adapt to digital buyer

Shifting from all analog to hybrid sales: how to capture the digital buyer

Published May 15, 2024 | Written by SpecialChem

Digitalization is changing the way buyers deal with chemical products, particularly specialty chemicals. We have discussed this topic in previous articles, such as discovering in detail how digital buyers differ from traditional buyers.

In a nutshell:

  • Technical buyers now do the exploration and screening phases of their project online, before even talking to a person
  • They prefer a self-serve experience in these early project phases
  • But they still want to access support when they need it to get applied expertise and personalization
  • A growing number of them even want a seller-free experience
  • The first contact they have with a brand is no longer analog, with a traditional salesperson, but a digital one, through a website
  • They choose the channel they want to interact with suppliers
  • And the moment they want
  • They make the first step
  • Their digital customer experience becomes a purchasing criterion

SpecialChem’s Digital Marketing Solutions help hundreds of chemical suppliers to “capture the digital buyer”. This is vast enough to observe how the leading companies deal with the new digital buyer, what works and what does not.

Here is a summary of the main trends we see developing within organizations that are the most advanced.

Yesterday Today
Only 1 true channel: Sales representative Multiple channels available
Customers have no choice but the "analog" channel Customers have a choice : digital (24x7, speed, no pressure) or human (richer, personalized, expertise)
Sales reps have all the info to sell  Information to sell is split in different systems
Reps SELLS from A to Z : engagement, qualification, pricing, recommendation, negotiation  Engagement, qualification, recommendation, support, negotiation are split across several channels and people
Prospection is about cold calling Cold calling is much less effective than inbound marketing
Marketing and Sales are siloed Marketing and Sales work on customer engagement in collaboration
Smaller "market radar" with less noise Huge "market radar" with more noise 
Few or no systems and processes are required Several synchronized systems and processes are needed
SIMPLE sales process but rigid for customers SOPHISTICATED sales process with great CX

From analog to full digital? Rather from analog to hybrid!


From mono-channel to multichannel sales

Not earlier than 10 years ago, in the analog age, the only true channel to go to the market was a person: the sales representative.

As digital customers love to have options, leading suppliers are adopting a multi-channel strategy. This strategy includes mixing new generation websites, selection platforms like SpecialChem, marketplaces, and customer portals to ensure that they are present throughout the digital buying journey of their customers.

They also understand the different functions each channel fulfils and its specific value. Choosing the right channels and adopting them to feed the sale processes is becoming a key success factor in the digital space.


Engagement-centric websites

Most chemical supplier websites are company-centric, with the primary goal of promoting how good the company is to the world. However, very few of these websites are truly customer-centric.

The customer-centric websites are primarily designed to encourage interactions with existing or future customers. Their content, navigation, paths, and proposed interactions are geared towards customer satisfaction and are based on customer experience research.

Great website recognize that customers prefer self-serve experiences and propose relevant content flows by application, communicating in the customer's language and answering the different questions they may have at various stages of the buying process. The content presented on these websites goes far beyond the traditional technical data sheet.

Leaders work on their customer experience to attract, detect, and connect with future customers.

Have a look at the new Dow website that has been redesigned by Dan Futter’s team. It is a great example of customer-centric, interaction driven (large!) website.

As customers prefer a seller-free experience to explore the possibilities offered by suppliers, online catalogs are one of the best tools that can be offered to them. These catalogs even tend to become the best sales tool in the absence of sales reps. This is evident even in the case of distributors: see Safic Alcan’s catalog driven by Juliette Gamez’s team.


Inbound approach sells more than outbound

Inbound selling, i.e. detecting and connecting with customers in search mode is converting 6 times more than the traditional outbound selling, represented by prospection. And much faster too.

Most digital leaders have understood this and have built solid inbound strategies. They have identified the best inbound channels on their markets (selection platforms like SpecialChem, search engines, marketplaces, etc.) and built a big and sensitive “radar” that tracks customers in need of their products at any point in time. As customers search for their products 24/7, this mesh of market-facing hooks maximizes the chances of detecting and connecting with them.

As a result, strategies relying on outbound prospection by sales representatives are doomed.


Hybrid sales

Fully analog sales forces are bound to struggle to gain new customers as they cannot serve the digital customer and miss a growing fraction of the market needs.

Symmetrically, fully digital sales experiences are an illusion for the time being, especially as the complexity of most sales is too great and requires humans to intervene on both sides.

An example of a typical hybrid sales path is when a buyer searches for a product on Google, lands on SpecialChem, sees selection guides and products, requests a sample, and is directed to the supplier's inside sales team who interacts with them by phone and email. The sales team recommends several options, sends a sample, and creates a customer portal account while the customer tests the product. The customer ends up buying a trial quantity.


More fragmented, software-supported and data-driven sales

The successful go-to-market undoubtedly lies in mixing a solid presence on all the relevant digital channels with human interactions based on knowledge (sales, technical, regulatory, sustainability), using digital software (CRM, PIM, chat, etc.), a lot of data, and new digital processes like marketing automation, scoring, qualification or nurturing.

Hybrid sales are more fragmented, characterized by a multiplication of people involved at the different steps of the process. Marketers create engaging content, inside sales qualify and recommend, tech teams bring specific expertise, field sales create bonds and negotiate…


Merging marketing and sales

Marketing's role is shifting from pure promotion and branding, like it was until 10 years ago, to engaging new customers by detecting and connecting with buyers in search mode. As a result, marketers are becoming an integral part of the sales process and often initiate it.

This marks a big shift in organizations where historically, sales and marketing have been split into two parallel silos. Companies are now creating revenue teams in which the very notions of sales and marketing tend to disappear.

We also see marketing functions being split between promotional marketing, which can very well use digital outbound tactics too, and customer engagement, which involves inbound marketing.


Major changes ahead

In most parts of the chemical industry, probably not all of it, shifting from purely analog sales forces to hybrid ones will be critical for the success and even the survival of companies.

However, this will require the adoption and alignment of new channels, software platforms, such as PIM and marketing automation, new processes, new skills, a lot of new data, and new positions. This will require vision, time, and money.


Why SpecialChem greatly helps suppliers in this journey?

SpecialChem is a fantastic support for suppliers in this journey. Firstly, a huge number of buyers search for their products on SpecialChem (9 million in 2023, involved in 6 million new product development projects!), making it easier for suppliers to detect and connect with potential customers. A growing number of suppliers see SpecialChem as an "unavoidable channel".
Secondly, SpecialChem Digital Marketing Solutions offer everything necessary to start the journey towards hybrid sales. In addition to the traffic itself, our solutions offer a truly integrated combination of ingredients needed to capture digital buyers:
  • The human resources (customer success manager, digital marketers, content writers, leads qualifiers…) that you do not need to hire internally
  • The digital maturity and know-how applied to B2B and particularly in chemicals
  • The alignment of software and tools,
  • All the customer data you need
  • New processes that are maybe not implemented into your own walls (behavioral targeting, retargeting, automatic lead scoring, qualification, nurturing…)

With SpecialChem you will not only capture the digital buyer. You will also learn how to. Well before you are fully ready to do so in your own organization. With a great deal of security. For a small fraction of the cost you will need to digitalize your own organization.



Do you want to reach chemical buyers? Or adapt your marketing strategy?
SpecialChem has the audience and expertise to support your business growth.