In the chemical industry, getting close to customers and understanding their needs is a familiar and widely touted concept. For many chemical companies, it's also an elusive goal - and overall, the industry has a lot to do in this area. But companies that do this and succeed in becoming more customer centric are likely to find their efforts worthwhile.

According to Accenture's 2020 global buyer value study, a significant proportion (46 per cent) of customers of chemical companies - the "buyers" - are willing to pay a significant price premium (at least 5 per cent) if all their needs are met. More people (56 per cent) are willing to significantly increase the number of purchases (more than 10 per cent). In short, chemical companies, or "sellers", can sell more and ask for higher prices if they are more customer centric and better understand their needs.

When it comes to what buyers want, there are some factors that are quite common. Among the 11 chemical companies' customer industry and retailers in the study, reliability and product support are listed as two of the most important factors by buyers. Reliability is also the most important for consumers. But beyond that, the situation becomes more complex because there are significant differences in top-level demand across different industries.

Explore industry specific dynamics

In depth research into both industries explains why customer centric is not a one-stop approach and why sellers can benefit from a real understanding of their buyers.

Food production

For example, food manufacturers often have detailed product specifications, and they tend to buy formula intensive products. These practices enable them to give high-level evaluation to sellers who can accurately meet their needs. In the industry, 50 percent of buyers are willing to pay higher prices, 65 percent are willing to buy a larger number - if their needs are fully met. The three most important needs of these buyers are easy return, easy access to product information and a good working culture.

Plastics and rubber products

Manufacturers of plastics and rubber products have emerged in a different pattern. These companies mainly buy bulk chemicals. So, they are less concerned about the precise satisfaction of their own needs than food manufacturers, and may be more price sensitive. But they are still satisfied with their needs, 38 percent say they are willing to pay higher prices, 51 percent say they will increase their purchases significantly. For these companies, the top priority is regulatory support (for example, product registration), delivery response, and product access, which help them differentiate their products.

The situation of different industries is more complicated due to different customer needs in different regions. In food manufacturing, for example, returns are the most important factors in the Americas and the Asia Pacific region. In Europe, it didn't even get into the top 10.