For more than 20 years, I was a digital manager for a large electronics supplier. During those years, we were constantly asking ourselves how we could delight and engage engineers, raise our conversion metrics, and drive real actionable activity into our demand funnel. We would benchmark against our competitors, run customer insight and feedback programs, conduct internal focus groups, use third party research, and analyze analytics data to formulate a roadmap. The one constant was that the ball was always moving, and it was a constant short and long-range struggle to stay ahead of the curve.
With the onset of COVID-19, there has been a dramatic shift regarding the importance of digital presence. Electronics distributors and suppliers came to the stark reality that their digital presence had to dramatically improve to remain competitive. With engineers in mass now working from home, salespeople unable to personally visit clients, and accelerating digital expectations from engineers, the pandemic created a perfect storm for the need for great digital presence.
Big Zeta meets clients on an almost daily basis who are looking for ways to differentiate their digital presence in the marketplace in a way that delights their customers, creates engagement, and covers as much of the buyer journey as possible.
So what are the digital imperatives that electronics suppliers and distributors should be paying attention to in 2021? How should they be approached, and how do you manage the potential short term wins with more long-term strategic investments? Let’s dive in and see where digital trends are headed in the electronics industry and where you can apply them to your digital presence.
VP of Marketing & Demand Sales
The Caveat - Do Your Homework
The imperative to “do your homework” has never been more important. Customer intelligence matters, and you need to understand your prospect and customer personas and buyer journeys. It is important to have a clear understanding of your company’s digital demand funnel, the digital competitive landscape, digital trends in both B2C and B2B, and your company’s digital analytics.
Still, it is commonplace to run into companies who see these types of “do your homework” projects as unnecessary or already instinctively understood. Nothing could be further from the truth. Often,
the companies who reject customer/competitor intelligence work are the ones who need it the most.
Digital Imperatives in Summary 2021
Your Electronics Website as a Digital Salesperson
Many electronics companies are working toward turning their websites and other digital touchpoints into a type of digital salesperson. The overarching goal is to drive as much of the buyer’s journey online as possible, while simultaneously delighting customers and freeing up sales to focus on the higher value selling activities. Some companies take this transition quite literally as they take questions that were traditionally fielded by a field sales person, and see how their digital presence compares in answering those same questions.
Imagine your website now as a simulated person, sitting across the table from a prospect or customer. Before a single question is ever asked, your customer is going to subconsciously make some judgments. Is the website professional? Is the website trustworthy? Does the website understand me as a buyer? First impressions count, and if your digital presence doesn’t build that initial trust, you have a problem before the first question is ever asked.
As you move on to actual questions, imagine your customer asking you about a product, and your website responding by walking them step by step down your cryptic product navigation, often moving from category to family, series, group, orderable part number, only to have the prospect end up with a long unsortable list of orderable part numbers that are difficult to understand. In frustration, your customer may go to your keyword search engine and enter a product name or part number, only to get a press release, support note, or software link, each not the type of result your customer was expecting. You can imagine how nonsensical it would be for a human salesperson to provide these types of answers, but electronics websites do this everyday.
Now imagine that your customer is asking for the products you recommend in the given family, series, or group for a given application. It is the rare company in the electronics industry that provides “suggested product” information. And what if the customer wants to know what other products your company sells that might be added to the overall board design? This is again something that few companies even try to attempt (and there are numerous excuses as to why this happens). You would expect your salespeople and FAEs to be able to make recommendations, cross-sell, and up-sell, and you should have the same expectation of your website.
Almost all electronics suppliers and distributors struggle to provide the right mix of contextual and transactional information in a way that allows the customer to make quick decisions.
Now let’s say you found the right part, and you’re asking the digital salesperson for all the key pieces of documentation, ecommerce information, partners, ecosystem, and support information. The digital salesperson puts a stack of packets filled with pages on the desk, forcing your customer to try and figure out how to get the most important information in front of them in a consumable way.
Almost all electronics suppliers and distributors struggle to provide the right mix of
contextual and transactional information in a way that allows the customer to make quick decisions. If this was a human salesperson, they’d have likely been fired. Customers expect context, insights, direction, experience, which are the types of things that even the best electronics supplier websites struggle to deliver.
It’s one thing to talk about the transition of making your website a digital salesperson, but quite another to put it into practice. Listed below are some key components you should consider as you think about the research, reports, and systems required to start to make this digital transition a reality.
The best salespeople know their customers, know their products and services, and know how to put it all together into a cohesive and persuasive pitch. The way to transfer that type of knowledge into your digital presence is through persona work, competitive analysis, internal reviews with key stakeholders, and operationalizing customer feedback.
You will need to do a baseline benchmark on key metrics to begin your journey. Ultimately you need to think like a salesperson, and really understand the behavior of your buyer. Think about
the process step by step, and use metrics to identify where there are holes in your buyer journey. Then, create action plans to plug up those holes. As updates and fixes are put in place, ongoing measurement will give you the insights you need to know if what you are doing is actually working.
Building out the digital salesperson is greatly assisted by having the right types of underlying technology. Systems like customer portals, marketing automation, and customer relationship management work together to give you the customer knowledge you need. Content management, product information management, eCommerce, and site search give you the right information at the right time and place in the buyer journey. There have never been more systems with better capabilities at different price points than ever before so if you’re starting from scratch or don’t have much budget there is still a lot you can do.
Even in 2021, the majority of electronics supplier and distributor websites still have a long way to
go to providing a friction-free experience for their customers. Outdated or disjointed website design, long and cryptic navigation structures, inconsistent content and data across products and pages, mind boggling search results, overly complicated eCommerce flows, and a host of other problems complicate customer experience. Companies need to focus on the right outcomes for their users and for their business, and then build the most optimal path between those two points.
There are a number of reasons for friction:
- Electronics products are complex to sell offline and online
- Engineers are a unique buying audience that require a balance of simplicity and sophistication
- Electronics companies still struggle to commit adequate resources (ex: people, process, technology) to create great digital experiences
- Electronics companies often lack the experienced teams to deliver on their user expectations
- Electronics companies are hamstrung by poor technology and an inability or unwillingness to fix their back-end systems to make digital really work
In 2021, all of these reasons read more like excuses, and they’re becoming fatal as forces like COVID-19, the influence of millennial engineers, and higher buyer expectations put increasing pressure on suppliers and distributors to up their digital game.
So where to start? The buyer journey can often give you the required customer map and help you identify buyer blocks, while your internal demand funnel will let you know where your digital business is bleeding out of your digital business. As you begin to create these optimal paths in your digital presence, you’ll be able to measure and continually optimize for the best results. Ultimately, your digital investments should be laser focused on optimizing these friction-free flows.
To create a friction-free website:
- Do your homework: It is nearly impossible to create great digital flows without doing your homework (ex; personas, buyer journeys, competitive analysis). You have to become a digital expert on buyer behavior, the digital environments they work in, how the buyer journey interplays with your digital demand funnel, and what your competitors are doing to take business away from you.
- Throw away the past: One of the biggest obstacles to creating great, frictionless buyer journeys is to stop being internally focused. Most websites have been built up over years, are structured on the internal processes of a supplier and distributor, and can often be the darlings of managers who say they’re customer focused even when they’re not. Suppliers and distributors continue to provide digital experiences that are internally focused, which means that they’re confusing, overly complicated, and not contemporary. Start with a fresh slate, built of doing your homework, andeven if you cannot initially provide the optimal customer experience (ex: you don’t have the right process or tech-stack) get as close to that optimal state as you possibly can, working toward the rest over time.
- Get out the knife: Digital experience has become more and more simplistic, mirroring the less formal nature of business in general. Suppliers and distributors need to come to terms with the fact that the days of reproducing your line card or product catalog online and being good enough are gone. You have to be willing to get aggressive and cut away the fat from your website. Trust that those “nice-to-have” pieces of content can be put somewhere findable that isn’t in the main flow of the buyer journey, or dropped all together. Some key places to start include:
- a. Do your research: Use your groundwork to find out what matters and doesn’t matter to your customer. For example, research reports are showing that electrical engineers are holding contextual information (ex: tutorials) in much higher regard than in the past.
b. Look at your analytics: If you have sophisticated enough analytics, look at what content or pages are accessed infrequently or not at all on your website, catalog them, and then discuss whether you should keep them on the site. Dropping unneeded content can actually be a benefit to your customer and your company.
- Elevators: Many electronics supplier and distributor websites are like giant buildings filled with staircases. They have thousands pages in hierarchies (ex: floors) that are mainly accessible through myriad staircases (navigation). Many
of these navigation flows can go five to ten levels deep (product - category - family- series
- group - orderable part number - company purchase pages, distributor ecommerce pages). The smartest companies provide what I call “elevators” on their pages. The best companies have great keyword search, parametric search, configurators, selectors, wizards, searchwidgets constrained to a given page, they make it easy to traverse a website without having to rely on website navigation alone.
Creating fluid, friction-free websites can be difficult, but it is a mandatory direction for suppliers and distributors. In many ways, it is a lot of fun. We’ve all cleaned a bedroom, emptied out a garage, pruned a hedge, and felt a giant sense of relief and accomplishment. Imagine that feeling a thousand times over as your prospects and customers get through your buyer journey in the most delightful and direct way possible, resulting in the outcomes your customer wants and your business needs to succeed.
How to Get There:
Having a friction-free mindset when it comes to your digital presence is a paradigm shift. Do your research, get out the knife, fight the internal company bias, and get to work. Listed below are some key components you should consider to create the optimal customer flow.
Research and Intelligence
Having the right research and intelligence will give you the direction and supporting evidence you need to identify customer blocks, and to propose how to fix them. Personas, competitive analysis, buyer journey flows give you the framework to make decisions, and analytics will allow you to identify where in those frameworks you’re seeing issues.
Getting friction-free requires good metrics. You’re going to want to baseline your current state, and then measure against your key friction-free goals. You’ll want to map key buyer flows through the buyer journey and note how they perform, identifying how those flows impact the conversion rate in your demand funnel. Search reports can help you better understand the types of questions prospects are searching on, and if they’re getting the right results. And don’t forget customer feedback, provided through sophisticated programs like Net Promoter or simple feedback forms. Customer feedback can be a great lever to get support for key initiatives.
Website presentation layers, content management systems, product information management systems, and search and analytics are major components in creating friction-free websites. Transitioning complex backends into customer-facing digital experiences is where the best suppliers and distributors shine.
Personalization can be tough to get right. There needs to be the right mix of segmentation, campaigning, content, calls to action, and technology to support a personalization program.
Personalization is not a new concept in the digital B2B world, and nowhere is it needed more than in the electronics industry. The electronics industry, with its complex products, applications, buyer flows and back-end systems, really demands a personalization strategy. Most electronics companies take a one- size-fits-all approach to customers with little to no personalization, and, depending on the number of applications, industries and products, this results in a huge lost opportunity to convert.
But personalization can be tough to get right. There needs to be the right mix of segmentation, campaigning, content, calls to action, and technology to support a personalization program. The mapping of a customer’s personalization attributes, mapped to your company attributes, can also be a complex undertaking. Customer personalization attributes like role, industry, application, product, technology, design project geography, and revenue are only the beginning of how you can create personalization scenarios for your customers. So where to start on your personalization journey?
Creating General Segmentation
At the core of personalization is creating the right types of segmentation. Creating great segmentation requires the right source data to create accurate segments. Segmentation types can include:
- Account Based Marketing (ABM): ABM has been the rage for the past few years, and rightfully so. Companies are realizing much more targeted results with ABM. With ABM, marketing and sales will need to work together to identify the named accounts that you want to target. Once you create this ABM list, you’ll need to work to build up the capabilities to track those named accounts. Companies often do this via cookies, IP mapping, interactions with portals, marketing automation platforms, and eCommerce. Creating an ABM process and the required content and calls-to-action is a topic for another time.
- Application and Industry Segmentation: Many electronics companies provide views of their products from an application perspective (ex: automotive, consumer electronics, white goods). Creating segments by these application/industry groups is a natural extension of application/ industry content investments. Companies often capture this information via their web behavior, myCompanyPortal, marketing-automation- platforms, augmenting with third-party data like Dun & Bradstreet.
Product Segmentation: Segmenting by product is another approach. Product segmentation can be used to attract new customers, but also keep existing customers engaged. Creating time-limited nurtures integrated with longer drip campaigns can leverage these product segments to keep prospects and customers engaged. One key area around product segmentation is figuring out at what level you’ll segment (ex: product > category > family > series > group).
Identify Prospects and Customers for Segmentation
If you have a myCompany portal and/or a marketing automation platform that segments by different verticals, you most likely have a place to start to map your Application/Product Segmentation to your customer/prospect segmentation. Subscription centers within a “myCompany Portal” are also great segmentation sources. You will use these mappings to present the right personalization content and offers to the right customers and prospects. Another way to create this segmentation can be through cooking or IP address mapping where you track an anonymous customers web behavior, and if you see them primarily on certain application or product pages you can make the assumption that this is their dominant area of interest, and then personalize content and calls to action accordingly on other parts of your web presence. Leveraging personas, buyer journeys, and demand funnels should be an essential part of informing this segmentation. It will allow you to create the resonance between the target segment and your company that can raise conversion rates at significant levels.
The Right Content
Another step in the process (which could be also done in parallel with segmentation) is the content personalization audit. You’ll need to make sure that once you create your segments, you have the right mix of content to create a personalization program. You may find, after doing this audit, that you already have the key components required to start building out personalization campaigns on your digital channels. You may also find that you have gaps in your personalization content mix, or if it’s a new product, you may have to start from scratch. One mistake companies make with content is that they often think they have to create a mountain of new personalized content to get started, and this is not the case. Sometimes even subtle modifications (ex: titles, graphics, ctas) can be made to a general campaign, still resulting in significant top-of-funnel conversion rates. Electronics companies need to spend some time writing demand content or campaign content to weave around existing product content (ex: datasheets, app notes, reference designs). Spinning the right demand content with the right product content can provide superior results.
You will want to identify the optimal personalized path that you want a customer to walk down. A step by step path might include:
- Visit an application page or product page
- Download a datasheet
- View a product video or training
- Request a kit
- Download software or request a sales meeting.
More sophisticated personalization engines and marketing automation platforms can provide this type of tracking of a user down a personalization path (ex: what step are they on), and make sure to provide the next best piece of content. Note that the real question here is “where is the user on the path?” and “where do you want them to go next?” It would be nice if every user walked down a step by step path (ex: product page, datasheet, sample), but most user journeys are organic, and can be all over the place (ex; online training, ecosystem - forum, video, datasheet). So with all this variability, your pathing may not always be spot on. But realize that most targets are not going to catch on, pay attention to, or be offended if they see a personalized call to action on a website that they might have already seen. This can be more of an issue with your marketing automation platform if you’re mapping personalized call-to-action emails, and they’ve already gotten a similar email for something they’ve already done. This can generally be avoided by making sure a user never gets more than one of a distinct personalized email.
Now that you have your user segmentation, content segmentation, and pathing figured out, you’ll want to create personalized campaigns. You’ll most likely want to create personalized campaigns that will run on your website and also on your marketing automation platform (though it is not mandatory to do both). You’ll want to leverage time dependent campaigns, along with time independent drip campaigns mapped to your personalization paths. Note that you can create distinct campaigns by application or product, or you can have more general campaigns (ex: Try the New XYZ Product for Industrial Automation), and personalized components of that general campaign with minor personalization components (ex: Try the New XYZ Product for Industrial Automation, with accompany changes in titles, graphics). This allows for a lighter weight type of personalization campaign that can still provide good personalization results.
The Right Technology
The personalization technology vertical has exploded over the last few years, especially with the onset of account based marketing. Being able to tie together martech and adtech touchpoints is the optimal goal, and being able to operationalize those tools to create the optimal personalization capability. One of the opportunities and challenges with electronics is that many companies have vast troves of content and data in their content management or product information management systems, but it is difficult for them to leverage this into a personalization program because the content is not easily accessible from an automation perspective. Many electronics companies also lack demand generation content, and are not as experienced in creating narrative content that leverages content and data from source systems (ex: CMS/PIM). Core systems around personalization can include: Marketing Automation Platform (MAP), Personalization Platforms, Customer Data Platforms (CDP), Portals & Subscription Engines, De-Anonymizing Software, Content Management (CMS), Product Information Management (PIM) and the analytics and business intelligence systems to track the program. But the set of systems I’ve mentioned above are not mandatory to start your program. Even if you’re starting with a limited tech stack, you can begin to create your personalization program, it may just be more basic and manual to start. But even a basic program can lead to greater personalization capabilities.
The electronics company that can pull CMS and PIM information into personalization and demand generation campaigns and supporting systems is going to have a very competitive advantage all things being equal.
Personalization 2 - Considerations
Don’t let the idea of personalization overwhelm you. If you’re just starting out, focus on one or two campaigns that you can run on your website, and if you have a marketing automation platform, see how you can create an integrated program between your website touchpoints and your martech touchpoints to reach these customers. If you run personalization campaigns correctly, you’re going to start seeing results, and you can use those results to propose greater investments in personalization.
Research & Intelligence
Do your customer intelligence homework, but remember that segmentation, and mapping segmentation to campaigns and content, are key components for personalization. You’ll need to prioritize which products have the richest segmentations, content, and support to populate a successful personalization campaign.
I would recommend running your personalization metrics along the same buyer journey and demand funnel metrics that you use for your general programs. If you have more sophisticated personalization engines, then feel free to leverage them within the personalization core team, but outside that team I would recommend using the generally agreed upon metric frameworks you use for general demand tracking. Obviously, you’ll want to be able to filter general demand against personalized demand campaigns.
The tech stack for personalization is really variable depending on where you are on your personalization journey, and what types of resources (budget, people, technology) you can muster to build out your personalization program. Core systems would be your website and a marketing automation platform, which should help you start to build out your segments. As your program grows, you can look at dedicated personalization engines, more sophisticated marketing automation platforms, cms/pim integrations and more robust analytics/bi platforms.
Digital B2C Coming to B2B
The distance between a seller and buyer in the digital world has never been closer. Digital has allowed B2C companies to be nearly omnipresent in the lives of their buyers. Companies like Amazon are reachable via desktop, mobile phone, echo dots, voice search across enabled devices, and more.
Innovative B2C companies have been doing everything in their power to humanize the customer interaction. Their goal is to remove every impediment (ex: poor experience, poor process, poor fullment, poor service) from the customer interaction, and to speed up time to conversion or transaction while still delighting customers. As B2C buyers interact digitally with cutting edge companies the likes of Amazon, Facebook and Netflix, those expectations of quality digital experiences consciously and subconsciously become the expectations for them when they take off their B2C consumer hat and go to work and as B2B Buyer.
So what does this mean for an electronics company with its huge amounts of content and data, complex products, complex ecosystems, complex processes, and highly intelligent buyers? It means that you have a lot of complexity to manage. The good news is some of the newest digital trends may finally allow electronics companies to provide the types of B2C experiences that have been unattainable in the past.
Let’s review technologies that have some of the biggest promises for electronics companies:
Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning
Being able to apply AI/ML may begin to open up the door to doing the real personalization that is a pipe dream for most mid to large size electronics companies. Many companies have the content and data needed for certain degrees of personalization, but they don’t have the relationships and intelligence in their systems to pull the right mix of content and data for the right type of buyer. Instead of hiring armies of engineers (which most companies will not do, or cannot afford) you can begin to build these types of application, product and technology relationships via AI/ML, that really open up a whole new world of digital interactions. These mappings, along with the ability to better map applications and products to customer segments will
Digital analytics and business intelligence has grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade. Gone are the days of just tracking your digital touchpoints via Google Analytics. Sophisticated SAAS-based business intelligence tools can now provide deep insights across the buyer journey, demand funnel and really in almost any direction you can pull data from a source system. This ability to pull multiple data sets and create new data-rich reports is a game changer for companies who want to take their digital capabilities to the next level.
Creating great demand content is a given for most successful B2C Companies. B2B electronics companies are just beginning to embrace content marketing, and to push the content out through multiple channels (ex: social, demandgen, website, partner sites). Electronics companies often sit on vast treasure troves of product content and product data, but historically have struggled to create demand content that ties together the application and product content and data into cohesive campaigns. This type of content marketing will become only more valuable as electronics companies begin to unwind what it takes to spin up personalization. As mentioned earlier the ability to bring together great engineering demand content with high resonance personalization capabilities will be a major differentiator.
Writing long-form white papers has been a mainstay of electronics companies even before the digital age. The difference now is creating long-form content that is more contextual, outcome driven, and “chunkable.” As electronics constantly moves along the custom to commodity cycle, products or services that were once highly technical become simpler and more configurable. With the rise of DIY engineers, the move towards more componentization and configuration forces content to be focused in more contextual directions. Another benefit of long-form content is the chunkability of the content. If long-form content is structured correctly, sections of the document can be parsed out into smaller chunks, allowing for more reuse.
Most electronics companies are still trying to wrap their arms around a multi-channel strategy, in which the user can communicate via multiple channels, but where there is little to no synchronicity across those channels. Omnichannel takes that multi- channel strategy to the next level, providing seamless movement across channels where each channel is synchronized with every other channel. The ability to move from desktop to mobile phone, and across interactions with sales, service, ecommerce and support all are tied together. We’ve all had the poor experience of speaking with a support rep over the phone, only to be handed off to another rep who has to start the entire process over again. Electronics, with all of its complexity and high stakes, would benefit greatly from putting together an omni-channel strategy to acquire prospects and to keep them engaged in the hopes of converting them to real business.
We’ve already spoken about personalization in depth, but it is one of those digital mountains that looms over B2B Electronics companies. The companies who successfully navigate it will find their digital agility and ability to differentiate themselves in the market greatly increased.
Most electronics companies are still struggling with managing Google Analytics, let alone moving into predictive analytics. Making the move from basic digital analytics into more complex analytics/BI capabilities is the next step for most companies. But the premise of predictive analytics, the use of data, statistical algorithms and machine learning technical to identify the likelihood of future outcomes based on historical data, should be right up the electronics industry alley. For many electronics companies, there is so much complexity to be managed, so many potential directions to be entertained, and such high stakes for attracting, converting and retaining customers. Knowing where to place your bets with statistical support is really a no brainer. I would consider predictive analytics on the outer edge of achievability for most electronics companies.
Ultimately, the key to digital success in the electronics industry is knowing your audience. By putting in the time and effort it takes to develop accurate personas, information-based buyer journeys, and intuitive user design, your website becomes the sort of digital salesperson that companies only dream of.
By working to overcome common obstacles to delightful customer experiences, your website becomes frictionless, utilizing the breadth of tools available at your fingertips. From artificial intelligence to long form content to predictive analytics, creating a website that converts is within your reach.
Interested in how Big Zeta can help? Reach out today!