog CEO Suchit Bachalli welcomes customers with a presentation about intuition and purpose.

In between challenging and inspiring their customers, EVOLVE gave attendees the opportunity to learn and test out the latest technologies at the TechZone, including the next iteration of Unilog’s CIMM2 product, CX1. Unilog experts were also stationed at the TechZone throughout the conference to provide one-on-one assistance.

The new EVOLVE conference app helped attendees track their schedules and communicate with others.

Customers gather in the TechZone to learn about the latest innovations from Unilog.

EVOLVE 2019 wasn’t all about business – especially with the Big Easy as the setting. There was entertainment, recreation, and the opportunity to spread goodwill during the conference, including a scavenger hunt, a Build-a-Wheelchair® event for a local charity, and a personal parade escort down the streets of New Orleans by a marching band.

Customers and employees work hand-in-hand to build wheelchairs for disabled veterans.

A Marching Band leads conference attendees through the streets of the French Quarter to our Customer Appreciation Party.

Unilog would like to thank its many sponsors for helping make this event a huge success: Gold sponsors Affiliated Distributors and Orgill, Inc.; Silver sponsors Conexiom, Google and WebPresented; and Bronze sponsors B2X Academy and IDEA. Their dedication to help support and advance the B2B industry with Unilog is greatly appreciated.

Unilog’s annual EVOLVE conference is an essential event for Unilog customers and B2B professionals looking for expert strategies and solutions to excel in the digital commerce arena. Be on the lookout for news of next year’s conference so you can take part in the learning, networking, and good times.

You can also view the photo album of the event on Unilog’s Facebook page.

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