Turning Crisis into Opportunity: 4 Key Learnings for the B2B Bearing Industry
History has shown time again that crises drive big change and accelerate innovation, and Covid-19 will be no different. The pandemic stilled production in many industries for months, damaged supply chains, and perhaps changed forever the way we do business.
Social distancing, lockdowns and travel restrictions have driven digitalisation in particular, even in traditional industries that so far have not been relying on digital technologies. The Economist is fittingly calling the current post-pandemic phase the era of “tech-celeration.” Drones are delivering our groceries, doctors speak to us via video chat, and Michelin starred restaurants are offering take-out menus. But business practices have also adapted in B2B industries like the bearing trade. This article takes a look at 4 key learnings from this latest global crisis, and how these will take the bearing industry further into the future.
I. Buying and selling go digital
The bearing industry has seen undeniable shifts towards digitalisation in recent years. This shift demonstrates that distributors are recognising the need to adapt to more modern forms of business in order to meet their customers’ needs.
Implementing a user-friendly online shop, for example, can be one of the most beneficial and long-term investments a business can make. Particularly when faced with challenging market conditions, an online shop (when implemented effectively) means increased customer accessibility to your valuable stock. User-friendliness is, of course, crucial. Two relatively simple functions that make a big difference in how users interact with a site are a) an effective product search function and b) an order tracking function. Ensuring that your customers can find exactly what they need (despite variations in bearing codes and designations) and that they can access up-to-date order information are two simple but key elements to ensure customers return again and again to your online shop.
Whilst online selling is nothing new, early-adopters are now paving the way by going one step further and digitalizing their buying processes too. One example of this is Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) - a digital data connection which allows customers to place orders directly through their own business management system. This process allows for a multitude of purchasing benefits: quicker, easier ordering with increased accuracy and security. Some digital services also come with added perks – PICARD, for example, reward EDI customers with full access to their best prices, such as OCCASION offers. Since the start of the pandemic, we at PICARD have seen a 40% increase in the number of EDI customers globally. This shows that business processes in the bearing industry are shifting more and more towards digitalization.
II. Multi-channel communication is king
Businesses ahead of the competition are able to interact with their customers, partners and suppliers via multiple channels, and these channels should be efficient, simple and interruption-free.
Since the pandemic has pushed communication online, it is now more important than ever that businesses offer multiple options for users to interact with their services. For example, a distributor should be able to log in to an online shop, fill their basket with items, book a call-back with a sales advisor via WhatsApp, speak with their account manager (in their own language), and then complete their order via the online shop – and, most importantly, this entire process should be consistent, interconnected and personalised.
Businesses who can adapt their communication channels to fit the needs of their users are the most likely to offer a complete user-friendly experience, and therefore benefit from our increasingly technological world. The aim is, after every interaction, to leave customers feeling satisfied that the job is done, and to a good standard.
III. Offer logistics with your customer in mind
It is a distributor’s logistics that can make all the difference, especially in unsettled times. Having the edge when it comes to speed of delivery and range of stock proves invaluable to customers time after time. Offering certainty, flexibility and quality should be of absolute top priority.
It is when unexpected crises such as Covid hit that a business’s logistics help them stand out from the competition. For example, enabling customers to order as late as possible for next-day delivery can prove invaluable. The more flexibility you can offer, the more freedom your customers can benefit from. This freedom can make a big difference during periods of short supply.
During the pandemic, PICARD also saw an increased demand for services which reduce timely and costly shipping processes, such as neutral direct delivery to the end customer. The fact that our customers can have their items delivered directly to their end-customer with their own delivery note was a valuable service that proved very popular in certain markets during Covid.
IV. Build relationships for the long-term
Despite the changes the bearing industry has seen, one key element of day-to-day business remains central: trust. In times of unpredictability, a trusting business relationship in the B2B sector can be essential in maneuvering through periods of short supply. These relationships often require time to develop and are built over a series of interactions and an understanding of the others’ capabilities and needs. To acquire this knowledge, in-person visits have long been standard practice in the industry, and an enjoyable one too. There is no doubt that the ability to shake hands with a business partner or customer has been sorely missed in the last 24 months.
However, seeing this period of suspended personal contact as an opportunity to enhance alternative offerings, such as Zoom meetings or webinars, has been what’s maintained or even improved business relationships during the crisis. One example of course was BearingNet’s first online User Meeting in 2021. Participation certainly indicated a willingness within the bearing community to remain connected despite the distance. Coming together once again in Dublin in 2022 will no doubt be appreciated by all and, of course, an opportunity to shake hands once again.
Two years after the global onset of Covid-19, we can begin to evaluate which business practices have been most impacted by suspended personal contact, disrupted supply lines, working from home and the many other developments we are now accustomed to. It remains true that companies who demonstrate a responsiveness to change, a focus on customer behavior, and an investment in business relationships are the ones who can avoid being overtaken by difficult events or challenging market conditions. The businesses that want to go one step further and gain the upper hand however, are now opting for the increased digitalization of standard practices. The pandemic has shown us that going digital is the future, and the future cannot be ignored.