Overcoming Challenges to Chemical eCommerce

Chemical manufacturers are feeling the pressure. Fast-changing digital capabilities and evolving B2B buying options are quickly driving customer expectations higher. And for incumbents, the stakes are high. 70% of buyers reported they purchased more online for their business last year, and this number is growing as younger buyers gain purchasing power. Launching effective chemical e-commerce capabilities is key to gaining – and retaining – market share. But it’s not easy to deliver B2C experiences for B2B buyers. How can chemicals companies adjust their business models to deliver 5 star digital experiences?

Chemical e-Commerce Challenges

While online sales for the chemicals industry were already growing prior to 2020, COVID-19 accelerated the trend. Online sales jumped from $27.3B to $27.8B in 2020, and are expected to continue to grow as B2B industries shift to digital-first methodology. But launching a B2B buying portal isn’t as easy as adding a “click to purchase” button. The chemicals industry faces regulatory oversight, complex pricing structures, extensive product information requirements, and industry-wide digital immaturity. Overcoming these challenges doesn’t happen overnight, but it does need to happen quickly; digital laggards leave money on the table now and in the future. What do B2B buyers find difficult about purchasing online for their companies? A recent survey shows most buyers run into these pain points: ·      Finding and comparing products and pricing (59%) ·      Lack of product information (52%) ·      Delivery and fulfillment (37%) ·      Lack of eCommerce channel (27%)

Digital Transformation to Meet Customer Expectations

Rather than guessing at what your customers want, use real-world data to find your starting point. Start with the most common challenges and identify strategies to overcome them prior to launch. Between out-of-the-box capabilities and custom solutions, chemicals companies can create the right portal for their specific customers. Research shows 59% of B2B buyers have difficulty understanding product specifications and configurations. An additional 42% have trouble understanding how products would fit their business. Organize clear, consistent product information for each product before launching your eCommerce site. 34% of buyers also said they have difficulties understanding product pricing. In the past, B2B companies relied on salespeople to create custom quotes for clients. Adding custom quotes and pricing to an eCommerce portal allows B2B salespeople to serve as strategic advisers, rather than transactional assistants. Automating quoting also increases accuracy and consistency for the back office. Consider leveraging a CPQ solution to regulate, personalize, and optimize complex quoting. Creating simplified commerce solutions for chemicals companies isn’t impossible. Nexeo Solutions, for example, launched two storefronts in under four months. Their MyNexeo solution provides a one-stop shop for customers to get rich product data, place orders, retrieve documentation, track deliveries and manage invoices. Launching quickly allowed MyNexeo to iterate on their solution over time, reacting to customer feedback and using data analytics to identify areas of improvement.

Covid19 and Digital Business

For chemicals companies who were ready to take the leap into digital commerce, COVID-19 may have put plans on pause. Economic uncertainty, unpredictable markets, and changing digital needs made it difficult to plan for the future. It might have been enough just to react to these needs, but as strategy practice lead Mousumi Behari advised in her recent strategy guide, “businesses need to focus on long-lasting digital solutions that will support customer expectations long after COVID-19.” So how can chemicals companies adjust their business strategies to prepare for 2021? As Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said, “we must move our team from paralysis and into participation, enablement & relevance with our customers.” As Nexeo’s success illustrates, launching quickly and iterating over time can boost revenue and engagement. Don’t be paralyzed by the options available; instead, use behavior analytics from your customers to deliver where it matters.

Agile eCommerce in the Chemical Industry: Brenntag North America

Brenntag North America was an established leader in chemical distribution, but knew they needed to stay ahead of the curve to maintain their advantage. They wanted to give customers the option for self-service so they could order, view documentation, and review invoices from one online portal. They also needed to improve transparency and operational efficiency across their channels. Brenntag knew they wanted to launch quickly in four key markets: Canada, Latin America, United States Chemicals, and United States Lubricants. Launching in multiple markets meant customizing features to reflect local languages, currency, tax, and regulatory information. To enable faster launches, Avionos created a common code base with shared features for all four Salesforce B2B Commerce sites. This meant that while the first site launched in 6 months, subsequent sites launched in 8 weeks. Brenntag can now apply global changes without delays from development time. It was important to Brenntag to leverage their existing customer relationship management tool (CRM) as well as their enterprise resource management platform (ERPs). Rather than replacing this legacy technology, Avionos worked to integrate Salesforce B2B Commerce into these platforms. This helped keep So how did eCommerce help Brenntag achieve their goals? In the first six months after launch, they saw a boost of $11 million in digital revenue. Customer satisfaction has also increased. Josh Kester, digital channel manager at Brenntag, noted in a recent webinar that the things customers liked most about the tool were the readily available product details, readily accessible documents, and being able to access their orders during off hours.

Where do we go from here?

The best time to launch a digital channel is a few years ago; the second best time is now. Looking to move quickly and get to market in under 6 weeks? Get started on your B2B Commerce Quick Start and start growing online revenue. Let’s get started.

Connect With Me

Dan Neiweem

Dan is Principal and Co-Founder, with primary responsibilities including Business Development, Partner Alliances and Delivery Management. Dan leverages more than 15 years’ experience in running large business strategy, digital transformation and IT operations projects for some of the world’s leading brands and organizations.
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