How Digital is Disrupting Specialty Chemical Sales and Marketing

How Digital is Disrupting Specialty Chemical Sales and Marketing

With Millennials entering the workforce in droves and companies evolving towards digitization, the game has certainly changed—and no more evident is this than in the chemical industry.

Considering The Economist has recently declared the chemicals industry to be in a golden age of materials, due in large part to savvy CEOs and key industry executives making the swift decision to capitalize on embracing new technological capabilities and their changing workforce. The time has never been more crucial for chemical companies to adapt—or be left behind by companies that will.

One overlooked area where this rapid change is needed most is evident in the sales and marketing for chemical companies. Let’s take a look at how the chemical industry is evolving and what the future holds.

The Chemical Industry in Transition

Up until recently, online marketing and sales in the chemical industry had followed a familiar business ethos. In the traditional sense, companies set up a website as part of an “online brochure,” where potential customers would actively investigate the product and follow-up by contacting a sales representative on their schedule. Today’s buyers require a lot more than brochure-ware. Today’s buyers demand information at their fingertips and they don’t want to lose time when not necessary.  According to a 2017 McKinsey study, 85 percent of B2B chemical purchasers would prefer to reorder via a digital channel, than having to interact with a salesperson.

The chemical industry is taking note of this trend towards accommodating new talent and leveraging digitization. This was discussed in a recent episode of Game Changers, a SAP-sponsored podcast geared towards discussing new trends in the chemical industry. Michael Casey, managing director at Accenture North American Chemicals and Natural Resources Industry Group, and Bob Parker, group VP of research direction at IDC Manufacturing Insights and Retail Insights, took part in a discussion that confirmed that industry giants are making the shift towards digitization and new business models. They cited a number of established chemical companies, like Asian Paints and Monsanto, that have made the leap in terms of shifting their sales and marketing models, as well as smaller companies that embraced technology on their own scale. One illustrative example mentioned includes a chlorine company that shifted its entire focus from formerly selling commodities to instead focusing on sensor-based automatic dispensing machine that actually solved what modern customers wanted: cleaner pools.

Millennial Workforce

Technology is only one component of this shift in the chemical industry paradigm. What has also managed to change is who is purchasing and who is working at chemical companies. The answer is Millennials.

In the chemical industry, almost 40% of employees are Millennials today, according to recent statistics from PriceWaterhouseCoopers. This number exceeds national estimates, where 53.6 million American workers (more than one-in-three), are Millennials, making up the largest share of the American workforce after recently surpassing Generation X (Source: Pew Research). Older workers are also now retiring, being replaced by a generation of Millennials  (adults aged 18 – 34) that demand digital technologies at an astonishing rate—by 2020, it’s estimated that nearly half of the American workforce will be Millennials.

What makes Millennials unique is their preference to move past a reliance on in-person relationships and other inefficient conventions of the past. Chemical companies that use powerful digital strategies grow and diversify their revenue streams, land new customers in search of a personalized experience, and ultimately connect with younger buyers, a literal wave of the future. Their familiarity with what the new chemical market is after and its particular rules of engagement (i.e. social media, blogging, social groups, UI/UX, email lists, etc.) is an asset to chemical companies. By filling this ever-widening gap in the marketplace, Millennials can best tailor its methods to every chemical buyer, not “just the way it is.”

Chemical companies can’t afford to become complacent—those that don’t incorporate the latest technology and digital best practices now will only suffer more difficulties when this trend accelerates in years to come. Companies like ChemSource specialize in bridging the gap, from the antiquated business models of the past to the efficient methods of the future.          

Leveraging the Future of Sales and Marketing in the Chemical Industry

So, what are the ways that the new business model of the chemical industry is embracing?

  • Digital Lead Generation

Every day buyers of Bulk/LTL materials are going online to research and choose a vendor. Gone are they days of CEO's saying "our customers don't buy online". The fact is that if your brand does not have a way to attract and qualify leads, your business is losing sales daily. A digital lead generation strategy should be the #1 priority for any chemical company that does not have a lead-gen strategy.

  • Offering multiple levels of service

Rather than offering the same customized service to every customer, companies can now offer different levels of service based on the customer’s needs. Specialty chemicals benefit from this trend, as digital methods that can be used to further tailor specifications are now available to customers big and small. Furthermore, data analytics also means that chemical companies can now segment their list of customers and in order to offer products that are more tailored to each customer and varying price points. Previously unused sources, like unstructured social media data, can help a chemical company’s sales and marketing division respond with appropriate marketing campaigns and innovative service offerings that hone in what customers are looking for. This versatility supersedes the one-size-fits-all approach in the old model.

  • Separate business units

Companies are now able to develop separate business units that can handle both small, specialized orders and large, recurring invoices. This makes sense where companies may wish to offer a particular product to a specific segment of their market without the risk of it contaminating the other services they offer. This gives companies the flexibility to offer different services and use different processes minus to confusion to both the customer and the provider.

  • Leveraging tech as part of inventory and sales

In addition to the new possibilities of digitization from understanding target markets and their wants, Innovative tech by each part of the chemicals industry is broadening the scope of how companies and their customers relate. Using such recent advances like IoT, or “the Internet of Things,” needless hoops in the sales funnel can be circumvented. For instance, sensors and telemetry can be used to automate the replenishment process to customers, as well as the “just-in-time” model, where sensors and software can help predict when products are available to be shipped.

From the changing workforce to the available technology, there is now an opportunity for agile players in the chemical industry to steal business from more established, but slower, competitors.