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September 8, 2020

Steve Max of TE Connectivity: How B2B Brands Can Deliver the Ecommerce Experiences Millennial Buyers Expect

Written by: Satta Sarmah Hightower
"Test and learn. Test and learn, and go fast. Be OK with making some mistakes. If you wait to get everything perfect — if you wait to respond to every stakeholder in your organization — you're not going to go fast enough."
Steve Max, Director of Global Digital Commerce Strategy, TE Connectivity

Business-to-business (B2B) selling has become much more challenging in recent years. The purchasing process is no longer linear for B2B buyers. Thanks to digital transformation, many of these buyers spend significantly more time researching suppliers and their products independently than listening to sales pitches in face-to-face meetings.

While B2B buying habits are changing, no group is transforming the B2B buying process more than millennials — especially in manufacturing.

Steve Max, director of global digital commerce strategy at technology manufacturer TE Connectivity, said this group that now makes up 35% of workers are digital natives accustomed to searching online for the information they need.

Max shared his strategy for delivering the engaging ecommerce experiences these millennial B2B buyers demand on the Unpacking the Digital Shelf podcast episode "Those Darn B2B Millennial Buyers and Their Questions."


‘Why on Earth Would I Have to Call You for Pricing?’

Millennials represent the largest generation in the workforce, and 73% of B2B buying decisions involve millennials. This generation group can often do without constant face-to-face communication: Nearly 75% of this group say they get their information from a vendor's website.

"More and more, millennials don't want to interact with somebody. They want to self-service digitally, and this is accelerating the depths of services they expect," Max said. "In the past, you might get a customer [to go] so far digitally — you just have your product specs out there, but then they've got to call to get pricing availability."

"Millennials don't understand that. 'Why on earth would I have to call you for pricing?' 'Why on earth won't you publish the price of your product on the website?' That's a fairly rapid shift. It's something that manufacturers have had to adjust to," Max said.

Millennial buyers have upended the normal relationship-building process for B2B sales teams. Manufacturers and other suppliers now have to be more digitally-enabled to sell to this demographic effectively. Here's how TE Connectivity has done it, and how your organization can too.

Practice Digital Transparency to Avoid ‘Extra Legwork’

Like many manufacturers, TE Connectivity primarily posted product specifications and information that directed buyers to distributors on its website, but it didn't feature pricing details. 

This all changed nearly two years ago when the company launched its ecommerce program.

"We put the pricing out there and that we're actually trying to sell those parts. That's part of the information engineers need. They don't just need the specs on the part. They actually need to know that they can buy it — the availability and where they can get it. So, when they get to the phase of manufacturing this stuff, they know they have a viable part," Max said.

Putting pricing information on TE's website required some work for the company's product management team since TE Connectivity had always had a book price it shared with manufacturers. Determining a price that would be published to end-users required a little more legwork to translate this for engineers who were buying the products, and Max said the company continues to improve on this process.

Manage the Distributor Relationship by Communicating Intention

TE Connectivity also had to determine what types of products it would make available on its website. Currently, only 10% of its catalog is available for purchase on its site, while most TE's products are available for purchase through distributors.

Figuring out how to best manage this relationship will be critical for other manufacturers who want to sell directly to buyers. TE Connectivity did this successfully by clearly communicating its intentions with its partners.

"When we launched our ecommerce program, we did a lot of communication with our distributors to make sure they understood that our intent is not to compete with you, it's to give customers a choice, and that we really don't have any intention of supporting small customers for their larger purchases. Our intent is to funnel that to the distributors," Max said.

"But let's be honest, it's our job to sell our product, and we need to own that. A distributor's job is to sell a product — not just ours — so we have to take a more active role."
— Steve Max

Culture Shift: Transform the B2B Sales Process

While focusing on digital has helped to drive TE's transformation, the company also had to undergo a cultural transformation.

"One of the challenges that I see is that sales folks are used to engaging with their customers a certain way. They know the folks at the account, they've had relationships for a number of years, but as we see this demographic shift, they don't necessarily have visibility to the new people coming into their accounts, and they don't really have visibility in a lot of cases to how often their customers are actually using our website," Max said.

"They may have one, two, three, five, or six main contacts, but there might be 10 times the number of people engaging with our products and touching our website,” Max added. “One of the challenges and one of the opportunities is how do we get that information and deliver it back to our salespeople so they have visibility into how their customers are interacting with us digitally, whether it's downloading documents or placing an order for a sample.”

TE Connectivity has used data from its website to drive its sales process. Collaboration among its teams also helps to accelerate the sales cycle.

Collect the Voice of the Customer

"We have a number of ways to collect the voice of the customer [VOC]. We do talk to our sales teams. The digital team has an extremely close relationship with our customer support team. We have VOC mechanisms right on the site to collect feedback on every single page. For ecommerce, we have a checkout survey and then we do focus groups, as well, to gather feedback," Max said.

Max said bringing sales and digital teams together is crucial for enabling both groups to achieve their respective goals.

"A lot of digital folks, maybe they just want to focus on their next release or building the capabilities, but the most important thing for a digital team in a manufacturer organization is to spend time with the salespeople, talking to them, explaining your strategy and listening to their feedback. Sometimes it's going to be a little rough, but as you do that and you spend more time with these groups, they're going to develop trust and understand what you're doing."

Engage Millennial Buyers Long-Term

All of these efforts have enabled TE Connectivity to better engage B2B millennial buyers. However, for other manufacturers to establish lasting relationships with this buyer group, they must commit to developing a long-term digital strategy and investing in expanding their digital capabilities — whether that means launching their own ecommerce program or creating self-service tools on their website for buyers to get more information.

Each business unit has different processes and skill sets, so change management is just as important as any technology.

"When you talk to folks in sales, they get that digital's important. They just don't quite understand why it's important specifically to them and the accounts that they've managed for a number of years. There's really no secret sauce to solving this. It goes back to change management, and it goes back to collaboration."
— Steve Max

Collaboration and change management might just help manufacturers embrace (and better prepare for) the disruption B2B millennial buyers are causing in the industry. It also could position them to deliver a seamless online experience that enables these buyers to quickly get all their questions answered and make an informed buying decision — no face-to-face communication required.