Digital Transformation Solutions & B2B Sales: Q&A With Our COO
With over 20 years of experience in technology consulting and marketing, our Chief Operating Officer Nathan Ulery often shares his perspective on digital transformation in B2B sales, including ideas on how to think differently about revenue growth and what it takes to manage the challenges and fast-paced changes of today’s digital landscape.
Our editors sat down with Nate to get his insights on the state of digital transformation. He’s got some real-world ideas both B2B marketers and the C-suite will find interesting, from dealing with a less-than-ideal tech stack to adapting to challenges and lasting changes in buyer behavior. Read on to get some great advice from Nate.
Q: What Do You Consider to Be Digital Transformation in B2B?
A: Generally, I believe digital transformation is about improving processes with technology to enhance speed, personalization and efficiency in a way that enhances your market position or back-office efficiency.
Often, companies point to Amazon as the leader of digitization because they have disrupted so many industries. But I would point to Target. In its quest to compete with Amazon, Target invested heavily in online ordering and curbside pickup. It followed a societal need shaped by the pandemic and offered a personalized digital and in-person customer experience. In addition to a great app experience, Target’s technology and approach transformed curbside pickup.
Target told customers it would speed up the process if customers said when they were arriving. Target even tracked customer location to meet customers in the parking lot — often getting there before they arrived. At least in my household, monthly spend at Amazon shifted to Target because the quality and consistency was better (one seller instead of tens of thousands) and time from order to receipt of product was often two hours or less.
...buyers want to qualify sellers before they invest real time with sales reps.
Much like Target adapted to new expectations, in the B2B space, digital transformation means adapting your methods of interfacing with the market to the method our buyers are expecting. B2B buyers now expect consumer-like experiences for how they purchase at work. They want to research independently, evaluate the market, understand a brand’s value proposition and ultimately utilize a self-service model. In effect, buyers want to qualify sellers before they invest real time with sales reps and they want to “choose their own adventure” instead of following your desired funnel path. As you continue to seek digital transformation solutions, you’re ensuring your organization is ready to market and sell in this manner.
Q: What Drives Success in Digital Transformation?
A: In my experiences working with B2B companies, there is one key factor in whether the transformation will be a success — the strength of the multidisciplinary team. Organizations have created too many silos, and if the digital transformation is done by committee, it will not work. If a B2B organization wants to evolve, such as investing in B2B e-commerce, they should assemble their top performers from various departments. The departments whose top performers are cherry-picked should be broad — not just from IT, marketing and sales. The team needs to include operations, finance and perhaps HR and legal, depending on the project.
Those team members adapt their departmental affiliations and responsibilities. Their goals and their evaluations are entirely based on the completion of the effort and the sales revenue that results. There is also something to be said about clients “getting the money right.” Digital transformation solutions require an investment; they aren’t something you “pilot.” Sure, you can phase the work and you can develop MVPs to get to market faster. But these transformations aren’t something you cut corners on, and there is no end date. Be ready to invest the time and money to do it right, or else it won’t deliver on the experience your customers are expecting. And like in my Target example, your competition is investing in digital transformation, and buyers’ dollars are shifting as a result, so consider your desired customer experience and invest in it to retain and grow your business.
Q: How Can We Succeed With a Less-than-ideal Tech Stack?
A: To use a funny old phrase, there is nothing wrong with putting lipstick on a pig. All technology platforms have technical debt. The amount of debt will impact your ability to transform digitally, but it should not be a showstopper. Ingrain in your technology team that speed to market trumps technical eloquence, and that throwaway solutions are acceptable interim steps. In many ways, throwaway solutions are preferable while you are testing and learning how important the features are to your customers. Embrace the concept of a minimally viable product and accept imperfection.
And be willing to get creative. For example, we have a client that accepts shipments from customers, does work on customer-owned products and then ships them back. Volume has increased significantly, and so they wanted to improve their shipment tracking information to confirm to their customers receipt of their product and cut down on service calls. We explored adding barcodes to shipping labels and putting in scanners so we could automatically email customers when their products showed up at the facility. It required a couple months of development and didn’t add a single dollar of revenue.
We convinced the client to slim the solution down to the email and tracking components on the website, but with none of the complicated barcoding work. To the end user, it looks fully automated. In reality, our client hired temps to process the data. It was faster and cheaper in the short run, and we were able to find out if customers care as much as we think they might. If they do, we’ll know how much we are spending on the increased staffing and be able to model an ROI for the development required.
Q: Why Is Digital Transformation in B2B Sales a Crucial Topic Today?
A: The pandemic accelerated digital transformation by 10 years. Now, companies need to transform for a competitive edge. Consumers spent $861.12 billion online with U.S. merchants in 2020, up an incredible 44% that year. Fast forward to 2022, U.S. e-commerce sales reached $1.03 trillion, passing $1 trillion for the first time ever, according to a Digital Commerce 360 analysis of U.S. Department of Commerce figures.
That norm for consumers has reached B2B, too. According to McKinsey, e-commerce has surpassed in-person as the single most effective channel for B2B. And growth will remain strong through 2026 according to the US B2B Ecommerce Forecast 2022–2026 report by Insider Intelligence.
So if you sell a B2B commodity product and most of your sales today aren’t digital, you might be in trouble. If you sell B2B considered purchases, it’s time to better equip your buyers with access to more personalized content, more interactive case studies and more omni-channel experiences that bring value. It’s also time to find a better way to score leads generated by your digital platforms, so you can best equip your salespeople to close the deals. Also, ensure that inbound responses are handled flawlessly, especially with considered purchases in the B2B space. Even with customers driving their interaction with the business, sales teams should remain available for human interaction.
All too often this is overlooked in support of the application, the site and the scoring model. At certain points, there needs to be human interaction linked to these elements.
Q: How Can Agencies Support With an Organization’s Digital Transformation?
A: Agencies play a pivotal role in the facilitation of digital transformation. At The Mx Group, we have acted as the catalysts in clients’ digital transformation journeys. Agencies typically offer specialized expertise on digital marketing tools, customer relationship management, advanced analytics and more, which organizations need to complement their internal, cross-discipline digital transformation team.
Q: Change Management — What Does It Take?
A: Always start with “What’s in it for me?” Develop your internal personas with the same diligence as you do your external personas. What do your employees and business partners value? How will these digital transformations impact your employees and business partners? What benefits will they receive? Always center the change on the “why” for your customers as well as what’s is in it for employees. Often, there’s great benefit opportunities for your employees. Digital transformations often automate some of the most mundane tasks and lead to more fulfilling work. And remember, once you figure out the communications, there is no such thing as over communication!
We’re living and working in a world of change, and no two businesses are exactly alike when it comes to their challenges. But with a strong strategic starting point, an agile mindset and great communication, marketers can definitely drive digital transformation. We’re seeing it with our clients every day! If you have additional questions about how you can further your organization’s digital transformation efforts, even improve your e-commerce experience, connect with me on LinkedIn and let’s keep the conversation going!