Digital procurement – the golden path to better customer experience in the B2B industry

More and more manufacturers are using online configurators for their products as a method of customer retention

The influence of industrial digital transformation goes beyond just manufacturing activities and extends into other areas. Meanwhile many manufacturers recognise the potential of digital services in retaining customers – even when their products are non-digital in nature. Online configurators enable customers to find high-quality solutions that are precisely tailored to their individual needs. The result: a simplified ordering process and a significant improvement to the customer experience. A closer look at companies from various industry segments that have adopted digital procurement underscores this.

Five questions and five clicks are all it takes for a person using the ZARGES Selector to find a list of ladders that perfectly meet their individual need. With the convenient digital online tool (also available as an app), the veteran manufacturer is providing its customers simple and useful assistance when they are choosing the optimal ladder. The company has an online configurator for steps and platforms that is likewise able to create a customised solution in just a few steps; the solution is presented immediately to the user as a 3D model and will be manufactured to order.  Digital procurement is the magic word and refers to a concept that the manufacturer actively uses to get on track towards fostering and improving customer relations.

Procurement – a part of customer experience that should not be underestimated

"We have intensively analysed the needs and behaviour of our customers and noticed that even the procurement process has a significant impact on customer satisfaction," says Joost Knapen, head of marketing and product management at ZARGES GmbH. "To occupational health and safety officers as well as tradespeople, it is quite important that the ordering process and product selection process are simple and uncomplicated. And this is, for example, why the ZARGES Selector was created."

Such considerations have also encouraged other companies to introduce digital solutions that help their customers in making procurement decisions and configuring products, thereby creating significant added value. An example of this is the EasySelect product configurator of KRONE, a leading manufacturer of agricultural equipment. Whether it is chaff cutters, compactors, forage wagons or mowers – the digital tool allows farmers and agricultural contractors to easily select their desired machines along with all the components and assemble them virtually. A special feature of the software in terms of variant management: the solution can map the entire process chain – from the customer that uses the tool on the website, to the distributors and KRONE plant managers, to the designers in the plant. "In the past, we used price lists printed on paper. But we wanted a product configurator on our website," says KRONE project manager Reiner Möller, explaining their decision.

Making the sales process flexible, swift and reliable

A multistage sales process is the norm for agricultural equipment. This means that before the introduction of EasySelect, paper-based processes involving faxing, photocopying pages from catalogues, and writing remarks by hand are part and parcel of the workflow. "We had three major goals in mind," says Möller. "First, farmers and agricultural contractors should be able to take their time to find out more about our products and configuration options – on our website, as and when they want. Second, we want to provide our distribution partners with proper support. Impossible combinations should be excluded from the outset. The third goal was to prevent errors that could happen in the past, for example when sending a fax."

The result after introducing the product configurator: KRONE saves a significant amount of time and has improved reliability. "A quote can be provided exactly as intended," notes Reiner Möller. "It looks professional and offers an appropriate platform for putting up information for everyone involved."

Time savings thanks to streamlined processes

WÜRTH Fahrzeugeinrichtungen is an example of how long-lasting and successful the concept of a product configurator can be. Since 1997, the specialist in vehicle workbenches has been providing its customers with a product configurator, which is constantly updated to incorporate the latest features. The core of the company's business model involves equipping commercial vehicles to turn them into mobile workshops. The company fits vehicles of different manufacturers and series with cabinets, workbenches, drawer and case modules, load-securing elements, roof racks, steps, and electrical installations according to customers' wishes and needs.

"The procedure is extremely simple: our sales representative visits the customer, takes a look at the vehicle and records the vehicle's information in the configurator. Then we work together with the customer to plan the fittings according to their needs," explains Frank Karpawitz, project manager at WÜRTH Fahrzeugeinrichtungen. After concluding the planning phase, the ordering process can begin directly via the configurator. The benefits: the customer can receive an offer immediately without having to wait or to be put on hold. Furthermore, the solution also offers the option of one-click ordering with data transmission to the SAP system. "All in all, the electronic order processing is much more straightforward, manageable and reliable. It minimises sources of error, thus improving customer satisfaction.

High level of usability thanks to well-designed graphic interface

ZARGES focuses on providing clear and pragmatic suggested solutions:  The ZARGES multimedia planning system can be used to customise steps and platforms to the specific needs of a customer. At its core is the standards-compliant online configurator with real-time 3D visualisation. The system guides users through the individual configuration steps, prompting them for all relevant information in a logical sequence. After the process, users can download the drawing and 3D model, use them for space planning, and then send them to ZARGES. This approach allows access systems to be delivered and commissioned for use in the customer's premises within ten days – offering a significant advantage in terms of user-friendliness and time savings.

Satisfied customer base secures the future of the business model

The fact that customer experience is highly important even in the B2B sector has driven more and more manufacturers to distinguish themselves from the competition by offering perfect services right from the sales phase. In this regard, a well-designed product configurator can be a decisive unique selling point that sets a company apart, as demonstrated by the examples above. But one thing should be clear to everyone: The technology does not in any way replace conventional sales activities, but rather complements and facilitates them in a meaningful manner. Even though the technology can evidently help save time and costs, individual consultation still remains essential for keeping a successful business model going into the future.