In the age of online transactions, Yoav Kutner encourages vendors to upgrade their online sales experience

The construction industry has a big problem when it comes to e-commerce. On the one hand, B2B buyers are eager to go online to place orders for both parts and construction equipment, and vendors of all kinds are anxious to build out digital sales functions. In fact, nine out of ten construction companies see digital tech transforming the way they do business, and 84 percent expect to move 100 percent of their sales online in the near future.

But while there’s plenty of enthusiasm for e-commerce, many vendors are lagging when it comes to execution. Just one in 20 construction company customers say their online buying experience has been problem-free, and almost half say that their supplier relationships have been a significant challenge. This highlights one of the trickiest problems that construction companies face when it comes to selling online: customers are approaching the digital procurement process with sky-high expectations based on their experience of buying online using consumer e-commerce platforms.

This trend is an issue for obvious reasons. While vendors are experts at building the premium-quality equipment and parts their customers need, they simply don’t have the experience and expertise required to build out ecommerce capabilities from scratch, while delivering the flawless Amazon-grade online experiences that their customers increasingly expect.

So, what’s the solution? And how can vendors of construction parts, materials, and equipment adapt to a world of universal online sales? Let’s take a closer look.

1. Make personalization a priority

Every construction project is different, and every construction buyer is different too. Some are working on huge commercial projects across multiple worksites; others might be managing smaller residential renovations requiring specific hard-to-source materials. Whatever your customers need, it’s your job to give it to them, and that requires a commitment to personalizing your offerings to meet the specific needs of your buyers.

Of course, the needs of construction buyers aren’t the same as the needs of someone shopping for books or groceries on Amazon. To deliver a stellar experience, you need to make it easy and convenient to place the kinds of orders that construction buyers want to place, without having to jump through hoops or resort to emailing or calling a sales rep to finalize an order.

An effective sales portal might allow buyers to create and manage multiple product lists, for instance, while maintaining separate shopping lists and carts for different worksites. It might have infrastructure in place to manage complex price structures and offer personalized quotes. Or it might mean enabling personalized delivery options to ensure customers can split complex orders and get specific materials and equipment delivered where they need it, when they need it.

Another option that many firms find useful is to offer multiple storefronts to support the needs of different customer profiles. A company might sell through one storefront to consumers planning DIY projects, another storefront to contractors working on large projects, and a third storefront to teams seeking to rent heavy equipment. Achieving this kind of customization is less complex than it sounds: your e-commerce platform should provide a unified backend, enabling you to deliver tailored front-end experiences for different target markets.

2. Don’t sideline your sales reps

It’s easy to assume that digital sales channels are a replacement for human sales reps, especially when your e-commerce infrastructure is customized to fully meet your business needs and deliver personalized services for customers. The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. In the e-commerce era, your in-house construction sales experts have never been more important.

Yoav Kutner
Yoav Kutner

That’s partly because customization and personalization need to be steered by your team’s hard-earned experience in the sector and deep understanding of construction buyers’ needs, both in general and for individual clients. But it’s also because when it’s done right, e-commerce doesn’t supplant human agents – it empowers them to work smarter, and focus their energies on the places they can do the most good.

With instant notifications and full visibility into the digital customer sales journey, your sales reps can step in when they’re most needed to facilitate complex orders, close deals, solve problems, and unlock new upsell opportunities. Done right, this enables sales agents to evolve into the role of customer advisers, driving value and supporting customer retention, while also maximizing incoming revenues.

3. Find a platform that supports deep customization

You wouldn’t build a house on shaky foundations, and the same principle applies when you’re selecting an e-commerce platform to support your online sales: you need rock-solid online infrastructure that aligns exactly with the specific needs of your business. It’s hard to find that with off-the-shelf software, so it’s best to find a platform that supports deep customization and enables you to define exactly how you’ll present and package your offerings, and that gives you the means to evolve and expand your offering as new opportunities emerge.

Customization is especially important for equipment vendors, since many construction equipment deals are rentals, not outright purchases. That’s a complex proposition — while sales involve products and pricing, rentals also involve time periods, locations, accessories, and more. Many firms require painstaking manual processing for rental deals, but with a flexible enough platform it’s possible to build out true self-serve rental tools and deliver the slick, adaptable, and dependable online experience your customers crave.

Don’t get left behind

For today’s construction businesses, opting out of digital selling simply isn’t an option. But sellers can’t afford to simply phone in their e-commerce strategy, or expect off-the-shelf solutions to automatically meet their own business needs, let alone those of their customers.

To build the resilient, responsive, and intuitive e-commerce tools that construction buyers increasingly expect, companies need to start by ensuring they’re building their operations on a flexible e-Commerce platform designed for the specific needs of construction industry buyers and sellers. The specifics will need to be tailored to your own business needs. If you’re selling both parts and equipment, for instance, you might begin by perfecting your sales automation processes for parts, since they’re faster-moving and easier to sell online – you can then move to deep customization to support heavy machinery rentals.

The reality is that building out an e-commerce presence is a construction project in its own right, and it needs to be approached in much the same way. Listening to your customers, getting the right framework in place early on, and ensuring that you’re building with the future in mind is essential to deliver the slick experiences and robust feature-sets that today’s buyers now demand.