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May 24, 2021

Sean Donovan of MSA — The Safety Company: Building Trust on the B2B Digital Shelf

Written by: Lavender Nguyen
“If you’ve got fantastic salespeople that are out there that just really know their stuff – but when I click on your website, it’s just got so limited data – it’s scary. I kind of lose my trust, I trust your sales guy, but I don’t trust your company” — Sean Donovan, Digital Channel Manager for the Americas of MSA — The Safety Company

Bad product content breeds distrust, and it’s a critical issue in the business-to-business (B2B) industry. Approximately 69% of B2B customers cite lack of images as a major problem on sites. About 76% cite a lack of shipping transparency because distributors don’t have supply chain data. 

Sean Donovan joined MSA —The Safety Company as a digital channel manager for the Americas. He was assigned to manage strategic channel partners, find solutions to control online content, identify new digital channels, build a tech stack to satisfy their partners, and many other functions.

In the latest episode of the Unpacking the Digital Shelf podcast, entitled Building Trust on the B2B Digital Shelf, Donovan shared his strategies of using data to help channel partners to build trust with buyers.  

Here are some key takeaways from the podcast episode.

B2B and B2C Are Both Similar and Different

If we look from a pure, front-end perspective, B2B’s and (business-to-commerce) B2C’s websites look very similar. What you use to buy from home is the same as what you use to buy from your office computer — you have similar expectations.

But according to Donovan, there are huge differences between B2B and B2C.

“You’ve got a totally different type of customer … You’ve got a repeat buy over the long standing relationships. You have a far more complex purchasing process that involves multiple people … You’ve got personalized pricing that you have to be able to afford. You have to be able to offer different payment options, including punch out systems,” Donovan explains.

Another difference is that B2B buyers aren’t impulsive. 

“These are people that do this for a job. This is their living. This is what they do … The details are incredibly important. You buy the wrong piece of safety equipment and someone could die.”— Sean Donovan, Digital Channel Manager for the Americas of MSA — The Safety Company

Donovan says that from the back-end, there’s a big difference between what you’ve got to provide your B2B buyers and the type of content you need to give them. 

The process of delivering convenience, ease, and transparency in a B2B customer relationship is also much more complicated than that on the B2C side.

Provide Channel Partners With the Content They Need

For MSA — The Safety Company, ecommerce and ecommerce management means collaborating with their channel partners (also distributors) to help them achieve their goals. 

MSA needs to publish or syndicate their content to all their channel partners who upload the content to their ecommerce platform to serve end customers.

A product information management system (PIM) is necessary to increase collaboration between a manufacturer and distributors. 

But Donovan says that it needs more than just a PIM to take information and share it because “Everyone’s going to have their own solution, which doesn’t match everybody else’s solution.” 

You need to find a way to deliver information that’s good for you and good for your partners.

Ecommerce Is More Than Just Having a Good Website

According to Donovan, ecommerce doesn’t stop at a front-end website. It’s also being able to back it up with necessary logistics like the right pricing, correct dimensions, and other specifications like heat tolerance, intrinsic safety, and sensor sensitivity.

You need to turn your site into a research site; in other words, you need to provide your B2B buyers more than just basic data. Your website should also offer the ability to compare products and a nice list of attributes to make comparisons.

Donovan says that if you want to be seen as a reliable manufacturer, you need to create consistency so that no matter what or where people go to look, they’ll see the same level of detail on any page. Unless you provide this experience, your buyers will switch to your competitors.

Donovan adds that it’s necessary to create a consistent experience across channels to help distributors differentiate themselves from others. 

“If you’ve got fantastic salespeople that are out there that just really know their stuff. But when I click on your website, it’s just got so limited data. It’s scary. I kind of lose my trust, I trust your sales guy, but I don’t trust your company,” Donovan explains.

How to Build Trust in the B2B Space

Donovan shares that after adding some good data to a page on their site, MSA — The Safety Company increased their conversion rate by 30%. You can replicate this success by following his recommendations:

  • Apply a holistic approach to what you’re doing. Understand what you want with the data. Do you use it for your own ecommerce site, or is it your channel partners need?
  • Start adding content to a small number of SKUs, and then scale it. Put all the data into your system step by step.
  • Build a team with three core positions. 
    • A director or manager who handles strategies. 
    • “A champion of the platform” who could be multiple people, depending on your site or your strategy. These people will ensure everything is kept updated, every process runs smoothly, and everyone completes things properly. 
    • An online merchandiser who really understands what B2B buyers want.

Looking forward, Donovan emphasizes the importance of implementing analytics.

 “It’s about providing actual, actionable data for our key channel partners to improve both our opposition on their ecommerce sites and improve their conversion rates.”— Sean Donovan, Digital Channel Manager for the Americas of MSA — The Safety Company

Building trust isn’t just making data available for end buyers. But it’s also about bringing the data to your distributors and making them want to invest in and work with you.

Listen to the full podcast episode to learn more about Donovan’s strategies to turn MSA — The Safety Company into a reliable manufacturer and a go-to source for B2B industrial buyers.

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