Earlier this year, Architectural Digest referred to Architizer as the “Amazon for architects”. While the alliteration was stellar, the analogy seemed a bit of stretch at the time, if only because Architizer deals solely in creating B2B connections between manufacturers and architecture firms, while Amazon is renowned for its vast B2C marketplace. Fast forward 6 months, and new research suggests this may have been a more accurate comparison than previously thought.
B2B manufacturers now need to embrace the qualities of e-commerce that were once solely the realm of B2C companies — think eBay, Alibaba and Etsy. Why? Because B2B e-commerce is growing fast.
According to a report by Forrester, e-commerce activity in the B2B sector within the United States hit $780 billion in 2015, and sales are projected to top $1.1 trillion by 2020. In the construction industry, this online migration points to a drastic change in the way AEC professionals research, specify and, ultimately, purchasing the products they need — and building-product manufacturers should adapt accordingly. But how? Here are three key points to keep in mind.
Occupy the Online Space Before Your Competitors
Architects increasingly expect a B2C-style e-commerce experience when sourcing materials for large scale construction. They want to see side-by-side comparisons of products. They demand professional images and videos of those products in use. They want a digital “basket”, within which they can compile all the elements they need for a project in one place. Convenience is key, according to B2B industry experts at Thomas Net. “The lines between B2B and B2C — once considered disparate markets — are beginning to blur,” said Team Thomas. “To stay ahead of the curve, manufacturers should now be focusing on offering rich, discoverable and manipulable product data.”
Online platforms are a natural fit to deliver such offerings, and if your company is already a part of Architizer’s marketplace, then you are one step ahead of many of your competitors. That said, it is important to make the most of your visibility by “occupying the space”.
This means responding to opportunities on the platform as regularly as possible. Manufacturers that respond to architects on the same day as they make their search are 86% more likely to be shortlisted than those responding the following day, according to platform data. The early bird really does get the worm when it comes to e-commerce, and this couldn’t be more pertinent to the AEC space, where time is the most precious commodity for perpetually busy architects.
Help Architects Avoid a Million-Dollar Mistake
One key difference between B2C- and B2B-scale products remains: The importance of making the right purchase in the B2B realm is astronomical given the size and value of the products involved. “You need to provide the specifier and buyer with the detailed data they need to make informed decisions,” said Team Thomas. “This is especially important in the B2B market, compared to the B2C market; users can probably afford to buy the wrong type of shoes, but in large-scale industrial operations, buying the wrong type of parts or equipment can be a million-dollar mistake.”
The last part of that quote might sound dramatic, but when it comes to the AEC industry, the numbers back this up. According to current data, a typical architect searches for between five and six building-products on Architizer per session, with each search valued at an average of $104,000. Employing a classic e-commerce analogy, that means that the average potential “basket size” on Architizer currently sits at $612,560. The upper end of the price spectrum is even more eye-opening — the highest value of a single search so far on the platform is $40 million, for a glazed façade system for a number of new high-rise structures in Mexico City.
In such a high-value market, any uptick in e-commerce activity among architects constitutes a huge opportunity for building-product manufacturers. However, this opportunity can only be seized if manufacturers tap into the B2C marketplace mentality. To this end, brands that spend time populating their Member Profiles with professional images and useful information substantially increase their chances of being surfaced in an architects’ research and considered for a project. Given the complex nature of products being sold, though, it is vital to combine this accessibility with timely technical expertise. Manufacturers should be on-hand to answer architects’ online queries about the design details, applications and limitations of each option.
Let Your Data Do the Talking
As more and more businesses go online in search of the products they need, face-to-face sales opportunities “are on the decline”, according to Thomas Net. This assertion falls in line with the preferences of architects, who typically prefer to conduct independent research into building-products rather than being sold to in person. “Today’s industrial B2B buyers are looking for a specification and purchasing journey similar to what they experience on Amazon — simple, anonymous, and self-educational,” said Team Thomas. “Rich, useful product data provides users with the intuitive, streamlined digital experience they expect.”
How should manufacturers leverage this change in behavior? The key is to “provide data that can do the talking for you,” according to Team Thomas. For building-product brands, the introduction of new Member Profiles on Architizer represents the perfect opportunity to display data in a highly visible, highly accessible fashion for architects, be it through images, product information or project connections.
Utilizing online platforms in this way means that your sales team can field inbound leads right at their desks. B2B e-commerce offers up the potential for manufacturers to circumvent many of the traditional, time-intensive routes to a sale, such as conducting lunch-and-learns, attending trade shows and holding seminars for CEU credits. If time is money, the internet is an increasingly valuable place for brands to be.
“The days of selling through a dedicated team of sales professionals — and controlling the business-customer relationship, from first contact to post-sale follow-up — are coming to an end,” asserted Team Thomas. For building-product manufacturers, this constitutes a moment of truth — are they willing to move with the changing times, or will they be left behind?
As 2017 draws to a close, it appears that “Amazon for architects” is finally here. Now it’s time for the makers of architectural materials to step up to the online marketplace and harness its huge potential.