Chemical producers and suppliers have long sought after digital transformation but often had to settle for siloed digitalization efforts. Often these efforts bring about efficiency and lower costs but fall short of producing business transformation.
In addition, many digitalization efforts focus on earlier phases of the value chain, such as research and development (R&D) or procurement, and often neglect sales and marketing processes. McKinsey estimated that digital technologies that impact sales and marketing could drive some of the greatest EBITDA improvements for companies.
This is why business-to-business (B2B) chemical marketplaces that enable e-commerce are such a central topic right now among chemical producers as they truly change the way of doing business for chemical commercialization.
As chemical companies consider their options for entering and expanding into the e-commerce space, they should evaluate four considerations:
1) Does the solution fully enable and connect the entire buying process for your potential buyers and customers while preserving and augmenting your brand?
Making a purchase is one of the final steps in the buying process. Without enabling the upfront processes such as research, sample requests and selection on a single platform, the buyer loses significant efficiencies. Long-term adoption hinges on how well a platform meets their needs – from search and select to buy, track and reorder. Buyers won’t want to maintain logins and processes for hundreds of platforms and will gravitate toward a solution that fully connects the ecosystem of the chemicals industry. On the supplier side, chemical companies need solutions that will be adopted and maintained by buyers. It can be too onerous to be on every possible marketplace and maintain comprehensive data. Additionally, chemical suppliers want to protect and promote their brands, while most marketplaces promote their brands at the expense of suppliers.
2) Does the solution help chemical suppliers provide relevant, accurate and up-to-date information?
Chemical data management is crucial, and the consequences of poor data management are high for both suppliers and their customers. In addition to slowing down the innovation process, losing both revenue and market opportunities, poor data management exposes companies to potential liability and expensive penalties. Chemical companies may not think of documentation such as technical data sheets and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) as marketing tools, but they are used to make purchasing decisions. This is why digitalization solutions for suppliers must span the entire value chain from R&D through regulatory, marketing and ultimately sales. Having a solutions partner that can digitalize the process to create, maintain and distribute these documents across all channels, including e-commerce platforms, will be crucial to buyer adoption and satisfaction.
3) Does the solution provide broader market access?
Many B2B chemical marketplaces are immature and lack a consolidated audience of both suppliers and buyers. Buyers are unlikely to use a platform that lacks the breadth of products and technical data required to make efficient purchasing decisions, and suppliers should expect that a platform will broaden their access to new customers given the start-up and maintenance effort. Ideally, the platform should be another marketing channel to bolster awareness, new prospect acquisition and retention, and not a means of checking the e-commerce box. This means that the platform should have high domain authority to bring in buyers during the research phases and beyond. To achieve this, a platform should be equipped with modern marketing tools like search engine optimization (SEO) to improve the visibility of the suppliers’ portfolio to help attract, engage and acquire new customers.
4) Does the solution integrate with your other systems to provide real-time analytics, intelligence and a consistent user experience?
To fully leverage a chemical marketplace, data and analytics are critical. Giving your sales team insight into what searches prospects are conducting or products customers are researching can impact new sales opportunities and retention. Aggregating this information can be immensely valuable to marketing and product development to identify market trends and assist with forecasting. Connecting these insights into your existing customer relationship manager (CRM) can digitally transform your sales teams’ ability to close new deals without introducing a new system into their process, keeping sales efficient and helping with the use of data to maximize results. Integration with existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) and CRM systems can also help suppliers push real-time data on order status, inventory and shipment tracking to customers who can use this information for their planning and reporting purposes. In reality, e-commerce may not provide value to either a buyer or seller of chemicals with very narrow applications and a small, niche customer base. However, even in these instances, it still makes sense to provide a consistent experience across all web channels for technical and product information. Having a solution that integrates into your website to provide world-class search capabilities will still be essential for success and help you obtain technical and product information for research and ongoing use.
Until now, no platform or software solution has fulfilled these needs across the chemical industry ecosystem. That’s why UL and Agilis entered into a collaboration to help suppliers fully connect and digitally transform the purchasing process. The collaboration leverages UL Prospector®, a leading search engine for chemical materials and ingredients, and Agilis’ e-commerce technology expertise in the chemical industry to offer digital purchase and fulfillment solutions to Prospector users.
For over 20 years, Prospector has created an extensive network with hundreds of thousands of users and suppliers. Suppliers on Prospector can now build branded e-commerce portals with Agilis and link them with Prospector to offer end users an easy, convenient and secure way to buy their products.
In addition to broader market access through Prospector, UL provides chemical supply chain digitalization solutions for chemical suppliers to drive:
- Business growth and commercial excellence
- Product innovation and compliance
- Risk management and communication
Are you interested in learning more about UL’s B2B chemical marketplace and digitalization solutions? Contact us today.
Article and images © 2021. Article originally appeared in the June 7th 2021 issue of Chemical Week.