The Buyer-Seller Disconnect10 May, 2006 By: Linda Rigano
Study by ThomasNet and Google finds that in the industrial supplier community, Web sites don't deliver and sales are lost
Industrial buyers seeking everything from nuts and bolts to sophisticated manufacturing equipment are turning to the Internet nearly twice as often as the offline information sources they have traditionally relied on, according to a recent study of industrial buying behaviors. But at the same time, this study also brings to light a major disconnect between online buyers and the suppliers they seek to do business with.
This joint study, conducted by ThomasNet and Google, revealed that industrial buyers are increasingly turning to the Internet when conducting a search for products and services, bypassing offline sources, such as distributors’ catalogs and sales representatives. This sounds like good news for industrial sellers who are already online. After all, what company today doesn’t have a Web site?
However, the same research indicates that in many cases, suppliers are not providing online buyers with the information they want. To make better use of their online marketing dollars, suppliers need to increase awareness of how industrial buyers look for products and services on the Internet. This includes knowledge of where industrial buyers go online and what types of information they seek.
Research, Compare, Purchase
The Internet has become the primary source of information for industrial buyers. According to the joint study, nine out of ten buyers start with the Internet to source products and services. This trend toward sourcing online has changed the way that industrial buyers research, compare and eventually purchase products and services, by drastically shortening the process. Traditionally, the purchasing process from identifying potential suppliers to selecting a supplier and purchasing goods and services took weeks and months -- now it can take just a few hours.
Although industrial buyers once did all sourcing offline, today more than 54% initiate purchasing research online, by investigating various products. Most buyers learn enough from this to draw some conclusions or take some action. Nearly all -- 97% -- then take one or more actions online or offline, including making a recommendation, sending a purchase order or sending an RFQ (request for quotation) to a supplier.
Where Are Customers Looking, and Why?
For industrial suppliers to effectively market products and services online, it’s important to know where potential customers are searching. According to the joint study, search engines and specific company sites are the first places buyers look for products and services, followed closely by industrial destination sites. In addition, industrial buyers use trade and industrial association Web sites.
It’s equally if not more important to know exactly what information industrial buyers are looking for when they search for products and services online. Respondents in the joint study said they are looking for specific product information and online tools that make it efficient and intuitive to research, compare and purchase products and services.
The Buyer-Seller Disconnect
This data might seem elementary, but the study results revealed a surprising disconnect between online buyers and sellers. Research indicates that if potential buyers manage to find a potential supplier’s company Web site, they are likely to find the information lacking. Simply put, most industrial suppliers aren’t providing the information or online tools that potential customers seek. This causes companies to unwittingly lose business.
|The industrial buyer-seller disconnect.|
Many supplier Web sites provide product descriptions and applications, but that alone is not enough. Savvy online buyers are looking for in-depth information, including product pricing, technical support details, local distributor locations, shipping and ordering information and CAD drawings and plans. They want supplier information as well as product articles and reviews.
How to Bridge the Gap
It’s vital to the success of industrial suppliers’ businesses to learn how to use the Internet to effectively market products and services. Research shows that nearly every online buyer who can effectively research and compare products online made a recommendation, sent a purchase order or sent an RFQ to a supplier. Suppliers can’t afford to miss this opportunity. Industrial companies interested in bridging the buyer-seller gap need to focus on enhancing online offerings.
Maintain a visible presence. First, suppliers should maintain a presence in all the places their potential buyers are looking for information. This means advertising on destination sites and search engines that attract industrial buyers. This will most likely increase quality traffic to a supplier’s Web site. But this alone is not enough.
Provide all information and tools for decision-making. Once suppliers have potential buyers on their Web site, they must provide all the necessary product and service information and tools that an online buyer needs to make a buying decision. This includes searchable online catalogs, application notes, extensive product information and pricing information. If customers include design engineers, this also means providing downloadable CAD drawings. Keep all this information up-to-date and easy to access. This might mean a Web site revamp, but the potential return-on-investment through increased online sales will more than justify the expense.
Editor's note: This article was initially attributed to Brian Bluff of ThomasNet. We apologize for the error. Updated May 11, 2006.