6 New B2B Sales Strategies for Manufacturing

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    The manufacturing industry is undergoing a rapid transformation. First, Industry 4.0 changed the landscape, and now, generative AI is emerging. These advancements are revolutionizing not only the way companies make and move their products, but how they sell them too.

    In this article, we zero in on 6 B2B sales strategies that are fast becoming commonplace in the industry. From hyper-personalization to product customization and AI-enhanced lead generation, we’ll explore which strategies are right for your business.

    Let’s dive in.

    Strategy 1: Personalized Product Offerings

    B2B buyers increasingly expect solutions tailored to their specific needs. Offering personalized goods lets you differentiate and cater to each customer’s unique requirements. The problem is that customization presents severe challenges if you make complex, highly technical products. You can’t just be more flexible––you need solutions to facilitate this change.

    Buyers often need guidance to understand how products can be optimized. What’s more, with high-value items at stake, the risk of configuration errors can make a customization strategy seem daunting. 

    To overcome these obstacles, digital leaders in the manufacturing space have turned to CPQ software to simplify and automate the configure, price, and quote process and give customers unprecedented choice––without the risk of human error.

    With CPQ, you can launch rules-driven visual configurators that allow salespeople and prospects to visualize and interact with your products in 3D. Users can drag and drop to customize colors, materials, dimensions, parts, and more. 

    CPQ ensures that products are optimized correctly and displays pricing in real-time as users select options, protecting your margins. Once the configuration is complete, CPQ generates an instant quote and, if required, provides an opportunity for immediate purchase.

    In addition to quotes, advanced CPQ solutions like Epicor CPQ generate CAD files, BOMs, and other documents to automate downstream processes and cut lead times. This end-to-end automation frees your engineering team from the burden of constant transactional work and cuts out the back-and-forth that slows down deals and kills productivity across departments.

    Let’s summarize how CPQ benefits manufacturers––and their customers.

    Manufacturers can:

    • Increase speed and accuracy across the configure-price-quote workflow.
    • Automate time-consuming and error-prone processes to shrink sales cycles.
    • Empower customers with more choice and agency over the B2B sales process.
    • Eliminate back-and-forth and improve collaboration across departments.
    • Get new hires up to speed more rapidly.
    • Leverage 3D product renderings across B2B marketing campaigns.

    Buyers can:

    • Choose from a broader range of products tailored to their use cases.
    • Configure and buy products with greater speed and efficiency and spend less time interacting with sales professionals.
    • Educate themselves on complex products at their own pace.
    • Enjoy fully immersive buying experiences.

    Strategy 2: Immersive Product Experiences

    The AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) market is booming. It’s projected to generate revenue of $40.4 bn in 2024 and grow by almost 9% each year for the next five years. Technology is finally catching up with demand, and devices like the Apple Vision Pro are bringing this futuristic tech into the present.

    Epicor CPQ enables manufacturers to harness the power of augmented and virtual reality. With Epicor CPQ, you can create product configurators that allow users to configure products in virtual reality and view configurations in real-world settings. 

    School Specialty, an Epicor CPQ customer, has seen a 22% increase in product configurations since implementing augmented reality functionality. By providing an immersive and interactive experience, School Specialty has significantly boosted customer engagement and streamlined its sales process.

    As AR and VR technologies become more accessible, they will undoubtedly become increasingly pervasive across the manufacturing sales function in the next five years. Several factors contribute to this trend:

    • Virtual demos are far more cost-effective than providing real-world demonstrations.
    • These technologies offer an easier way to educate customers on products and configurations.
    • Buyers can access virtual demos from anywhere and experience products virtually in buying groups.
    • Manufacturers can reduce expenses associated with producing physical samples.
    • AR and VR aid decision-making and accelerate B2B sales cycles.
    • They provide companies with a “wow factor,” often lacking in traditional B2B marketing.

    Strategy 3: Hyper-Personalized Customer Experiences

    There’s a strange dichotomy in current customer expectations: prospects want less interaction with sales representatives, yet they also desire more personalized experiences. According to a recent Forrester Study for Adobe, 72% of B2B customers expect fully or mostly personalized content when buying products and services. Furthermore, 66% expect the same level of personalization, if not better, in their professional lives compared to their personal lives.

    Manufacturers need to acquire and use high-quality customer data to address this challenge and deliver the desired level of personalization across B2B sales and B2B marketing functions. This data can be gathered from various sources, from content consumption patterns to social media, and, of course, purchasing behavior.

    By leveraging these diverse data points, manufacturers can gain a comprehensive understanding of their customers’ preferences, pain points, and decision-making processes. They can then use these insights to tailor sales strategies.

    So, how do you access the necessary data?

    Manufacturers can gain valuable insights into customer behavior and preferences by leveraging product configurators. By tracking which products a prospect clicks on, the duration of their engagement, the options they select, and the points at which they abandon the process, manufacturers can gather a wealth of information about their customers’ interests and needs.

    This data can then be blended with additional customer data, say from your CRM platform, to create a holistic view of each prospect. This holistic view enables manufacturers to create more personalized experiences, better meet their customer’s expectations, and, from a B2B sales perspective, increase deal size and win rate.

    Strategy 4: AI-Powered Sales Enablement 

    AI, particularly generative AI, plays an increasingly significant role across industries. According to recent studies, 73% of US companies have already adopted AI in at least some areas of their business, and this number is rising daily as companies like OpenAI and Anthropic release “Enterprise Plans” with enterprise-grade security features, and AI becomes infused into everyday solutions like Epicor.

    Making the right AI choices could give you a significant edge over the next 12-24 months. Companies that have excelled in digital transformation now have to tweak their B2B sales strategies to keep pace with AI developments. Those companies that have been slow to evolve now have an opportunity to make real strides toward becoming digital leaders in their space.

    In the manufacturing sales and marketing functions, expect AI to play a significant role in several key areas:

    • Lead generation: AI can help B2B sales teams parse vast amounts of proprietary and public data, such as from LinkedIn Sales Navigator, to identify ideal prospects based on various factors. This enables sales teams to focus their efforts on the most promising leads.
    • Predictive analytics: AI can leverage predictive analytics to analyze historic B2B company data and blend it with current market trends. By identifying patterns and creating forecasts in seconds, AI empowers sales and marketing teams to make data-driven decisions and adapt their strategies accordingly.
    • Process automation: AI can automate many of the most time-consuming and menial tasks in the sales department, from data entry and analysis to note-taking on sales calls. This process automation frees sales representatives to focus on nurturing relationships and closing deals, ultimately increasing productivity and efficiency.
    • Targeted marketing: AI can generate highly personalized B2B sales funnels and campaigns. By leveraging data and insights, AI can tailor marketing messages and content to specific audiences, improving engagement and conversion rates. Moreover, AI can optimize real-time marketing strategies, ensuring that campaigns remain effective and relevant in a constantly evolving business landscape.

    People-Centric AI Is the Way Forward

    Of course, there’s an inherent risk in AI and automation more generally: An overreliance could lead to a loss of human touch and even job losses in B2B sales. Goldman Sachs economists predict as many as 300 million full-time jobs could be lost globally by the rise of generative AI.

    At Epicor, we’re counteracting this risk of AI by focusing on what we call “People-Centric AI.” The aim is to augment human capabilities so staff can focus on more complex tasks that require human judgment and customer interactions. I believe this is the best approach to maximizing efficiency and productivity gains while still keeping the human element at the center of B2B sales relationships.

    Strategy 5: Eco-Friendly Mass Customization

    B2B buyers and their ideal customers are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impact of their purchasing decisions, pushing them towards more sustainable offerings and raising the prices of these goods. 

    As George Winksey from McKinsey explains, “Demand for green products today is expanding more rapidly than supply. That creates a higher willingness to pay—we see up to 30 percent price premiums.”

    To meet the growing demand for sustainable products, manufacturers are exploring more environmentally friendly production methods. One such approach is Engineer-to-Order (ETO) production, which is facilitated by CPQ software. ETO involves manufacturers designing and building products for each customer rather than mass-producing items and adding them to stock.

    CPQ product rules ensure every order is manufactured correctly the first time, reducing waste and unnecessary emissions. It can track which products are designed and sold, providing insights into sustainability performance and compliance. Visual configurators can also provide customers with transparent environmental product information and encourage more sustainable choices.

    Strategy 6: Empowering Buyers through Self-Service

    B2B buyers are using sales reps less than ever and eCommerce more frequently. The shift is dramatic, with almost 100% of B2B buyers preferring self-service eCommerce to high-touch sales meetings. 

    According to Forrester, there are three key drivers behind this change:

    1. Younger buyers: Millennial and Gen Z buyers are digital-savvy and unafraid to spend large sums through eCommerce. They’ve grown up buying online in their personal lives and want to do the same when they buy for business.
    2. Technology: Tools like Epicor CPQ are readily available, giving prospects a guided B2B selling experience through eCommerce without intermediaries.
    3. Buying Groups: In many organizations, purchasing is handled by ad hoc buying groups formed by employees across departments rather than a dedicated procurement team. Self-service options allow these employees to efficiently complete purchasing tasks alongside their regular duties, without going through a centralized process for every purchase.

    Manufacturers need to take action to adapt to these new B2B sales strategies. Epicor CPQ can become the foundation here. You can embed visual configurators into your website, allowing prospects to self-serve from anywhere, anytime, on any device. This generates a price and quote for the prospect without any interaction.

    Integration with eCommerce platforms lets new and existing customers place orders immediately, with Epicor CPQ orchestrating the downstream engineering, manufacturing, and fulfillment process. In other words, it’s a one-stop shop for self-service in the manufacturing industry.

    Taking a Hybrid Approach

    While self-service eCommerce models offer numerous benefits, they may not be the ideal solution for every manufacturer. 

    In some industries, customers still value the opportunity to interact with knowledgeable product experts throughout the sales process. For these companies, the key to success lies in providing a hybrid model that combines the convenience and flexibility of self-service with the personalized support and expertise of a dedicated sales team.

    One practical approach is to create a self-service gateway where prospects can explore, learn about, and interact with your products before progressing through the sales funnel to more high-touch methods. 

    Visual product configurators serve as the perfect self-service gateway. When embedded in your website, these configurators allow customers to independently customize products according to their needs. The CPQ system can capture data from these interactions, enabling your sales team to follow up by phone or email with a clear understanding of each customer’s interests. 

    This approach not only boosts efficiency but also enhances the overall customer experience by providing a seamless transition from self-service to human support.

    In Summary

    B2B sales strategies are rapidly evolving, presenting immense opportunities for both digital leaders and laggards. By leveraging CPQ, AI, and clean data, slower adopters can catch up and surpass their competitors. 

    The key to becoming a digital leader lies in employing a multifaceted approach that combines several strategies discussed in this article. The future of B2B sales is here and is ripe for the taking.

    Emily Stevens

    Emily Stevens

    Emily is a marketing professional with knowledge across branding, digital strategy, and creative content. She enjoys educating her audience on the benefits of products and how their ease and use can help with efficiency and problem solving.