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Study: Manufacturers Look to Move from Offline to E-Commerce for B2B Sales

Move over sales reps. Manufacturers are finally getting with the times.

By 2020, 56 percent of manufacturers said more than half of their B2B sales will be conducted online, according to a new study by e-commerce technology provider Four51.

That means sales representatives and call centers could start seeing their jobs dwindle.

“Manufacturing is changing and the pace of change is accelerating,” the study warned. “The latest set of disruptions—the Internet, big data, modern APIs, mobile, robotics, 3D printing, and more—are all new change agents which you, as manufacturers, need to grapple with, and will need to conquer to move forward.”

The study surveyed 200 manufacturing leaders and found that 54 percent are still using offline methods—sales representatives (33 percent), call centers (18 percent) and faxed orders (thankfully, only 3 percent)—as the primary means for managing customer orders. A still-substantial 25 percent of manufacturers, however, are still dialing up on fax machines for at least some of their orders.

Forty-five percent of those surveyed still don’t use e-commerce for any business at all, while 22 percent don’t have, or don’t know if they have, a five-year plan.

“Taken together, these data points raise concerns that North American manufacturers may be ill-prepared to adopt e-commerce and its benefits in the near future,” according to the study. “More broadly, this indicates a blind spot in strategic planning for manufacturers who aren’t thinking as far out as 2020 yet.”

But mobile’s move into mainstream isn’t waiting for manufacturers to catch up and those who don’t could be missing the opportunity to use e-commerce for more efficient sales and order management.

The manufacturers surveyed at least see that the trend toward mobile is upon them, with respondents predicting use of offline methods will fall from 54 percent to 34 percent as the main way to manage customer orders by 2020.

Between now and then, 42 percent of manufacturers said they will invest their money in online commerce, 42 percent will spend on big data and science, 40 percent on mobile commerce, 38 percent on digital payments, 35 percent of the Internet of Things (IoT) and 31 percent said they have plans to invest in predictive intelligence.

“Manufacturers must place significant importance on the customer relationship, digital business practices, and an IoT strategy to stay competitive throughout the next five years,” the report said.