How should you design your digital B2B sales process for customized products in a way that is easy to use and understand for customers, and saves you time? In this post we present the most common approaches and their pros and cons so that you easily can choose how to proceed.
Since there are numerous ways to connect all your different online systems it can be hard to pick a workflow that makes sense to your customers. You might have a web page with both content, catalogs and perhaps some calculators and configurator applications. On top of that, you might be considering an e-commerce platform or a customer portal. You also need to consider that each industry has it’s own patterns and rules of thumb that you need to take into consideration when you design the customer experience and the buyer journey.
We have described three of our favorite strategies below. You can use these as guides in the decision making of what setup best fits your B2B company. You can use all three with or without user login.
The configurator – the cornerstone that enables selling configured products
In all three strategies the customer interacts with the product in a configurator. A configurator is a web-based application where the customer can make choices such as setting measurements on different parts, choose color or functionality. The result is a tailor made or customized product that the customer has brought to life all by themselves. Inside the configurator there are product rules and limitations that assure that the customer can’t make wrong choices or design a product that can’t be manufactured. During the configuration process, the customer makes choices and the choices get visualized so that the customer can understand what different changes mean. When the customer is ready, the configurator generates documents that contain the details of the product (drawings, quoting documents, instructions for manufacturing).
But where do you put the configurator, and what happens before and after the configuration process? Read about the three strategies of how you design your online channels for configuration.
Strategy A – Configurator + Checkout Form
You can easily start with a digitized sales process is adding a single configurator to your homepage with a checkout form that sends an email.
By attaching auto-generated drawings and other documents from an online configurator, together with optional meta-data about the request, the sales team will need less effort to process each quotation request. Using email as the system behind the scenes is a quick start that can transition into a proper integration in the future, connecting with a customer portal, CPQ or ERP system.
|Benefits with strategy A
|+ Simple setup for a web-configurator
+ Looks fully automated from the outside
+ A good start setup that can evolve into a customer portal strategy (B)
+ Simple checkout form at the end of configuration that sends an email
|Drawbacks with strategy A
|– Saving and loading a configuration usually is limited to links in the users own email inbox
– Often experienced as limited for recurring customers
– Difficult to combine multiple products in the same quotation
– Instant pricing tough to implement
– Customer needs to wait for somebody to reply to the email with the quotation
Strategy B – Configurator(s) + Customer Portal
Having a customer portal where the users can do most of the quotation work themselves is a dream for many B2B companies. Today there are a number of platforms out there for this. Most of them are easy to integrate with web applications like CAD configurators and can be synced with modern ERP systems.
The customer portals open up more possibilities for the professional B2B customers that have clients of their own. The need for sales to handle every single quotation request can be reduced, and sales can take a more complementary role to help customers that get stuck, have special requests or are extra important to the company.
|Benefits with strategy B
|+ Makes it easy to work with multiple configurations in the same quotation
+ Makes it easy for professionals to come back and do repeat orders
+ Makes it easy for professionals to work with multiple quotations
+ Pricing and instant quotations possible to add
+ Logged in users can have different price-lists
|Drawbacks with strategy B
|– Requires login and user handling
– Big investment to bring out full capabilities of a customer portal
Strategy C – Configurator(s) + Shopping Cart
For some companies, the use of a traditional cart in a B2C manner can be good enough for digital sales of a customizable product. It fits well for companies that have a mix of standard parts and configured parts that are ordered directly by the customer.
Sales personnel wont need any involvement before the actual purchase, except for help answering questions.
|Benefits with strategy C
|+ Multiple configurable products added to the same order
+ Pricing always shown directly in the cart
+ Highly automated
|Drawbacks with strategy C
|– Not suitable for professional B2B customers
– More difficult to work with different price-lists
– Purchase needs to be completed
Enabling the customer to fill in the details and start doing the customization themselves is one of the biggest gains when automating the quotation process. A lot can thus be handled by a simple automated email at the beginning (strategy A).
But as the number of digital customers grows, the path to fully automated configurable sales is mainly decided by how long lead time the customers need between configuration and the actual placement of order. For some industries, it would be impossible to checkout and pay right away since it might even not be the same person doing the configuration (architect) and purchasing the product (contractor). Other industries have customers expecting the configuration and checkout to be done instantly.
Start small and iterate together with your clients! The strategy best suited for your business will evolve over time.