Sarah Schroeder

In 2020 amid the global pandemic and resulting shifts, everyone was talking about B2B digital transformation. But beyond being a buzzword, what exactly is digital transformation, particularly in the context of B2B manufacturing, and how do you make a roadmap to accelerate a manufacturing digital transformation?


B2B digital transformation is more than adding an ecommerce channel on your website for your customers to use for self-service purchases. As noted in our post Enabling the Culture to Move Your Digital Transformation Forward, a successful digital transformation whether for B2B or B2C requires a major shift in a business’s thinking, processes, and measures of success. Organizational structure may need to change to eliminate silos to allow for omnichannel experiences. Effective digital transformation should account for the entire customer journey and manufacturers need to acknowledge and account for multiple customer types and multiple journeys as well as considerations such as specialized customer pricing. It is also important to remember that digital transformation is an ongoing process and not a one and done project.


A McKinsey & Company report showed five times higher revenue growth for digital leaders in manufacturing and distribution compared to digital laggards.* Buyers benefit from rapid task completion which can benefit you as the seller through loyalty of those customers when you provide the experience they are looking for. All B2B ecommerce purchases both rep-assisted and self-service equalled those made more traditionally.** This is only likely to increase, and you don’t want to wait and miss opportunities.


It is one thing to say you need a digital transformation and that today’s B2B manufacturing buyers expect personalized omnichannel experiences, but where do you start? And how can you mitigate risks and ensure buy-in? The good news is you do not have to do everything at once. You can take a measured, data-informed four-step approach to building a roadmap that grows capabilities and drives digital maturity.

  1. Commerce and Product Content Management. In this step you will get organized to lay a solid foundation to build upon. You will deploy and test your value proposition by establishing basic experiences for buying, store your product information in a database (PIM) and then syndicate it to different channels, for example, catalog, website, distributors, and consumer-facing retail, so you have a master set of data to support channels. This step will also involve setting up whatever critical integrations you will need and tracking engagement analytics.
  2. Adoption. Now that you have your foundation in order, during this step, your organization will be learning. By focusing on adoption early in the program, you reduce the risk of investing in solutions that won’t deliver outcomes. You will start to build up the foundation you established by driving adoption through email and print campaigns and marketing automation. For example, you might email personalized offers or run promotions to engage dormant customers, post-purchase follow ups or abandoned cart retargeting. During this step, you will also address backlog items from launch and examine conversion analytics.
  3. Segment Expansion, Refined Experiences. You will use data collected to inform experiences, further personalizing and optimizing your customers’ experiences. Examples of things you might include at this stage to accomplish this:

    – Order via email experiences
    – Rebuy experiences
    – Onsite search optimization
    – Checkout optimization
    – Merchandising on product data
    – Cohort and optimization analytics
  4. Highly Personalized Digital Brands. Here you will further enhance the customer experience based on innovation and data. Tactics you might utilize:

    – Real-time personalization
    – Dealer sell through experiences
    – Merchandising on personal data
    – Broad A/B & multivariate testing
    – Data informed decisions

Understanding who your customer is and their customer journey is essential, keeping in mind that the purchaser and the user of your product are not always the same person and may have varying needs. While there are a number of ways to understand your customer, data from various sources from IP address and order history to preference center and social identity can help you move from having an anonymous view of your customer to having a more personal and full view of who they are. Using insights gained from the data, you can understand customer motivations and behaviors to engage the customer wherever they are in the customer journey.

Every manufacturing company’s road to digital transformation will look a bit different. However, all will need to choose the right platforms and partners who understand B2B, manufacturing, and your particular business challenges to help you accelerate maturity and reach your business goals.

* McKinsey & Company: How B2B Digital Leaders Drive Five Times More Revenue Growth Than Their Peers
**”Make Omnichannel Real in B2B Commerce” Forrester, February 1, 2021.