By the mid-2010s, consumer adoption of digital was widespread, but in industrial B2B markets it was still in its infancy. However, strongly influenced by their consumer experiences, business customers were starting to ask why their B2B interactions were so slow, opaque, and dated in feel in comparison. At the same time, advanced analytics took a leap, which started to enable the more complex tailored solutions that are required in the B2B marketplace. New and front-running players embraced digital and gained significant traction, which applied urgent pressure on traditional players.
Many industrial B2B companies were slow to adapt. They felt protected on the one hand by strong customer lock-in and market dominance, and on the other, they felt hampered by complex environments featuring multiple customized products and customer-specific pricing and sales processes. Added to this was often a lack of management buy-in, characterised by managers who preferred the ‘gut-feel’ approach, while regarding IT as little more than a cost centre.
Early adopters however proved that digital could create superior B2B customer experiences, and thus drive value. Not only this, but they were able to realise efficiencies and drive down costs, thus unlocking long tails of previously underserved customers. The competitive advantages were overwhelming: for example, Kramp developed a best-practice B2B platform and rapidly grew its share of online sales from 0 to 90%.
We have supported our many industrial B2B clients in shaping their digital strategies and digitizing their routes-to-market. This goes hand-in-hand with developing the right technology and data landscapes, and helping implement a data-driven way of working. This in turn enables companies to capture the competitive advantages that come with sophisticated data analytics. We have ideated, piloted and scaled new digitally-enabled B2B business models and platforms, and we have also helped revise clients’ customer segmentations based on needs (as opposed to segmentations based on sales or order sizes), facilitating better tailoring of B2B customer engagement. Through these processes, we have shown the value digital can bring to B2B customers, while transferring digital capabilities and best practices to our clients.
Many of the challenges traditional companies face in the consumer goods industry apply also in B2B environments. These include: disconnected, functional siloes; complex, multi-category global operations; and decentralized P&Ls – all under attack from lean new disruptors and competition-enhancing demand aggregators. We have learned that to become a winner, industrial B2B players must position themselves as an indispensable linchpin in their core value chains. Achieving this requires defining the optimal strategic relationship with all other actors in the chain – in some cases bypassing middlemen, and in others strengthening relationships.
We helped Kramp, an agricultural spare parts business, develop a five-year digital strategy to strengthen and expand their position in the value chain. We then helped scale their digital B2B platform, which rapidly reached 250k weekly visits and drove online sales from 0 to 90%. We also co-designed new propositions, and implemented more cross-functional ways of working.
We worked with Henkel Adhesives to accelerate their digital transformation. This included developing new organizational and technological blueprints and facilitating pilot-projects in key customer segments, including >20 workshops within one month in 4 global core markets. In combination these enabled the company to become more customer-centric, agile, and data- led. Currently we are Henkel’s global digital partner of choice for their full multi-year digital transformation journey.